why and when excavation is undertaken
what can be achieved by excavation
the advantages and disadvantages of common excavation strategies
the principles of stratigraphy
how artefacts and faunal and floral material are recovered during excavations
the techniques of recording used in archaeology.
To many people, archaeology simply means excavation. Often their interest in archaeology stems from witnessing an excavation or viewing one on television or through other media. Excavation is often the public face of archaeology. It is only when people ‘dig’ deeper into the subject that they are able to recognise the role that excavation plays in the wider nature of the discipline. It has its own methodology, which constantly changes to reflect current thinking and improving technologies. There can never be one set of rules for excavation although there is general agreement on key elements of the process. This chapter will try to reflect that current consensus.
Any removal of the accumulated evidence of the past is a finite act. Once disturbed, trowelled, shovelled and bucketed away that material cannot be replaced as it was before the excavator removed it. Hence it has been frequently said that ‘all excavation is destruction’. Today no one condones excavation as it took place in the nineteenth century: for the pleasure of the excavators and to establish collections of artefacts. In all but those extreme circumstances, where chance discovery of remains demands a prompt response, there should be controlled planning. This should establish the rationale for