At the beginning of field school, our students were very eager to get right to trowelling because that is what we always associate with archaeology. I think some of them were surprised and maybe a wee bit disgruntled that we started shoving shovels at them, but really, the shovel is an archaeologist’s best friend (James would argue that the mattock should be promoted as well!). Our crew have been learning (sometimes grudgingly!) to love their shovels but for some tasks nothing but trowels will do.
When documenting a feature, we sometimes take a section of it. This allows us to see the volume and shape of space that the possible feature occupies in the surrounding matrix, and the soil recovered is bagged and taken back to the lab for flotation. There might be small finds in there that would ordinarily pass through our screens. The point and sharp edge of a trowel is perfect for following the sometimes complicated contours of feature soil as it is removed.
While the structure we have been chasing has been a bit elusive this season (where are you little log cabin in the woods?!), we have found some wood planking and mortar layers that might have been associated in some way with a structure. This has required some careful trowel work to isolate it from the surrounding soil so we can investigate what it is and how it relates to what we know about the stratigraphic layers of the site.
While shovel shining is an absolute top skill for the aspiring archaeologist to attain, good trowel skills are also important. Our students have probably heard us say “that needs a good trowel back” many many times by now, and what we mean by that is that the walls are neat and vertical, we don’t have bathtub corners, and the area under excavation has had a good clean scrape to expose a fresh surface that isn’t all mucked up by boot prints or crumbs of soil. This allows us to clearly see the edges of potential features in plan view, and also to see the stratigraphy in the wall profiles.
Bit by bit, with trowel and dustpan, shovel and bucket, we are unpacking what this site has to tell us! Only three full days of excavation left!