The next step is to remove the sod and topsoil, which is usually the modern grass level. Sod is removed with shovels by digging up the soil in narrow and shallow strips. This is done by by skimming just below the surface with the shovel blade, taking a thin layer of soil off with the sod.
Now the excavation is ready to begin. Sites are dug in square units. The size of the unit is usually decided by the Archaeologist. Special attention is paid to layers and features.
Believe it or not, the ground is arranged in layers, kind of like a layer cake.The newest layers are on the top and the oldest are at the bottom.
When you find a layer in your unit, it will usually cover the whole floor of your unit. You can tell when you’ve reached a new layer when the color of the soil, or its make-up (texture) changes. Archaeologists dig with trowels,exactly like those used by a bricklayer but smaller.
A feature is an artifact that is too large to move. A feature might be anything from a filled in pit to a foundation wall or floor. If you find a feature while you’re digging, you will have to draw a top (topographical) plan of it. A top plan is a drawing that gives you a bird’s eye view of the feature. It is drawn to scale, which means that it is measured as it is drawn, and shrunk down to fit on a piece of graph paper. A good scale for a top plan is for 10cm on the ground to equal 1 cm (or one square) on the graph paper. The feature is then dug out separately from the layer(s) around it. Artifacts found inside the feature are kept in a separate bag from the ones found in the layer(s) around it. Once the feature has been dug out,you have to draw a cross section of it. A cross section is a drawing that looks as if you’ve cut the feature in half. It tells the Archaeologist what shape it was,and possibly, how it was created and destroyed. A cross section is also drawn to scale.
Dirt is sifted through a screen to make sure no artifacts were missed while digging. Artifacts found in each layer are bagged separately from the ones found in the layer(s) above and below it. Detailed notes,photos, and maybe even videos are taken about everything that is done or found on the site while digging.
A unit is usually dug until you find subsoil. Subsoil is different in each area, but it is usually a hard clay or sand. Subsoil is sterile, which means there are no artifacts in it. Sometimes, you might find some non-historic features in the subsoil. These are features made by prehistoric Indians (Native Americans),more than 400 years ago. Once you find subsoil in your unit and you are sure it is sterile, you can draw a profile of the unit. A profile is a drawing of the walls of your unit showing the layers (and features) you found as you were digging. A profile is also drawn to scale
Once the profiles have been drawn and photographed, you can back fill the unit. When you back fill, you are filling in the unit so that the area can be returned to the way it was before you started digging.
Artifacts and notes are taken back to the lab for analysis. It is in the lab that the Archaeologist looks at all of the information found in the field and tries to piece it all together. Analyzing a site is like putting together thousands of small pieces of a huge puzzle to see what it looks like. Once the puzzle has been put together, the Archaeologist tells what she thinks it means in the site report.
An archaeologist has a great job and is always meeting new people and going new places.This may be a career you'd like to learn more about, or a hobby that you can enjoy for the rest of your life.I hope so!