How do you do archaeology without the gun and the whip?
September 22, 2017 9:29 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for good sources on the practice and process of conducting archaeological digs. My Google-fu is coming up short on good sources because I probably don't know the right questions to ask, and university textbooks are expensive. Can anyone point me to good sources (video, books, websites) showing the process of surveying, extraction, etc?

This is for the backdrop of a futuristic sci-fi story. The process stuff won't be center stage and I'll doubtlessly get some stuff wrong or deliberately change it. I prefer to get it wrong by deliberate choice rather than ignorance. I'd like to show some respect for the real thing.
posted by scaryblackdeath to Science & Nature (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Try googling "Phase I Cultural Resource Survey" and you should get lots of guidelines and maybe even some actual survey reports.
posted by tryniti at 9:38 AM on September 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

Best answer: This is an EXTREMELY good excuse to stream a bunch of episodes of Time Team.

In all seriousness, they do a good job of showing a variety of techniques and the types of team members that work together on a dig.
posted by Ausamor at 9:46 AM on September 22, 2017 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Caltrans, (California's department of transportation), has some .pdfs you can download here describing context and methodology for a number of projects. Sonoma State University's Anthropological Studies Center has various documents for download as well.
posted by agatha_magatha at 9:51 AM on September 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

Archaeological methodology varies considerably based on numerous factors (e.g. local regulation, nature of material, the amount of time/money available, research questions, etc.). Here's a list of some archaeological manuals available online. Googling archaeological excavation manual or archaeological survey manual should provide lots of other examples.
posted by wollaston at 9:54 AM on September 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Here's a list of resources from the Archaeological Conservancy.

Also wholly agree about Time Team! They frequently discuss best practices for site management, excavation methods, etc.
posted by orrnyereg at 10:16 AM on September 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Also, Wessex Archaeology (Phil Harding's employer!) has lots of great (UK-centric, if it matters) information.
posted by orrnyereg at 10:17 AM on September 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

Oh I was coming in to say Time Team as well. It is a genuinely fantastic and informative show. Series 6-18 are the peak, I would have said.
posted by tinkletown at 1:07 PM on September 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Re: textbooks: find out what's on the syllabus of a class near you. Then look up previous editions. It's likely that very little will have changed except that the old edition can be hundreds of dollars less. If you're just using it for research, you can also rent one for cheap for 3-4 months.
posted by curious nu at 2:17 PM on September 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Just wanted to say thank you for the Time Team link. I'm watching them now and they're pretty awesome. :)
posted by darkstar at 5:32 PM on September 22, 2017

Re: textbooks. Cough.
posted by Iris Gambol at 9:03 PM on September 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

My SO is an archaeologist. Based on what I've learned from him, some additional points to consider:

-Archaeological methods vary by environment. In a desert, a phase 1 survey can be conducted by pedestrian survey (walking around looking for artifacts). In other locations where topsoil has formed, you dig a series of round holes to collect the same data. You'll want to seek out archaeology site reports and manuals in a location similar to the one you're describing in your story.

-There are lots of neat remote sensing methods like satellite imagery, ground penetrating radar, etc. They are tremendously useful and would fit right into a science fiction setting. If you're feeling adventurous, you could invent your own based on your world's technology. Relevant search terms are "remote sensing" and "geophysics" / "geophysical survey." Depending on your world, you may also want to research digital humanities / big data / GIS to help imagine how archaeological analysis might develop in a high-tech future.

-As you probably have gathered, a large percentage of archaeology is performed by contract firms for legal compliance. The goal is to decide whether land can be developed and to gather data from sites that are about to be destroyed. If your archaeology is not of this kind, you will want to seek out examples of research archaeology being conducted by universities, museums, and historical sites.
posted by toastedcheese at 11:01 AM on September 25, 2017

In Season 3 of the Time Team shows and already I can tell you all about the "geophys" folks and their resistivity and magnetometry and the strengths and weaknesses in those two techniques, the importance of confirming earlier work, of doing the library research, running evaluation trenches, "dendro" testing, site etiquette, etc.

I've volunteered on two digs and I've already learned some things about archaeology from watching a dozen episodes of Time Team than I hadn't learned on both of those digs.

Of course, nothing compares to physically working a site and unearthing your first coin, or a sherd with a design on it... :)
posted by darkstar at 1:03 PM on September 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

In season 8 now, still loving it, and have begun seriously contemplating reviving my old anthropology or history Masters degree dream. There are a number of distance Masters degrees offered that might fit the bill...

By the way, if anyone else is planning to watch the Time Team eps on YouTube, I can confirm they're all there up to about S08 E10. I would recommend using the list of episodes Wikipedia page, here, though, as there are some Special shows that are out of sequence or given the incorrect episode number on YouTube.

posted by darkstar at 7:36 PM on October 10, 2017

Confirming that YouTube has all regular Time Team episodes and Specials through 2005. Just finished my 140th TT ep (halfway through the 20-year run). Has inspired me to get in contact with the Universities at Leicester and Oxford to take some of their distance learning courses in history and archaeology. Also planning on a trip to see friends in Gloucester this coming summer and hope to tour some nearby sites.

This thread has turned out to be hugely instrumental in reconnecting me to my long lost love for archaeology!
posted by darkstar at 9:22 PM on October 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

darkstar, that's wonderful! I know the TT gang would be tickled pink to hear it.
posted by orrnyereg at 6:59 AM on October 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

Welp...based on my recent research, I can add some more grist for attempting to learn archaeology, via taking courses online. There are a lot of online archaeology degrees/available, but their cost is really discouraging.

I. Postgraduate courses tend to require an undergrad degree in a closely related field. Which, if the poster already had, they probably wouldn’t have posted this AskMe.

II. Undergraduate courses tend to be on the expensive side, and for-credit courses especially so.

a. In the UK, Oxford offers an online course “Archaeology in Practice”. Cambridge offers a part-time undergrad Certificate in Archaeology. So does the University of Aberdeen, which is rather more robust. The University of Leicester has a whole BA (Hons) degree in Archaeology online.

b. In the US, three universities have “less expensive” archaeology courses online: Arizona State, Colorado State, and Oregon State, but unless you live in those states, you can expect to pay $900-$1600 per course. It’s kind of insane. Here in Arizona, the IN-State tuition at ASU is still greater than OSU’s out-of-State rate! (So much for paying AZ taxes...)

So taking formal coursework to learn what you’re looking for seems prohibitively expensive. Looks like Time Team episodes and other YouTube videos are still the cheapest way to pick up how to do archaeology without the whip. :-/

[Which, incidentally, also pretty much kills my own dream of going back and getting a second degree in Archaeology. There doesn’t appear to be a way to do that without dropping close to $12k+ on just the key courses, while also having to take a lot of filler/core courses that colleges like to think are necessary to make me a well-rounded 50-year-old (Speech, Computer Science, Writing, Cultural Awareness, etc.), as if I’d not learned anything about those topics in the three decades since I was a teenager. Really disappointed in Arizona State. But I digress.]
posted by darkstar at 8:29 AM on November 10, 2017

« Older Twitter discovery and analytics for beginners?   |   Pairing Stationery with My Consulting Business Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.