Methods to Discover Archaeological Sites

Methods to Discover Archaeological Sites

What are the main methods used to discover archaeological sites in the landscape Critically assess the pros and cons of the methods you identify using relevant examples

The archaeologist uses a range of techniques to actively discover and locate archaeological sites within the landscape these methods are noninvasive and nondestructive and fall into four broad categories

Desk Top Surveys Surface Surveys

Geophysical and Geochemical surveys Aerial Surveys Grant et al 2002 p5

In addition to these some sites may be discovered by chance for example when quarrying dredging and peat cutting or simply out in walking in the landscape These broad categories all complement each other and the most relevant methods in each case will depend on the terrain of the area being investigated and the resources and time available for investigation Also the questions being asked and the degree of accuracy required will have an effect on how these techniques are used Greene 1991 p54

Desk Top Surveys

The desk top survey is office based and uses existing documents such as maps historical documents previous archaeological records pictures and literature all of which can all provide hints and references to archaeological sites Maps can be used to locate sites and are among the most basic resources available to the archaeologist Early 16th century maps are not always to scale but can be very useful Ordnance Survey started publishing maps in the early 19th century and by analysing a succession of maps of an area much can be learnt from the changes in use of the land and buildings Grant et al 2002 p8 Old tithe maps and terriers usually found amongst the deeds and papers relating to the ownership and management of estates and properties may offer insight about forgotten sites Barker 1993 Although the majority of early records have not survived there is still a wide range of available which the archaeologist may find of value Legal records including wills and court records can provide boundaries of ownership and clues to the functions of buildings The Domesday Book and other tax records and tithe awards can identify the economic use and boundaries of land

Pictorial records such photographs paintings and engravings and descriptive accounts written in books diaries and travelogues can all be of value Of particular interest is the work of William Stukeley 1687 1785 an accurate and observant recorder who travelled extensively throughout Britain and William Camden 1551 1623whose thorough and detailed descriptions were published in the first general guide to the antiquities in Britain Britannia in 1585 Greene pp24 27 These records can be freely found in museums libraries and private collections and may offer a rare record of an archaeological feature Details of any previous archaeological excavations finds and previous survey results are all held in local SMR and national NMR offices and can offer insight into possible sites for exploration

There is often much truth hidden in the legends and stories of antiquity and a study of these may provide a clue to a forgotten or place Most traditions and myths are founded on real people and places which over time can become exaggerated and unbelievable Grant et al 2002 p8 By sifting the embellishment from these legends the archaeologist is often left with a helpful factual narrative This is a cheap and effective way of gleaning information but it can be time consuming During interviews with local residents in Kythera Greece a vast amount of anecdotal information was generated on the use of the landscape of the island its abandonment and reuse and the connections between people villages and churches which all helped to place archaeological work into context Johnson Wilson 2003

The desk top survey is of particular value where investigations are part of the planning process to ascertain whether there are likely to be archaeological remains which could be lost or threatened as a part of the buil

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