Digging the Dirt: the what, whys and wherefores of excavating the past

Part three of a nine part series of articles from Mark Barden, our Community Cultural Experience Manager here at Hampshire Cultural Trust, 'digging the dirt' on all things archaeology.

Episode 3: Excavation

Archaeological excavations normally only take place in advance of a development or as part of a research project. If the Desk Top Assessment, pre-excavation research, indicates the presence of archaeology on the site there are several recording options available to the archaeologist.

Watching Brief

Archaeologists will be on site during groundworks for the development and be able to record any archaeology uncovered. An arrangement often used for large scale developments such as pipe lines and motorways.

Bore holes

Bore holes are used to test the ground a new building will be sitting on but they can also be used to sample the archaeology. This allows piling, to support the building, to be located away from the most sensitive archaeology, as well as avoiding the need for more extensive excavation resulting from traditional foundation trenches. This is called ‘mitigation’.

Pits and wells under excavation at the northern end of Winchester Library prior to its redevelopment into Winchester Discovery Centre in 2007.

Trial trenches

Trial trenches are used to test the survival and extent of archaeological deposits, particularly useful on large area developments. They also allow for a percentage of the archaeology to be excavated under controlled conditions and for building foundations to be redesigned, preserving the unexcavated archaeology in-situ.

Total excavation

Total excavation involves the removal of all archaeological material from a site in advance of development or to achieve a specific research objective. This level of excavation is more likely to be used on rural sites where the archaeological deposits are shallower. In historic towns, with layers of archaeology which may be several metres deep, only the deposits effected by the development will be excavated.

Recording features on the Winchester Library site. Note the bags containing finds from the pit as it is excavated.

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Hampshire Cultural Trust

From museums to galleries to arts centres, we manage and support attractions across the county, welcoming over 740,000 people each year. Our charitable purpose is changing lives through culture.
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