Tools of the Trade

Frustration continues near the summit of Sainte-Candie as we struggle to excavate through increasingly difficult stratigraphy. Compact brownish silt has given way to soft fine-grained pink sand, which was easily removed and underneath was compact grey clayish silt, which, when excavated, was mixed with pinkish sand and a grittier reddish sand. Underneath all of that was a reddish sand, but its looking like the compact grey stuff is mixed in as well. What a mess. The lack of any special finds is challenging especially considering that our primary objective of finding and interpreting or contextualizing new contexts is so obscured. What we are finding are shards of local ceramics (the grey stuff I might’ve mentioned previously), regionally circulated ceramics from Liguria in Italy, and one of the most commonly made and traded wares from around the Mediterranean known as African Red Slip.

Neil did have one redeeming find earlier this week: a tiny shard of glass with a beautiful little series of ridges ringing the rim of the former vessel. Glass like this either came from Egypt or Syria. A tiny little glimmer of hope in an otherwise dim trench.

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If you squint your eyes, I swear you can see the ridges.

Besides finding very little, what have we actually accomplished these past two weeks? Well, we’ve excavated nearly half a meter of soil, recording and digging through five contexts. We’ve even removed the remnants of an early medieval wall.

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A photo of the entire trench highlighting the surface of the newest context we've discovered.
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Neil holding the stadia to measure the elevation of the surface along a permanent line we've set up in our trench in order to illustrate a cross section of the stratigraphy.
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Our spoil heap. We've moved a lot of dirt.
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A shot of the profile of our bulk. Several contexts are visible in the soil we've left at the boundary of our trench.
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The profile with the wall feature in it.
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Me dismantling the wall feature...the stone was heavy.

As you can probably gather, we did a lot of work. As I was contemplating what to write about, I realized that I never took the time to explain the tools we use to do all this work. So, without further ado, let me introduce the “tools of the trade.”

Perhaps the best place to start is with the tools we use to actually do the digging. Obviously, we use pickaxes and shovels, but these more intricate stratigraphic units often require smaller, finer tools for removing soil carefully. For these situations, we use trowels and handpicks.

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My most important and valued tool, the Marshalltown trowel. There's a big debate about whether the WHS brand, preferred by UK and some European archaeologists, or the Marshalltown is the superior tool, but either provides an extension of one's wrist for delicate and dextrous removal of soil.

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This bad boy is the "Triangle trowel." It's a preferred tool amongst the French archaeologists for removing hard packed layers of soil by applying a different angle of leverage through your wrist.

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And this is my hand pick. Granted, it's actually a rock hammer, but it works great for breaking through smaller hard packed layers that need to be removed quickly.

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Naturally, buckets, dustpans, and brushes are all essential for moving dirt.

For removing the shrubbery and general taming of the forest, we use axes, saws and various clippers and trimmers. These usually make their big appearance when opening a new trench.

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Hand clippers are very useful for trimming the roots that stick out of our profiles and contexts.

Measurement and drawing are perhaps the second most important activities behind excavating itself. For these, a lot of helpful tools come into play.

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The theodolite or "dumpy level" is useful for a few tasks. At Sainte-Candie, we use it for measuring the elevation of our progress each time we unveil a new level or to document the depth of special finds.
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Nails with lines and levels provide the means of creating a reference line. We use them to measure and draw both the depth of features like postholes and two-dimensional plans extending from the line.
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Naturally, we use tape measures to measure distances.
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Another favorite, the plumb bomb is a tool that uses gravity to establish a connection between a line or tape measure and an exact point below.
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I talk a lot about drawing. As you can see here, there's a lot of very familiar tools used in the process.
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I keep all my tools handy in a leather tool roll with some other fine tools for bones and cleaning ornate or delicate finds.

There is perhaps one other set of tools I’ve left until last to mention: the mind and the hands. Together they make the excavation, recording, and most importantly, the interpretation a reality.

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Archaeologists' hands are always dirty and sore.
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