What is post-excavation?

    Photograph of excavation and recording  at Yarnton   Most people think of an archaeological excavation as a 'dig', emphasising the process of discovery on site. In reality, an excavation involves much more than this. Extensive written, drawn and photographic records are made. A wide range of finds are recovered. These include tools, everyday household objects and personal possessions left behind by earlier occupants of the site, and sometimes the remains of their buildings such as
    bricks, building stone,door locks and hinges, and roof and floor tiles.

Some finds, such as pottery and coins, are particularly useful for archaeologists because they provide the main evidence for dating what we have found.

We also collect animal, bird and fish bone, which can tell us about diet and farming/hunting practices in the past. On many sites we will also take soil samples from which we can extract plant remains such as pollen and seeds, and the remains of snails and insects. This provides information about the past environment and the plants and crops that were growing in earlier times.

Quite often we also find human burials, and these are carefully excavated and recorded.

Much of this data is dealt with away from site, and this phase of work is usually called post-excavation by archaeologists. Many post-excavation projects will start with a formal review phase, known as post-excavation assessment. At this point, decisions are made about which finds and samples to analyse in detail, and how the results of the project will be published.

Click here to see the 1998 post-excavation assessment for Yarnton:

Listed below are some of the main tasks undertaken for a big post-excavation project like Yarnton.
Photograph of a pottery specialist assessing some finds
  • Cleaning, listing and packaging of finds

  • Processing of samples - that is, the extraction of plant, insect and mollusc remains from bulk soil samples taken on site

  • Identification of finds and environmental material by specialists

  • Conservation of fragile objects for long-term storage

  • Scientific dating - for example, radiocarbon dating

  • Security copying of site records

  • Computer inputting of records onto databases and digital drawing packages

  • Analysis of the results of the excavation to provide a reliable dated interpretation of what has been found

  • Production of text and illustrations for a final report

  • Editing, typesetting, printing and distribution of the report

  • Compilation and indexing of a complete archive of project records

  • Deposition of records and finds with an appropriate museum.

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