Units of Investigation and Excavation
The feature is our smallest unit of investigation. However, the site is excavated/managed as a series of “Cuttings”, to which excavation teams are assigned. A cutting is an arbitrary area, decided upon by the site directors, which is open to investigate a particular area/research aim, as part of the overall research strategy. For example it might be decided to excavate a 5m by 5m cutting over a specific part of the church to better understand burial practices in the area. IAFS staff decide on the size, shape, and location of any cutting and assist students in laying them out according to the site grid.
Cuttings can themselves contain small investigative units, such as sondages, and/or in exceptional circumstance an internal grid system. A sondage, if you like, a cutting within a main cutting, designed to investigate a specific feature or set of features. Their application will depend on the research questions being asked. An internal grid within a cutting is occasionally used (with alphabetic identifiers for specific spatial units) to assist with artefact/ecofact collection. A sondage, grid, or internal grid reference can NEVER be used to replicate a feature number during archaeology recording.
Once a cutting has been established, excavation typically commences with the removal of the sod/grass and topsoil. Removal of the sod is aptly called “de-sodding”, an exercise achieved by simply cutting the sod into small squares (making sure they are light enough to lift) using a spade. Once the sod is stripped, the topsoil is removed using a combination of mattocks, shovels, and garden hoes. The use of these tools is simple but still requires some level of technique to maximize efficiency and avoid injury. After the topsoil is removed either rubble deposits (dating primarily from the 18th century) or older archaeological features are typically exposed. At this point the digging methodology may switch to smaller hand tools.
This is where things start to get exciting! The basic features encountered will include cuts (or dug/negative features such as a ditch or pit), fills (soil/stone etc. placed backed into cuts), deposits (soil/stone etc. not in a cut), and walls (the latter pertaining to the friary and later buildings). As a cemetery is located on the site both intact burials and disarticulated human bone are also regularly exposed. In the course of excavation all our recording techniques are used to document what has been exposed and ultimately taken apart.