An experimental study of two grave excavation methods: Arbitrary Level Excavation and Stratigraphic Excavation
STAR: Science & Technology Of Archaeological Research
This is the final version of the article. Available from Maney Publishing via the DOI in this record.
The process of archaeological excavation is one of destruction. It normally provides archaeologists with a singular opportunity to recognise, define, extract and record archaeological evidence: the artefacts, features and deposits present in the archaeological record. It is expected that when archaeologists are excavating in a research, commercial or forensic setting the methods that they utilise will ensure a high rate of evidence recognition and recovery. Methods need to be accepted amongst the archaeological and scientific community they are serving and be deemed reliable. For example, in forensic contexts, methods need to conform to scientific and legal criteria so that the evidence retrieved is admissible in a court of law. Two standard methods of grave excavation were examined in this study with the aim of identifying the better approach in terms of evidence recovery. Four archaeologists with a range of experience each excavated two similarly constructed experimental ‘single graves’ using two different excavation methods. Those tested were the arbitrary level excavation method and the stratigraphic excavation method. The results from the excavations were used to compare recovery rates for varying forms of evidence placed within the graves. The stratigraphic excavation method resulted in higher rates of recovery for all evidence types, with an average of 71% of evidence being recovered, whereas the arbitrary level excavation method recovered an average of 56%. Neither method recovered all of the evidence. These findings raise questions about the reliability and so suitability of these established approaches to excavation.
This research was undertaken at Bournemouth University in 2009. The authors would like to thank the landowner, William Bond, for permission to use the site on the East Holme Estate, Dorset. The authors would also like to thank the individuals who participated in the study.
Vol. 2, 2016, Iss. 2: Network Analysis, pp. 177-191