This is a question we’re often asked during and after digs so we thought we’d give you an insight into what our archaeological supervisor, Cat, does behind the scenes after finds from an excavation are bagged, labelled and off-site.
Firstly, if there are any finds which did not dry fully after being washed then these are aired in our office for a day or two. Particularly if we’ve had a rainy couple of days digging (or some hurried finds washers!) then there will be heaps of finds lined up along the window-ledge, on the tops of filing cabinets and on the edge of desks!
Soon if not immediately after the excavation the finds are ‘de-potted’, meaning that all of the pottery is separated out, photographed and put into another set of bags labelled with the site code, test-pit and context numbers before being sent to a pottery expert for specialist identification. Pottery reports for each of our sites can be found on our website under Excavation Reports. Distribution maps are then drawn up to see how the number of pottery sherds found in disturbed and undisturbed layers changes from one period to the next.
The remainder of the finds usually have to wait until our busy field season is finished before they are processed. All of the finds have to be photographed on a scaled context sheet and the weight and number of each type of finds recorded. At this stage, all animal bone, flint and burnt stone is separated ready for specialist analysis and any finds which are not considered to warrant any future analysis can be discarded, which includes concrete, animal shells, unworked flint and modern tile.
At this stage, local co-ordinators are contacted to see if test-pit owners want any of their finds returned as archaeological finds are the property of the landowner. Many villages host exhibitions of their finds for other local residents to see what was found, which often attracts volunteers to host excavations another time. If not returned, we will keep all of the finds in storage for future research and teaching. We have a comparative collection of pottery and finds compiled from our store which we usually display for people to identify what they have found on-site.
Once all of this has happened, Cat writes up each test pit record using the catalogue of finds, recorded paperwork and data from existing records to create a report of what was found which is submitted to county archaeology records for reference. For a typical field academy of 10 test-pits, the whole process of finds processing and reporting would usually take her a whole week to complete! To give you an idea of how much time is involved in the post-excavation work, we have finds to process from 13 field academies as well as 7 community excavations this winter!
Each year, Carenza submits an article to the Medieval Settlements Research Group analysing the overall results for each site and considers the significance of these in context of wider research on Currently Occupied Rural Settlements (CORS). Once we are confident that we have finished all the excavation work we intend to do at a site then she will compile a comprehensive report ready for future publication.
So if you thought digging the finds in the first place was tough, spare a thought for archaeologists like Cat who process them afterwards and consider the hard work involved to ensure that the results are recorded and shared for the public benefit.