Critical Approaches to Fieldwork: Contemporary and Historical Archaeological Practice

Critical Approaches to Fieldwork: Contemporary and Historical Archaeological Practice

Critical Approaches to Fieldwork: Contemporary and Historical Archaeological Practice

Critical Approaches to Fieldwork: Contemporary and Historical Archaeological Practice

Synopsis

This work takes as its starting point the role of fieldwork and how this has changed over the past 150 years. The author argues against progressive accounts of fieldwork and instead places it in its broader intellectual context to critically examine the relationship between theoretical paradigms and everyday archaeological practice.In providing a much-needed historical and critical evaluation of current practice in archaeology, this book opens up a topic of debate which affects all archaeologists, whatever their particular interests.

Excerpt

Not so long ago I was working on a small trial excavation in the village of Castor in eastern England; it involved cutting a narrow trench into a beautiful old orchard garden backing on to a churchyard in order to find evidence for a Roman palace which once occupied almost the whole village. in the end, we did find the remains of Roman buildings on a terrace, as well as a great deal of subsequent occupation which ceased sometime in the twelfth or thirteenth century when the area became part of the churchyard. the process of excavation involved using a machine to strip off the garden soil, followed by hand digging with mattocks, spades, shovels and trowels. in the process, we sought to identify separate deposits marked by differences in their composition, deposits such as slopewash, floor layers, pit fills, walls and so on. Each of these was described on separate record sheets accompanied by measured drawings to scale, and identified by a unique number; any artefacts or other remains such as animal bones or shells were bagged and labelled according to the deposit they came from. Critical to the whole process was understanding both what any deposit represented and what its relationship was to other deposits, i.e. earlier, later or contemporary.

After excavation, all the finds and records were taken back, put in order and checked through; the different finds - the pottery, the animal bones, the coins, etc. - were sent for study to different specialists, each of whom analysed the material in certain ways and produced a report. For example, the ceramicist sorted out all the sherds into different types of vessel based on their fabric and form, quantified this information and at the end was able to say what kind of vessels were represented from the site, what period they dated from, and where they were made. On this site, most of the pottery came from local kilns, but some came from other places such as France, and most could be dated to the latter part of the Roman period. This and the other specialist information was then integrated with the records made on site to produce a narrative which aimed to establish the sequence and nature of events which left their trace under that old orchard garden about 1,500 years ago.

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