Posts Tagged ‘trowel’

Archaeology 101

July 4, 2013

When we decided awhile back to go into the field of archaeology, we were on the receiving end of many questions. Number 1 was, “You’re going WHERE for six months?!” But there were other, more pertinant questions, such as “What exactly is archaeology?” and “What do you do at a dig?”

Archaeology is the study of the material remains of humanity (as opposed to paleontology). This is the study of artifacts. For a Biblical scholar, archaeology reveals the culture and practices behind the Bible narrative. Before your eyes, the Philistines transform from the wicked, Samson-hating enemies of Israel to a sophisticated and powerful people–who were also Israel’s enemies.

Philistine Pottery

Examples of Philistine Pottery Sherds (Left to Right): Philistine Monochrome, Cypriot Milk Jar, Another Cypriot Milk Jar, Monochrome Bell Jar Rim and Handle

But how do we get to those awesome artifacts that prove the Philistines weren’t just a bunch of hair-chopping savages? First, one must find the right spot. In this case, we’re at Ashkelon, which has maintained its identity through the ages. Archaeologists will divide such a site into grids. Each grid is divided into squares, and these can be divided into units or fine grids for digging. Through the use of technology, such as ground penetrating radar (GPR), archaeologists can get a fairly good bead on where to start in terms of buried architecture. Then, the bulldozers and backhoes come in. Because that’s a lot easier than taking off the top layer ourselves.

Archaeology Tools

Tools of the Trade (Back): Turia, Pickaxe, Brush and Dustpan, (Front) Trowel, Patich, Pottery Bucket

This is where we get to the fun part. Everyone gets a pickaxe. Some people are really great with pickaxes, some people aren’t, some people are a danger to humanity. At some point during the melee, somone is going to hit some pottery, or a rock, or a brick. Eventually a wall or even a whole complex will begin to emerge. As the work becomes more delicate, so do the tools. Now, you may be down next to a wall, and your supervisor will hand you a patich. This is your little pick that you use to chip away smaller chunks of dirt, rock, and sand. After a bit, you may be right against your wall, or you even found a piece of pottery or bone. So, you take out your handy-dandy trowel–the one you bought off Amazon and schlepped over land and sea just for this moment. With this, you will scrape, carve, and pick at thinner layers, and close in on artifacts. However, if you layer is important, such as floor or fiber (called phytolith), you may use a sophisticated tool like the bamboo skewer to gently lift and flake away dirt. If it’s really close work, they’ll bring out the dental pick instead. And when working with such fragile layers and objects, you can’t simply swipe over it with a brush. You will use an air puffer to puff away those pesky dust particles around your glorious find.

Scraping a Section

Using a Trowel to Scrape Down a Section (To Reveal Layers, Such as Floors)Using a Trowel to Explore the Edges of a PitUsing a Trowel to Explore the Edges of a Pit

Inevitably, though, amongst all this pickaxing, patiching, and trowling, you’ll make a mess. Or your surfaces will get lumpy. Cleanup and leveling is easy with the turia to scrape dirt into buckets and even up your surface. You’ll also use your brush and dustpan to clean up your area. Any pottery goes into a bucket labeled for your particular spot, and bones go into a labeled bag. Really special stuff will be individually packaged and labeled for research.

Archaeology Workspace

A Clean Area Is a Happy Area–Tools at Ready and Dirt Buckets in Use

Once everything is labeled, dusted, and tidy, the last tool in an archaeologist’s repetoir is the hot shower. You’ve played with ancient humanity all day, and now it’s time to join your own modern culture again. Happy digging!