Just Scratching the Surface

When one imagines archaeology, many people think of deep pits filled with all kinds of whole or partially whole artifacts. I must admit that before this field school I had similar ideas about excavation, but after spending weeks in the field my view has changed for the better. Much of the work we have done involves what is called surface collection. This method of archaeology is known as a low impact form. This method of excavation has been of much greater importance as more researchers and communities focus on the preservation of sites not only through the artifacts, but also the land itself. This method involves the usual 1-meter by 1-meter units but with a slight twist. Due to dense ground cover at the schoolhouse site, it was not possible to identify artifacts at the surface. So this is where surface collection came into play. We do this by lifting the sod cover to the roots using shovels. When explaining this process to my friends, they questioned whether any artifacts would be there and if they would even be of much use if they were there. But in fact we have been finding much in the way of interesting artifacts. Due to natural forces of the shifting soils, there tends to be a fair amount of artifacts just on the surface, but not all artifacts are which is due to various factors such as deposition, human activity, etc. Through this method, we recovered materials from the recent building demolition such as fragments of wood, cement, and glass, as well as older objects, including bits of chalk, porcelain from a saucer, and even a small button. These artifacts could range in age from very young to possibly a century. All of this knowledge through material remains was collected by simply peeling back the grass. The other aspect of surface collection that I really enjoy is that it is a low impact method of excavation. Each surface collection unit requires removing only a few centimeters of sod, and when finished is backfilled to make sure that the impact upon the land is as minimal as we can make it. After using this method I have acquired a better understanding of ways in which researchers practice archaeology without large impact as well as the wealth of information that the surface can provide.