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Archaeology Field Kit

MOAs resident archaeologist Ontario Doug and his tools



Have you ever wondered what tools archaeologists use and why they are important?  Ontario Doug is helping answer those questions by sharing the contents of the professional archaeologist’s tool kit.

The most iconic tool in an archaeologist’s field kit is the trowel.  Trowels allow archaeologists to carefully clear thin layers of soil, making it easier to reveal features in the ground.  At the Lawson Site, a common feature archaeologists find are post moulds, which look like dark circular stains in the ground.  An archaeologist needs to have a good eye to catch the changes in soil colour when excavating.

The second most iconic tool in the archaeologist’s field kit is the shovel.  Shovels are useful when archaeologists have to excavate a larger area that they know won’t have many artifacts or features.   Whether an archaeologist uses a square shovel or a rounded shovel is usually up to personal preference.  Ontario Doug prefers square shovels because he can be more precise as he removes the layers of soil.  It’s also easier to keep the edge sharp!

Notebooks, pencils, and a camera are also very important and no professional archaeologist would be without these in their toolkit.  Archaeologists record everything they find and keep very accurate notes detailing their excavation process and where artifacts and features were found.  Context is very important and archaeologists must keep detailed records about their work.

To help ensure accurate records, archaeologists also use tape measures, line levels, compasses, and GPS equipment.  These tools allow Ontario Doug to precisely measure where artifacts are found so that they can be accurately recorded on a map of the site.  Mapping the location of artifacts and features helps archaeologists develop a picture of how people lived on a site.

Archaeologists also use a screen when they are excavating.  All the soil is removed by digging, whether with a trowel or shovel, and then sifted through the screen to catch any small artifacts that may have been missed while digging.  Archaeologists will also collect soil samples to take back to the lab so that they can been screened using flotation to find very small artifacts as well as seeds and plant remains.

The typical archaeologist’s toolkit also contains dental picks, small paint brushes, and a dust pan.  Dental picks and small brushes are used to very carefully remove soil from around artifacts, especially ones that are fragile.  A dust pan is a great way to get that last bit of loose soil out of a unit.  Ontario Doug likes to make sure his units are clean before taking pictures of the features and artifacts that have been found.

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