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Flow chart: ’Clean’ an area and identify the latest context, sign out a context number and take a  photograph, draw and describe the context, excavate the context: take a sample,  collect the finds, ending identify the next context and start again.

Excavation techniques

As you have seen from our previous Step, we listed some of the key roles within the Field School. But what skills can you gain from working and learning on an excavation site? See our comprehensive guide to the tasks involved and the skills you take out of each area.

Excavation specific skills

You will develop these skills within your teams on the excavation, under the instruction and guidance of your Supervisor. There will be small, informal training sessions on site – and you will then develop and use these skills each day as you work in the trench:
- Using a trowel to ‘clean’ an area and identify a context
- Signing out a context number and filling in a context card
- Drawing a plan of a context
- Taking a ‘spot height’ on a context plan using a Dumpy level to find the height above sea level
- Drawing a cross section through a number of archaeological deposits
- Excavating general finds and putting them in a finds tray before taking them to the Finds Hut
- Signing out a ‘Small Find’ (special find) number
- Using a theodolite to record the location of a Small Find in 3 dimensions, before taking it to the Finds Hut
- Excavating a context using a mattock/spade/shovel, and a wheelbarrow for the ‘spoil’
- Excavating a context using a trowel, and taking a soil sample

Skills gained in the Finds Hut

Everyone spends at least 1 day in the Finds Hut where you will have a short introduction to the skills to be gained. After this you will work with the finds as they come off site. You will then develop and use these skills. If you have a special interest in working with finds you may be able to spend longer here. A number of specialist training sessions may be offered by visiting specialists e.g. talks on flints/pottery with Historic England specialists. There may also be the opportunity to learn graphic skills such as small finds drawing:
- Washing general finds
- Drying and sorting of Finds
- Finds identification
- Specialist treatment of Small Finds
- Finds book entry, counting and bagging finds
- Boxing of finds for specialists

Skills gained in the Science Hut

You will spend at least 1 day in Science/Geoarchaeology Hut where you will have a short introduction to the skills to be gained. After this you will work with the Science team to take samples and to process them. You will also learn to fill in the required paperwork, and to record the different types of samples as they come off site. You will then develop and use these skills. If you have a special interest in working with the Science team you may be able to spend longer here:
- Collecting of samples
- Flotation and sorting of samples
- Drying samples and collecting the residues to identify evidence of diet and environment
- Coring for geoarchaeology samples
- Examining geoarchaeology cores, and plotting their location
- Extracting material from the cores
- Filling in paperwork for the samples

Skills gained in the Computer Hut

-Database entry and use of an Integrated Archaeological Database
- Numeracy skills and ability to organise and manipulate data
- Working with the project's social media channels
- Digital recording using iPads
Use of video to record the excavation

Skills gained in the Visitors’ Hut

You will spend at least 1 day working with visitors to the excavation. This may be individual visitors or small groups e.g. schools. This will develop your communications skills, and enhance your confidence and overall understanding of the site and the project:
- Giving site tours to visitors
- Speaking to the press
- Displaying finds
- Working with schools and dressing up on Open Days to greet the public

Other on-site skills

- Positive attitude
- Self-awareness, reliability and resourcefulness
- Punctuality and timekeeping
- Team-work
-Self-management  and resilience
- Confidence
- Communication skills
- Problem solving
- Consideration of others

Here are our top tips for you to remember:

  1. Excavation is a process: each task must be done in a set order

  2. The three most important skills for an archaeologist are a positive attitude, a tolerance for the weather and the ability to work as part of a team.

  3. Excavation is not all digging.

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This article is from the free online course:

Archaeology: from Dig to Lab and Beyond

University of Reading

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