Archaeology: An Introduction - 4th Edition 2002
Online Companion: updated November 2007
CHAPTER 2 : Discovery
2.1. SITES OR LANDSCAPES?
2.2. FIELD ARCHAEOLOGY
2.3. REMOTE SENSING
INFORMATION SYSTEMS (GIS)
2.5. LANDSCAPE ARCHAEOLOGY
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2.1. SITES OR LANDSCAPES?
The expansion of large survey projects
raised interesting problems about recording and classification which directed
attention back to the question of defining a site. Few archaeologists would
find any difficulty in recording artefacts or building materials found on the
surface of the ground, or recognising and classifying physical features such as
a stone wall or mound. But what combination of surface finds and surviving
structures constitutes a site?
- The Discovery Programme
'The Discovery Programme is an archaeological research institution
dedicated to investigating Irelands past from earliest times and
presenting the results to as wide an audience as possible. Within this
site you will find detailed information on the work of the Discovery
Programmes projects, past, present and future, and the kinds of technology
we use on a day-to-day basis.' This superb website has links to the
methods of discovery as well as to the Programme itself.
and Buildings English
Heritage: ' Archaeology
is the study of past societies and individuals through the physical
remains they have left us. Architectural history is about understanding
buildings and their surroundings in their wider cultural, historical and
- Survey and Recording
Information about the work of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and
Historical Monuments of Scotland: 'Our survey teams use photography,
measured drawings and on-the-ground analysis to record the built
environment of Scotland. The teams focus their efforts on three keys
areas: field survey of archaeological sites and landscapes; aerial survey
of all types of sites and buildings; and topographical areas.'
2.2. FIELD ARCHAEOLOGY
2.2.1. Field Survey
(and shovel testing)
and topographic/earthwork surveying
2.2.4. Sites and
2.2. FIELD ARCHAEOLOGY
Discovery is pointless without
recording, but observers (ancient or modern) only record what they see, and
what they see is determined by what they consider to be significant. Bias is
inescapable, but may be reduced by modern archaeologists if they explain their
ideas and research strategies explicitly, rather than treating fieldwork as an
objective recording exercise.
2.2.1. Field Survey
Much fieldwork now takes place in the
context of field survey - a comprehensive study of an area selected either
because it is threatened with damage by development or agriculture or because
it has the potential to answer questions generated by wider archaeological
and shovel testing
Fieldwalking is the simplest procedure
employed in fieldwork, and it provides many opportunities for amateurs and
beginners to get involved. Although it may include the recognition of sites
through minor fluctuations in the form or character of the ground in areas
that have had little investigation in the past, the main purpose of fieldwalking
is normally the collecting of artefacts from the surface of ploughed fields.
information from the Sedgeford Historical and Archaeological Research Project
- 'a long-term, multi-period, multi-disciplinary
research project set up to investigate the entire range of human settlement
and land-use in a typical north-west Norfolk parish, from the earliest times
to the present day.'
sites surface survey and shovel testing: 'In grassy or wooded areas,
sites can be found by digging small holes (roughly 50 cm diameter) at regular
intervals (usually 10-15 meters apart). The soil is screened to look for
artifacts. Each hole is mapped, and any artifacts are mapped by hole and
bagged separately. Because this digging destroys a portion of the site,
it should be supervised by trained archaeologists who have a good reason
for investigating an area.' (
Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center
2.2.3. Recording and topographic/earthwork
Ground-level photography remains
important for documenting sites, and can place them into a local context as
well as including people engaged in fieldwork to illustrate methodology.
digital elevation model of Cawood Castle Garth, N. Yorkshire - 'This image
is derived from data collected using Leica GPS equipment recording
readings at close intervals. ... This is perhaps easier to interpret when
rendered and animated'
'A mass of 'humps and bumps' can seem to lack form and pattern, especially
when they represent a number of different periods of activity, and are
possibly not in a good state of preservation. However, by systematic
measurement and recording, it is almost always possible to 'make sense' of
these features. Accurate maps of earthworks can be used to reconstruct the
plans of villages and field systems, and help archaeologists decide where
to excavate for more information.'(Past Perfect: the virtual archaeology
of Durham and Northumberland)
2.2.4. Sites and Monuments Records / Historic Environment
Ideally, a database of sites, with plans,
photographs and sources of further information, should serve a number of
different purposes. These may include further research by individuals who were
not involved in collecting the data, such as academic archaeologists or
planning officers considering the impact of development proposals.
Archaeology Service for Aberdeenshire, Angus and Moray: 'The databases held in the office by the Service contain information
on nearly 25,000 sites of archaeological and historical interest ranging
from Mesolithic flints to airfields of World War II. The information
consists of a computerised database linked to a GIS (Geographical
Information System) with further physical records of maps, photographs,
articles and reports. The databases are updated regularly with all new
discoveries, including those made by our own aerial photography programme.
They used as a resource for planning, forestry, roads, water services, oil
& gas pipelines, electricity companies, tourism, as well as
educational establishments, local societies and individuals.'
- Enhancing the
record through remote sensing The application and integration of
multi-sensor, non-invasive remote sensing techniques for the enhancement
of the Sites and Monuments Record. Heslerton Parish Project, N. Yorkshire,
England (Dominic Powlesland, James Lyall and Daniel Donoghue: Internet Archaeology)
Monuments Record A division of English Heritage with extensive
pictorial archives (click on Online Resources)
Archaeological Database: 'NADB-MAPS
(Multiple Attribute Presentation System) Library provides GIS layers related to archeological data. The GIS maps
below show national distributions of cultural and environmental resources
across the United States. For each entry you will be able to view/download
a map, as well as metadata information.' (US National Park Service)
and Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology 2006 report (PDF file) 'After one and a half decades the Hampshire and Wight Trust for
Maritime Archaeology is continuing to contribute to our understanding of
the region’s cultural heritage. 2005/2006 has witnessed the
discovery of new sites which range from submerged Stone Age settlements to
shipwrecks lost within the last hundred years. As we learn more we have
been keen to disseminate information widely and to this end we have
invested time in exhibitions, displays and education.'
- Historic Environment Record
Archaeology Section maintains and enhance the HER. The HER is principal
source of information about the Historic Environment of County Durham and
Darlington. Local authorities, developers, consultants, academic
researchers and members of the public all use the HER. It records all
aspects of our surrounding environment that have been built, formed or
influenced by human activity. However, much of the information on the
archaeology of County Durham is available on our extensive 'Keys to the
Past' website at: www.keystothepast.info.'
Fieldwork under water is not unlike
that on land, for it relies both on broad-scanning methods for identifying
wrecks or other underwater structures, and on detailed visual inspection of
smaller areas or individual locations by divers.
Aegean and Black Sea Expedition. 'The 2007 Aegean and Black Sea
Expedition consists of three distinct projects – a geological study
in the Sea of Crete, an archaeological survey and shipwreck excavation off
the coast of Ukraine in the Black sea, and an archaeological investigation
of a well-preserved shipwreck off Turkey in the Black Sea. In addition to
the scientific objectives, this cruise will be used as an opportunity to
test new technologies that will be utilized on board the new NOAA ship Okeanos
Explorer.' (Institute for Archaeological Oceanography,
University of Rhode Island)
2.3. REMOTE SENSING
:: Aerial photography
:: Multispectral and
:: Interpretation of
and geochemical surveying
:: Magnetic surveying
:: Metal detectors
:: Ground penetrating
:: Seismic prospecting
and geochemical examination of soil
:: Underwater location
2.3. REMOTE SENSING
Remote sensing devices do make contact
with the ground, but are still 'remote' from the buried archaeological features
that they are designed to detect.
Optical aerial photography has
undoubtedly made the greatest single contribution to archaeological fieldwork
and recording. Besides giving attractive bird's-eye views of surviving sites,
aerial photography is overwhelmingly important in bringing to light buried
sites visible through discolorations in the overlying soil or vegetation .
Aerial photography provides a useful
supplement to observations made during fieldwork on visible sites with traces
of earthworks or walls surviving above ground.
to Aerial Archaeology '...aerial archaeology is more than just taking
photographs, although this was and sometimes is still considered to be its main
subject. In fact, it goes far beyond the mere acquisition of data, and you even
don´t need photographs to perform aerial archaeology: you can use also
satellite images, thermal images or airborne radar images. To perform aerial
archaeology means above all, to make archaeological use of this kind of
remotely sensed information.' (Aerial Archive, Institute for Prehistory and
Protohistory of the University of Vienna)
Aerial Archaeology Research
Group (AARG) "...provides a forum for the exchange of ideas and
information for all those actively involved in aerial photography, photo
interpretation, field archaeology and landscape history. This also includes the
use of aerial photography in defining preservation policies for archaeological
sites and landscapes."
Aerial Photography and Remote Sensing Data - A Guide to Good Practice
(Arts and Humanities Data Service). See in particular Section
2 (Aerial Photography, Remote Sensing, and Archaeology): 'This section
presents a brief overview of the history and role of aerial photography and
remote sensing in archaeology. It discusses the principal methods employed and,
briefly, the data formats output. The section ends with a 'suggested reading'
list pointing the reader to key texts.'
Chase Bournemouth University: details of geophysical surveys and
excavations, related to aerial and ground-level photographs of the sites
PAST REVEALED 'In 1928, a pilot flying over Caistor noticed a regular
grid pattern of pale parched corn in the green barley fields inside and around
the Roman town.' The photograph is accompanied by photographs of the excavation
of stone structures, and forms part of A
virtual tour of Caistor Roman Town, Norfolk. (John Peterson, University
of East Anglia, Norwich, UK)
Aerial Archaeology Introductory information and explanations, primarily
from Southwestern U.S.A.
Commercial company offering low-level aerial photography from a telescopic mast
extending up to 22 metres – no aeroplane required! Beautiful sample photographs
of sites and buildings on this site.
and thermal prospecting
From the 1970s airborne prospecting
has expanded to include devices that record a wider range of wavelengths,
including multispectral imaging sensors, thermal imaging radiometers and
imaging radar. All of these collect data in digital form that is eminently
suitable for processing by computer to produce the best results.
----- Laser scanning
This is a new technique for surveying
surface remains from the air or from the ground. It can also be used to record
Knowlton Church and Henge using 3D Laser Scanning: PDF document by
By A. Carty (Archaeoptics
Ltd) and Thomas A. Goskar (Wessex
case studies: 'The Heritage3D project is looking for case
studies to highlight exemplar application of laser scanning. This
includes the use of airborne systems, ground based time of flight/phase
comparison scanners and close range triangulation scanners for any aspect
of cultural heritage' (School of Civil engineering and Geosciences,
Conversion of optical photographic
images into digital formats allows them to be used more easily with other data
(for example from surveys and geophysical instruments) and incorporated into
of aerial images
It is not always easy to distinguish
between archaeological features and natural geological phenomena; a thorough
knowledge of archaeology is required for any attempt to classify and date sites
according to their form.
- Air Photo
Services Ltd Case Studies Index: 'A skilled aerial photographic
interpreter can differentiate archaeological and natural features, and
rectify the features to an Ordnance Survey map base. This interpretation
and mapping is used directly by our clients as an accurate guide to locate
trenches for evaluation and areas for further survey.'
2.3.2. Geophysical and geochemical
The use of geophysical prospecting
devices is an efficient method of exploring invisible aspects of the buried
site and relating them to a measured survey. As with aerial photography, the
main purpose of geophysical instruments is to distinguish anomalies, hopefully
of human origin, from the natural subsoil.
clear introduction from Past Perfect (Durham
and Northumberland County Councils)
Prospection Classified collection of links from Bradford
WROXETER HINTERLAND Project: geophysical surveying '…relies
in large part on non-invasive surveying techniques for the mapping of
archaeological features both inside Wroxeter itself and on sites in the
Hinterland. Such techniques include aerial photography (AP), geophysical
prospecting, and topographical surveying.'
- Knowlton henge complex
Some very impressive results from the Neolithic henge complex of Knowlton,
Dorset, by University of Bournemouth
- Cranborne Chase
Bournemouth University: details of geophysical surveys and excavations,
related to aerial and ground-level photographs of the sites
- List of Projects
Interesting results from sites in Gloucestershire - project information
from Dr Alistair Marshall
Project: report on a season of work at the Roman fort of
Trimontium - links to geophysics and site-plans
Bulletin A lavishly illustrated magazine published by English
Heritage containing examples of geophysical surveys.
When an electric current is passed
through the ground between electrodes, the resistance to its flow may be
measured. A current will pass relatively easily through damp soil, but drier
compact material such as a buried wall or a cobbled road surface creates higher
----- Magnetic surveying
Magnetometers detect deviations from
the general background of the subsoil, indicated by variations in its magnetic
field. Several aspects of past human occupation cause suitable anomalies.
- Magnetometry explanation from Past Perfect
- STANTON DREW
STONE CIRCLES "...the [technique] that has so far proved most
effective at Stanton Drew is magnetometry. This relies on the fact that
all soil is slightly magnetic and that this magnetism is concentrated and
enhanced in many types of archaeological feature." Paul Linford:
Copyright © Historic Buildings & Monuments Commission for England.
----- Metal Detectors
Metal detectors are not only popular
with members the public who regard their use as an innocent hobby, but also
with professional treasure-hunters who plunder sites for profit. Most types
penetrate the soil only to a very limited extent, but they have been used by
archaeologists to locate dispersed metal artefacts.
Antiquities Scheme: 'The Portable Antiquities Scheme is a
voluntary scheme to record archaeological objects found by members of the
public in England and Wales. Every year many thousands of objects are
discovered, many of these by metal-detector users, but also by people
whilst out walking, gardening or going about their daily work. Such
discoveries offer an important source for understanding our past.'
----- Ground penetrating radar (GPR)
Electronic signals are transmitted
into the soil, and bounce back to a receiver. The signals are altered by the
density and position of whatever they encounter underground, and the patterns
received from the ground are plotted diagrammatically.
----- Seismic prospecting and geochemical
examination of soil
Acoustic or seismic investigation is
very common in geological survey and, in the form of sonar, used under water
for archaeological purposes, but it has not been utilised extensively for
archaeology on land.
- Soil/Sediment Analysis PDF document about prospection techniques, including phosphate analysis:
'This document provides background information on the principal types of
soil/sediment analysis undertaken by UWLAS and presents details of the analytical
methods employed.' (University of Wales, Lampeter, Archaeological Services)
Sonar scanning works in the same way
as radar, but sonic (rather than electronic) signals are transmitted and
received. Side-scan sonar can cover large areas because the signals are
transmitted sideways to detect irregularities on the surface of the seabed.
2.4. GEOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION SYSTEMS
Computers that combine large
data-storage capacity with fast mathematical processors and high-quality
graphic display were typified in the 1990s by Sun workstations, but by the
twenty-first century such features had become readily available on desktop PCs.
Likewise, GIS software became less complex and more user-friendly over the same
- GIS for Archaeology:
'Archaeologists, as researchers and resource
managers, understand the importance of geography. Its variables exert a
strong influence on human behavior today, and archaeologists are aware of
the significance of this influence in the past. Geography also influences
the degree of exposure of archaeological sites, and the impacts that they
face from human activity and natural forces. GIS facilitates mapping to
analyze depositional patterns as well as catalog and quantify artifacts.
It can provide a well-structured descriptive and analytical tool for
identifying spatial patterns.'
from Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc.
(ESRI) including PowerPoint
presentation of the basics
- Making the Most of Maps: Field Survey on the Island of Kythera
(PDF file of article from Journal
of GIS in Archaeology, Volume I).
Excellent illustrations explaining use of GIS
- GIS Guide to Good
Practice 'This document is designed
specifically to provide guidance for individuals and organisations
involved in the creation, maintenance, use and long-term preservation of GIS-based
digital resources.' (Archaeology Data
2.5. LANDSCAPE ARCHAEOLOGY
The term retrogressive analysis is
sometimes employed to describe how landscape archaeologists work back from
modern features to the fragmentary remains of earlier landscapes.
- Reading the land '50 years ago, most historians thought Britain’s landscape
dated mainly from the 18th century. Then landscape archaeology began, and
the rest is history, says Peter Fowler.' Article from British
Archaeology (published by Council for British Archaeology).
Landscape Characterisation PDF file from English
Heritage: 'England's rural landscape is one of the jewels of
our national heritage. It is too easily overlooked when we concentrate on
individual buildings or archaeological monuments, and its historic
dimension can be too easily missed if landscape is admired as beautiful
scenery. Through its programme of Historic Landscape Characterisation
(HLC), run in partnership with County Council Sites and Monuments Records,
English Heritage is a leader in this field.' For a full account, download Using Historic Landscape Characterisation
- Devon County Council HLC:
'In order to record and understand the wider
historic landscape of the county, Devon County Council and English
Heritage have undertaken a Historic Landscape Characterisation project for
the county. … Historic Landscape Characterisation is a method for
understanding and mapping the landscape that we see today with reference
to its historical development. The Devon project has used digital mapping,
which means that the results can be updated in the light of future
research.' An interactive site that hears you to explore maps at different