Archaeological Methods. REL 101 Dr. Victor H. Matthews. Archaeology Defined. Archaeology is the study of ancient artifacts, whether they be material remains (e.g., ceramics) or textual (e.g., the Bible).
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Archaeology is the study of ancient artifacts, whether they be material remains (e.g., ceramics) or textual (e.g., the Bible).
Archaeology has very real limitations, chief of which is the destructive nature of time, the elements, and successive inhabitants of the region who systematically reused building materials and dug pits through ancient occupation layers.
Once an excavation has begun the findings may not accord with what we consider to be logical and may require continual reinterpretation. Remember that only the ancients truly understand the logic of their material remains (emic perspective).
It is inappropriate to assign a function or meaning to an artifact or site just because we think it is likely or stands to reason (etic perspective).
As we excavate we communicate with the material remains of ancient people. There is a continuous dialogue in which we interact, starting with a plan and a set of questions, but changing it and them to meet the realities of what is actually discovered. If we only seek to find what we expect, then that is all that we will find.
Archaeologists lay out excavation grids and dig square holes in order to determine stratigraphy and control the flow of data. By design and due to the realities of financing fieldwork, no site is completely excavated and in most cases only about 10-15% is ever uncovered and analyzed.
It is inappropriate to try to force the biblical narrative to conform to an archaeological model, and it is equally inappropriate to limit archaeological investigation so that it is forced to conform to the biblical narrative.
Once the excavation plan has been prepared by the Director and senior staff, the first step is to clear the site of the vegetation that has grown since the last season. This procedure facilitates photography, makes surface features stand out, and gets the team used to working together in a sometimes difficult climate.
Ten or fifteen meter squares are laid out with string and sand bags and initial levels are taken so that the supervisors will know starting and ending points for each day’s work and they can determine the exact depth at which significant finds are made.
Excavation begins by breaking the soil with shovels and picks, but this may quickly turn to finer work using brushes, ice picks, and trowels when an artifact is discovered or a floor is found signaling the emergence of a change in stratigraphy.
All tagged buckets and boxes are taken to the collection supervisor for washing or cleaning with an eye out for inscriptions (ostraca) or for diagnostic examples that will help establish a ceramic chronology of the site, indicate possible trading activity, and in the case of coins a clear date for a particular stratum or building.
All pottery and other artifacts areplaced in tagged buckets or boxes for later examination. The tags indicate which square and at what level they were found. The recording process in the field will be systematized in later field reports by the square and area supervisors.
At the end of the excavation season, the entire staff completes and submits their field notebooks and the senior staff spends the next several months analyzing this data while the artifacts are sent to laboratories for scientific tests and classification.