Ploughzone Sampling in Denmark: Isolating and Interpreting Site Signatures from Disturbed Contexts

By Steinberg, John M. | Antiquity, June 1996 | Go to article overview

Ploughzone Sampling in Denmark: Isolating and Interpreting Site Signatures from Disturbed Contexts


Steinberg, John M., Antiquity


In 1990, the Thy Archaeological Project (TAP) began an experiment to 'excavate' the ploughzone. In the years that followed we refined a methodology of recovering flakes and stone tools by mechanically screening large, discrete samples of ploughzone soil. We quantified prehistoric lithic activity using the distribution of the artefact frequencies in these samples. Our results confirm that ploughing neither completely destroys nor homogenizes sites into background noise. What is left after ploughing is not the 'site' familiar to archaeologists but rather a distinctive 'site signature' (Schofield 1991b). Site signatures enlighten us about the amount and type of lithic production that took place at each location. The striking result of an overview of site signatures in Thy, northern Denmark [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED] is that most lithic production took place at a relatively few locations.

Ploughzone paradoxes

In Thy, over 75% of the area is under cultivation, typical for the fertile soils of lowland Europe (Haselgrove 1985; Lawson 1980). Cultivation, primarily ploughing, destroys the top 30 cm of archaeological sites (the ploughzone) by mixing, turning, and spreading out artefacts and strata (cf. Dunnell & Simek 1995; Hoffman 1985). The ploughing turns up and exposes the artefacts and features that make identification of prehistoric activity areas routine (Ammerman 1981; Haselgrove et al. 1985b; Mills 1985). Finding sites in ploughed fields is easy, but the artefacts in the ploughzone are 'out of context' and nothing - it is thought - can be done with them (Asch 1975:187 cf. Dunnell & Simek 1995; Shott 1995). This is the ploughzone paradox.

Accordingly, the current practice in Danish contract archaeology is to remove the disturbed ploughzone (and most of the artefacts) to discover the truncated post-holes, pits and graves that outline prehistoric activity in undisturbed lower levels (e.g. Ethelberg 1991; Kristensen 1989; cf. Holm 1991). Shallow and ephemeral sites (Wood & Johnson 1978) with little post-occupational soil deposition and no sub-surface features are found easily on ploughed agricultural land, but are not investigated further than their surface finds. Systematically excavated sites, preserved because they are in poor agricultural land or sealed by some chance processes, are the unusual ones; the shallow and ploughed sites need not be of the same character. We need to be able to 'excavate' shallow sites in good agricultural land in order to bridge the information gap between excavation and survey: we need to circumvent the ploughzone paradox.

Surface survey and the ploughzone

Surface surveys in ploughed fields are biased, so that even very intense, accurate surveys will not circumvent the ploughzone paradox. Surface survey is so coarse that those who conduct surveys have shied away from the concept of a site, either in terms of habitation (Schofield 1991b) or as any useful entity at all. Although many researchers think of site as a useful concept (e.g. Binford 1982; Cherry 1984; Dancey 1981; Ford 1987; Haselgrove 1985; Schiffer et al. 1978; Warren 1982), others involved in surface survey wish to view the archaeological record as a continuous but variable distribution of artefacts (e.g. Clark 1977; Dunnell & Dancey 1983; Ebert 1992; Foley 1981a; 1981b; Gaffney et al. 1985; Plog et al. 1978; contributions to Rossignol & Wandsnider 1992, especially Dunnell 1992; Thomas 1975). Surface survey is an excellent indicator of the presence or absence of archaeological remains. When present, the content and meaning of these remains is difficult to determine with surface survey data alone. Surface survey usually defines a landscape on the basis of artefact density, but survey can give a misguided impression of what is in the ploughzone (Richards 1985). Surface collection is not a methodology that allows us to circumvent the ploughzone paradox.

The sample size generated by surface survey can be too small to overcome the ploughzone paradox. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Ploughzone Sampling in Denmark: Isolating and Interpreting Site Signatures from Disturbed Contexts
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.