Records and Archive

The importance of the archive ought to be stressed. In essence we are de-constructing the site in a controlled manner in the pursuit of knowledge. As we excavate we ‘preserve’ the site through the records we take – commonly referred to as Preservation by Record. It is crucial that the records we generate are not only meticulously gathered, but also that they survive for a long time and can still be viewed in 50 or 100 years! The registers used on site include: Feature Register; Planning (Drawing) Register; Photograph Register; Sample Register; DHB Register; Bagged Finds Register; Burial Register; Stained Glass Registers; Plaster Register, Architectural Fragments Register, various washing registers and other sheets or registers, as required! The most fundamental element of record is the feature. As features are excavated, students are tasked with their identification, characterization, and documentation. The records taken can be broken down into four broad categories: written, drawn, photographic, and burial. Burial records will be covered in a later post concerning human remains.

Written Record

Written Record

The basic unit of recording is the feature number, everything else stems from this first step. Records for each feature generally begin once it has been identified on the ground and finish once the feature is fully excavated. To record a feature a student will begin by taking the next available feature number in the feature register. Then the proper record sheet is collected from the office. There are four different types of sheets to choose from: skeleton, wall, cut, and fill/deposit. Essential information on the sheet includes: cutting number, feature number, location on site grid, date started, excavator, feature description, levels, etc.. There are several prompts on the sheet. Each feature sheet has a specific table to record numbers that have been documented in other registers. In turn all these registers must refer back to your feature number. For example one must record all photos, bagged artefacts, samples and/or disarticulated human bone (DHB) taken from within the feature on the feature sheet. These should have already been recorded in their own registers – artefacts in the Finds Register, samples in the Samples Register, and photographs in the Photo Register and so on. Typically, one may need to return to the sheet on several occasions during the course of the excavation.

Features on site need to be understood in relation to each other spatially (which can be achieved by planning) as well as chronologically.  The latter is important to understand when, and in what order, events (recorded as features) happened on site. Chronology is recorded archaeologically as stratigraphic relationships, which are documented using a matrix. Stratigraphy is a key concept in archaeology, but takes practice and experience to fully understand in the field. All features must be dealt with as separate instances, but their stratigraphic relationship to each other needs to be understood and recorded carefully.

Drawn Record

Drawn Records

We now move from the written to the drawn record. To complete a site drawing one must first learn the principle of the site grid, and how to establish height above sea level (Ordnance Datum) with an automatic/dumpy level (called taking a level).  The site grid on the Black Friary allows us to ensure all our spatial recording/planning can be understood relative to the national grid, and that feature positions can be understood relative to each other. As with many sites the Black Friary grid is arbitrary. By this we mean a surveyor has laid out a grid with values that do not directly relate to the national grid. Crucially however, the site grid is understood in relation to, and can be overlaid on, the national grid. On the ground the grid appears as a series of pegs, generally at 10m to 20m intervals (to which you can attach tapes for planning). Each of these pegs has an easting and northing value written on it, which uniquely identifies it. These are like X and Y coordinates so the easting is written first, followed by the northing (contrary to what you might think). The grid is used to help us lay out our cuttings. It is essential that cuttings have straight sides and right angles, so that they can be accurately represented on plans. Right angles on the ground can be achieved with tapes using an easy technique based on the Pythagorean Theorem. The Pythagorean Theorem is a technique that is used in planning/surveying on this and other sites very frequently. If available, an electronic survey device, such as a total station or GPS, should be used to set out/check the site grids and cuttings, especially at large open-area excavations or where there is a significant slope (slopes make the measurements taken using tapes inaccurate). Surveys of the site are also periodically undertaken using an electronic device.

Drawings are made on planning boards (gridded at 1cm intervals) covered with a polyester drawing film (permatrace); the permatrace must be taped into place tightly (to ensure accuracy), and remains on the board until the drawing is finished. When setting up a drawing, one needs to select a drawing board (size) appropriate for the scale of the drawing. The most frequently used scales are 1:10, 1:20 and 1:50 (depending on the level of detail required and the size of the area being planned; all planning is strictly done using the metric system). Next one would go to the planning register (a list of all drawings from the excavation) and take the next available drawing number and sheet number (multiple sheets may be required for single plan in certain instances). We always ensure that all the required information is included in the top right corner of the drawing, such as: plan number, site name (Black Friary), ministerial consent number (E4127), cutting/feature number, scale, grid location date, initials, etc. Next we mark at least two grid pegs on the plan (more pegs are preferable) and label them with the proper E/N coordinates. All plans include levels which are clearly indicated. There are a number of different drawing/plan types. Typically students will only use three - plans, sections and profiles or elevations.

Plans record the aerial or bird’s eye view of a site or feature. Where possible, we try to always plan on established grid lines. A section is a vertical recording of the face of a feature (or set of features [for example a cutting side]), which have been partially excavated (think of slicing through a cake to reveal the layers of cream, sponge, frosting etc.).  Profiles record the vertical component of a feature (or set of features). Typically they are used for features which have already been excavated or to record surface topography, for example of a bank, hummock or ditch that is visible in the topography of the field. The methodology employed is the same as that outlined above for recording a section. An elevation may be drawn of a wall face or other built feature using the same methodology.

Photographic Record

In addition to written and drawn records photographs of features/the site are also taken. This is not as simple as shooting off a snapshot! Firstly all photographs are recorded in the photo register. Like other registers this asks for the Cutting number, feature number, initials and the date, as well as a summary of the shot (for example ditch F606 during excavation). As well as feature specific shots students are encouraged to take general ‘progress’ shots of cuttings as digging progresses, or if there is a change in the digging circumstances (for example if there was heavy rain and the cutting flooded!). For progress shots the photographic protocol is more relaxed, for example tools and people can be in the photo. However, for record shots a set of rules need to be adhered to. The area being photographed should be ‘clean’, devoid of tools, coats, hats, water-bottles, people, spoil etc. If taking photographs of features, these should be clean and well defined. If sunny, students are encouraged to choose an angle to best show the subject. We try to avoid taking photos when the sun is low in the sky. If there is bright sunshine, we cast a shadow over the subject; however we are sure that this covers the area to be photographed. Overcast conditions are ideal. At least one shot (if multiples are being taken) must include the site photo board, which must display the excavation number, feature/cutting number, date and initials. This board may also include the stage of works (for example pre-excavation, post-excavation etc.). At least one shot should contain photographic scales and a north arrow (the latter pointed in the direction of true north).  At the end of the day, photos are downloaded to the site office computer and hard drive and completed photo register pages are filed.

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