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Chapter Summary

  • The first step of any archaeological excavation is the development of a research design, which consists of formulating a clear question to answer, collecting and recording evidence, processing and analyzing that evidence, and the publication of the results.
  • Archaeologists locate the whereabouts of sites through both ground reconnaissance and aerial survey. Ground reconnaissance can take several forms including surface survey. Surface survey involves walking across potential sites and noting concentrations of features or artifacts to gain some idea of the site’s layout. Aerial survey is done with the aid of aerial imagery, much of which is already available in libraries, collections, and on the Internet. Images taken from a kite, balloon, plane, or satellite often reveal site features that are not visible on the ground. From these images, preliminary maps and plans can be made.
  • Mapping is the key to the accurate recording of most survey data. GIS (Geographic Information Systems), a collection of computer hardware and software that manages and manipulates geographic data, is one of the primary tools archaeologists use to map sites.
  • Archaeologists employ several methods of obtaining subsurface information prior to excavation. Some of these methods are non-destructive, meaning they do not require ground to be broken during the collection of information. Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), for example, uses radio pulses to detect underground features. Electrical resistivity and magnetic survey, metal detectors, as well as geochemical techniques are also used to gather information before excavation.
  • Excavation has a central role in fieldwork as it reveals human activities at a particular period in the past as well as changes in that activity over time. Stratigraphy is based on the law of superposition, namely that if one layer overlies another, the lower was deposited first. Excavation is costly and destructive and should only be undertaken if research questions cannot be answered by non-destructive survey techniques.
  • Artifacts that share similar attributes are often grouped together and the act of creating such groups is called typology. Groups of artifacts from a particular time and place are called assemblages. These assemblages are often used to define archaeological cultures.

Key Concepts


Research design, p.73

Discovering Archaeological Sites and Features

Ground reconnaissance, p.74
Cultural Resource Management, p.75
Reconnaissance survey, p.75
Settlement patterns, p.77
Systematic survey, pp.78–79
Unsystematic survey, pp.78–79
Simple random sampling, p.79
Stratified random sample, p.79
Transects, p.79

Aerial and Satellite Survey

Aerial images, pp.80–84
Recent developments, pp.84–88
LIDAR and SLAR, pp.88–89
Satellite imagery, pp.88, 90, 92–93
GIS, pp.94–98

Assessing the Layout of Sites and Features

Site surface survey, p.98
Probes, p.102
Shovel test pits (STPs), p.102
Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), pp.103–04
Electrical resistivity, pp.104–05
Magnetic survey, pp.105, 108
Geochemical analysis, p.109


Excavation, p.110
Stratigraphy, p.111
Law of superposition, p.111
Wheeler box-grid, p.112
Open-area excavation, p.112
Step-trenching, p.116
Underwater archaeology, pp.113–15

Recovery and Reporting of Evidence

Collections management, pp.123–24
In situ, p.124

Excavating in the Digital Age

3D recording, pp.124–25

Processing and Classification

Attributes, p.128
Typology, p.128
Assemblages, p.128
Archaeological cultures, p.128