Post excavation analysis, often considered the less glamorous side of archaeology, is the critical process where the bulk of an archaeological study occurs. This phase involves an array of tasks, from interpreting the data collected during an excavation to conducting scientific analyses on artifacts and biofacts. Despite being less visible, post excavation analysis plays a fundamental role in unveiling the story behind unearthed remnants .
Understanding Post Excacavation Analysis
Post excavation analysis, also known as post-fieldwork analysis or lab analysis, refers to the evaluation, interpretation, and recording of archaeological materials and data once the fieldwork has ended. It transforms the raw data collected during excavation into a meaningful narrative of the past .
Understanding the significance of post excavation analysis involves recognizing that the excavation process itself merely scratches the surface of a site’s history. The post-excavation phase allows researchers to:
- Transform field data into interpretable findings.
- Identify, classify, and date artifacts.
- Reconstruct past environments, activities, and lifestyles.
- Generate conclusions that can contribute to broader archaeological, historical, and anthropological discourse.
Key Components of Post Excavation Analysis
Post excavation analysis entails a multi-layered approach. The main components are :
- Cleaning and Conservation: Artifacts are carefully cleaned and conserved for future study. Depending on the material, various techniques like dry brushing, wet cleaning, or chemical cleaning can be used.
- Cataloguing and Classification: Artifacts are recorded in a database, catalogued, and classified based on their type, function, material, and other distinguishing features.
- Analysis and Interpretation: This phase involves detailed studies of the artifacts, including technological, stylistic, and functional analysis.
- Dating: Techniques like radiocarbon dating, dendrochronology, or thermoluminescence dating can be applied to determine the age of the artifacts.
- Report Writing: Findings are compiled into a report, presenting the methods, results, and conclusions drawn from the study.
Steps Involved in Post Excavation Analysis
While the sequence might vary slightly depending on the specific project, the following steps typically occur:
- Cleaning and Labelling: Artifacts are meticulously cleaned and labelled with unique identifiers for tracking.
- Description and Classification: Each artifact is described in detail and classified based on characteristics such as material, type, size, shape, decoration, etc.
- Recording and Photography: All details are recorded, and professional photographs are taken for further analysis and publication.
- Specialist Analysis: Depending on the nature of the artifacts, various specialist analyses may be conducted, such as ceramic petrography, zooarchaeological analysis, or isotopic analysis.
- Interpretation and Report Writing: Results are interpreted, and a detailed report is prepared.
Table 1 below provides a simplified overview of these steps:
|Cleaning and Labelling||Preserve and track artifacts|
|Description and Classification||Identify characteristics of artifacts|
|Recording and Photography||Document artifacts for further analysis and publication|
|Specialist Analysis||Conduct specific tests to garner more information|
|Interpretation and Report Writing||Draw conclusions and compile findings|
Advanced Techniques in Post Excavation Analysis
The role of Technology
Technological advancements have significantly transformed post excavation analysis. Innovative techniques such as LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), ground penetrating radar, geographic information systems (GIS), and various dating methodologies have revolutionized our understanding of archaeological sites and artifacts.
LiDAR and Ground Penetrating Radar
LiDAR uses light in the form of pulsed laser to measure distances, while ground penetrating radar utilizes radar pulses to image the subsurface. These technologies provide high-resolution, three-dimensional images of archaeological sites, allowing for enhanced understanding of site stratigraphy and features.
Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
GIS is a powerful tool used to analyze and interpret spatial relationships and patterns. This digital technology allows for the visualization, querying, and analysis of geospatial data. In archaeology, GIS is used to help understand settlement patterns, site catchment analysis, and landscape archaeology.
Dating methodologies have significantly improved, allowing archaeologists to date artifacts and archaeological layers with greater precision. These include techniques like radiocarbon dating, thermoluminescence, and optically stimulated luminescence. The application of these dating methods in post excavation analysis provides a chronological framework for the artifacts and archaeological sites.
Future of Post Excavation Analysis
The future of post excavation analysis is promising. As technology advances, archaeologists anticipate more precise, faster, and comprehensive analysis. The integration of artificial intelligence and machine learning into archaeological analysis could further enhance the interpretation of findings, while digital archiving could address the challenges of storage and conservation.
Challenges in Post Excavation Analysis
Despite its significance, post excavation analysis is often plagued with several challenges:
- Time and Resource Intensive: The process is often lengthy and requires substantial resources.
- Interpretation Issues: The interpretation of archaeological data is often subjective, which may lead to differing conclusions.
- Storage and Conservation Issues: Proper storage and conservation of artifacts is essential yet challenging, especially for delicate materials .
The importance of post excavation analysis cannot be overstated. It is through this stage that raw data and artifacts become valuable pieces of historical puzzle, helping to piece together an image of our shared past. As methods continue to evolve and become more sophisticated, the potential for post excavation analysis to reveal new insights about history and prehistory will only grow.
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 Sullivan, S., & Brockwell, S. (2014). Archaeological sites: Conservation and management. Getty Publications.