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Paul Conway, Associate Professor, 2010

Fritz, Volkmar. An Introduction to Biblical Archaeology. Sheffield, England. Sheffield
Academic Press, 1994.


This lesson focuses on the introductory level of archaeology, its methods and techniques.
This serves as an introductory level lesson to the terms, techniques and technical
language the average archeologist engages on a daily basis.





1. Introduce students to the concept of a tel.

2. Identify key definitions used in common archaeological conversations.
3. Understanding for how an archaeological site comes into existence.
4. Examine how archaeological sites are discovered.
5. Exegete the step by step process an archaeologist works through with the various
methods and techniques used when excavation takes place.
6. Introduce students to the process of documentation archaeologists go through to record
all discoveries.


i. What is a Tel:
ii. Archaeologists:
iii. Archaeology 101
iv. Archaeology 102
v. Archaeology 103
II. Definitions

a. Layer- This designates a level of earth, ashes, stones or other materials. Successive layers differ
in their appearance and contents and thus can usually be clearly distinguished.
b. Floor- A floor is a type of artificial layer made by beaten earth or paving stones. Each floor level
relates to a building, whether inside or outside: surfaces of streets and open spaces can thus be
called „floors.‟ A floor is a level defined by human use.
c. Stratum- A stratum is a layer of occupation, created by the construction of buildings and their
consequent habitation and destruction. A stratum is thus defined by architecture, and usually
includes different layers from the time of its construction, continued use and destruction.
d. Phase- A stratum can be divided into several phases if the pattern of building and occupation
was altered during its course. A stratum is usually indicated by Roman numerals, with phases
identified by additional uppercase letters; but this convention is not always observed. Building
alteration expansions; part of a phase.
e. Locus- A locus is a particular area of working, and its extent is precisely defined, in depth as
well ia length and width. All the loci in an excavation are numbered sequentially.
f. Find numbers (AKA Basket number)- All finds are numbered consecutively and registered in
comprehensive list. Through buckets have now replaced baskets for this purpose, „basket
number‟ as a collective find number still remains in use. Single irems from these „baskets‟ can be
assigned individual numbers, e.g. 96/3= „sherd 3 from basket no. 96‟.
g. Level- Each layer, each find and each wall is given a vertical measurement, known as its „level,‟
which is calculated as being above or below fixed reference points on the tell.
h. Squares- Fieldwork is conducted in squares, usually 5 meters. Before excavation begins, a grid
system is superimposed on the tell.
i. Area (Field)- A number of connected squares make up an area. Areas are usually designated by
uppercase letters, but they can also be called „fields‟ and be numbered in Roman numerals.
j. Section- Sections are the vertical faces within the square, which remain throughout the

III. How archaeological sites are created?1

a. Two Ways
i. Cultural
ii. Nature
b. Cultural (Human)
i. Tel‟s in Israel
ii. Destruction Layers
iii. Relocation
iv. Etc..

Franchesca Tronchin, Itunes Podcast, Classical Archaeology, Escavation 1, 2006. All Points under this section came
from this podcast.
c. Nature (Nature Disaster)
i. Volcano (Pompei)
ii. Tsunami (Caesarea Maratime)
iii. Earth Quaqe
iv. Etc…

IV. How are archaeological sites discovered or selected2

a. Non Intrusive/Non Destructive methods
i. Field Survey
1. Began in Italy in 1950‟s
2. British wanted to see archaeological potential in Rome
3. They would map out a region and systematically cover the ground looking for
artifacts.(e.g. Pottery clusters were indicators)
ii. Remote Sensing
1. Arial Photography
a. Capurnahum
b. Sinai Paninsula (Pi-HaHiroth, mouth of the Canals)
c. Giant paintings of Latin America
2. Geophysical Surveying instruments
i. Sonar in water
1. Caesarea Maritime
ii. Jarassic Park (Ground sonar)

V. Preliminary Observations

a. The remains which are recovered from a mound make it possible, when the proper methods are
applied, to determine the history of the site‟s settlement and the material culture of its individual
periods of occupation.
b. The excavator generally deals with four different elements: architecture, deposits of various
kinds, floors and artifacts.
c. Where a floor is identified, the end of a stratum or a phase has been reached.
d. Sines excavation itself partly destroys its own research data, all finds and data retrieved during a
dig must be collected, regardless of their interpretive value.
e. It follows that there can never be one correct method in Palestinian archaeology; rather the
methodological approach must adapt to the conditions

f. The excavation methods must be matched by documentation. A three-dimensional reconstruction
of the results should be possible from the records made during the dig itself as well as from the
final publication.
g. To control the large amount of data the traditional card file is gradually being replaced by the
personal computer.

VI. Excavation Techniques

a. Each excavation begins by transferring the grid system drawn on the topographical map on the
tell itself and choosing the areas. The square are then marked on tell’s surface by metal posts
which, as their purpose demands, are set in concrete. The areas being chosen in the light of
important archaeological indications, insofar as there are clues available, such as the remains of
b. Depending on the nature of the nature of the layer, either smaller or larger tools are used. The
larger tools are the pick-axe, mattock and shovel; the smaller tools are the small pick, the trowel,
the broom and the brush. Among the larger tools, the pick is used to loosen the earth, which is
then scraped together with a mattock and carried in a bucket, which is emptied into a
wheelbarrow, in which the excavated material is brought to a designated place.
c. A new layer can be recognized by changes in color or composition of the earth, and when such a
change occurs, the pottery-bucket is immediately changed. Depending on the situation, a new
locus number might also be given for the new layer.
d. In general, stone walls reveal themselves easily, while walls of mud-brick are often very hard to
detect and require special training and skill to recognize. Walls made of sun dried mud brick may
show up through a line of white chalk-plaster or the gaps between the individual bricks. Each
wall is identified by a locus number.
e. A brush is used to clean the finds, and a broom to clean the floor.
f. Only after photographs and drawings have been made may the finds be removed.
g. Only if the floor touches the wall do the two together define a stratum; if the wall cuts through
the floor, the wall is younger than the floor, as is also the case if the floor runs underneath the
wall. In both cases, the floor and the wall belong either to different strata or to different phases of
a stratum.
h. By contrast, floors stand out rather than weakly from other layers, except where they have a
coating of cement or are paved with stones.
i. In each area the sections of several squares can be connected in such a way that they can
demonstrate, at least in one part of the tell, the overall pattern of layers and stratigraphic

VII. Documentation

The documentation covers mainly four tasks: notes during the excavation by the area supervisor,
drawing of architecture, photography, and the index of finds.
4.1. Notes made during the excavation
I. Notes have to take in account three factors: the architecture, the finds, and the context of the
i. Area plan
ii. Daily list of finds (basket list)
iii. list
iv. Locus list
v. Locus map
vi. Drawing of sections

A. Area plan

On the area plan, at a scale of 1:100, are marked the place of excavation, the name of the
campaign, the area designation and the locus and the find numbers assigned to the area. The
coordinates and the heights of the section are plotted. In the course of the work all the locus
numbers used are written at the appropriate place and all walls are marked, with their numbers.

B. Daily list of finds

In the list of daily finds all buckets with pottery and all other finds with their numbers, locus
number and height are given. The other columns on the list contains further details about the
origin and character of the find. Whether the pottery pieces were kept (+) or thrown away (-) or
have gone for restoration (R) is subsequently reported on the list for use in further work on the
finds. The list of finds is accompanied by a sketch at a scale of 1:100 presenting the state of
affairs. Corresponding to the list of finds, all buckets of pottery pieces and all individual finds are
given a tag which in general carries three pieces of information: the letter denoting the area, the
number of the find and the number of the locus; the latter has a circle around it to differenciate it
from the number to find the “L” for locus(a particular area of working) is put in front of it, e.g.;

A -Area
51 - Number of the find
L. 324 -Locus number
Sample due to go to the laboratory are accompanied by an individual lable which contains all
information necessary for the analysis.
C. Locus Diary

The locus dairy is the actual excavation diary for which for reasons of clarity is written
separately for individual locus. All important observations and insights of the field work are
reported, together with date and level. For important finds or details the locus diary can be
supplemented by an additional sketch.

D. Locus list

The locus list is a simple index of all loci with the following information: date of opening, name
of square, level of the floor, context of finds, stratum and final locus number.

E. Locus map

Apart from any information about the location, neighboring loci, level and period of work, the
locus map contains three different elements: the list of all finds, a description of the locus and a
sketch. The list of finds is put together from the daily find lists for this particular locus; the locus
diary is consulted for the description, and the sketch is taken from the area plan.

F. Drawing of sections

All worthwhile sections are drawn at a scale of 1:20. Labeling of the individual floors and layers,
and details of their consistency and color are vital. Additionally the locus-numbers must, and
find numbers can, be given.

4.2.Drawing of buildings

All walls are drawn be the excavation architect at a scale of 1:50, stone by stone, and drawing of
the architecture is related to the system of co-ordinates. At a second stage, the individual strata
are separated and drawn as individual plans. The final locus numbers and wall numbers are
incorporated into these as well as the floor levels at different points.

4.3. Photography

To achieve comprehensive documentation photography is also needed. From the very beginning
two kinds of pictures should be differentiated: working photos and final photos. The working
photo is intended to record a certain set of circumstances, and to serve as an additional resource
in the ongoing work of the area supervisor. The final photo shows the final result in a locus or in
several loci. It has to be prepared carefully and is principally meant for publication.

4.4. Treatment of finds and index of finds

First, the pottery is washed, the pieces being inspected before washing in order to detect possible
writing with ink (these sherds are called ostraca) If the checking shows that there are enough
pieces of individual vessels to restore them, all pottery of the particular locus and possibly
neighboring loci is sent to restoration. Individual pieces of non-restored pottery are examined
further only if they are interested for dating (because of the lack of other material for this
purpose) or if they are of any other crucial interest. In cataloguing, an index card is assigned to
each find. This card contains all the necessary information about the origin of the piece: find-
number, locus, level, stratum. Then, a description is generated. Drawing and photography are
required as documentation.

5. Scientific Analysis

Some finds from the very beginning demand analysis and classification by a specialist. These
include, in particular, bone, charcoal remains and shells. Pottery and small metal finds can also
be scientifically analyzed. The goal of analysis depends on the find. Not all the disciplines which
are nowadays gathers under the name of „archaeometry‟ have yet proved themselves, since some
methods are superfluous, while others cannot be used for lack of material.

5.1.Anthropological analysis

Anthropological analysis of human skeletons found in graves is essential. For an individual

skeleton, age, sex and other morphological characteristics can be identified. A large enough
number of burials can indicate the occupancy of the graveyard, and therefore the density of the
population, infancy mortality rates, life expectancy and duration as well as the ethnic identity of
the population. Since only a few illnesses manifest themselves in the skeleton, facts about
sickness or injuries are seldom established. Unfortunately, skeletons disintegrate under adverse
circumstances after as little as fifty years, so that in uncovering graves the greatest caution is
required to recover fully all of the remains.

5.2.Analysis of animal bones (osteoarchaeology)

Bones have to be not only classified but also measured according to a particular standard.

5.3.Analysis of plant remains

Given the climatic conditions, plant remains are preserved in carbonized form.

5.4.Classification of types of wood

Wood usually keeps only in carbonized form, but charcoal remains are comparatively numerous.
Identifying the kind of plant determines not only the local vegitatio, but also the possible import
of non-local wood as building material.

5.5. Pottery analysis

Apart from typological classifications and the establishing of macroscopic traits, pottery can be
further analyzed microscopically and chemically. The composition of the clay can be determined
by neutron activation analysis (NAA). After being exposed to radioactivity, the make-up of the
clay from its various elements can be identified in a manner similar to metal analysis. This
identification provides a secure basis for classifying imported ware and distinguishing imports
from local imitations.

5.6. Metal analysis

Metal analysis provides information about the elements which make it up. Not only can copper,
bronze and brass be distinguished, but also specific alloys, used for specific objects, and in
specific periods, can be classified. The results of metal analysis, then, not only present
information about the material, but can also help to clarify historical questions.

6. Publication of the excavation

There are three different stages of publication: the short report, the preliminary report and the
final report. The short report gives information about the most important results and finds of a
single campaign. Such a report presents an initial summary of one or more campaigns, adding a
selection of plans, drawing the finds and photos. It is an important link in the chain between
excavation and final publication, especially since there are often years or decades between the
completion of the fieldwork and the publication of the final report. The final report presents the
definitive publication of all results; adding a detailed description to the complete documentation.