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Professional standards for training excavations and field schools

NEHHAS FAB has been established since 1972, and over the year run sites which also allow our training course to be implemented. Following the above article, herewith our conclusions of the HEA survey (Ref 1):

" of the 434 participants only 51 used a mattock during their fieldwork, only 72 drew a section, and just 46 did surveying using TST/EDM or GPS"

On our digs (unless someone only attends for a day or two) everyone will be involved with drawing a section or other tasks which come up to be done - even if they have not signed up for the training.

We have 5 modules of training, one ol which is done on each day of the dig:

  1. Site & Trench Layout, Grid of Base Line and right angles
  2. Excavation and Site Survey, De-turfing, layers and finds, Levels and Datumns
  3. Site Recording - Planning, Sections, Photos, Forms - with details of Section Drawing
  4. Planning Features & Planning Frames, Finds Processing
  5. Geophysics with practical runs if needed on the site.
Students get to do the tasks as they come up.

"Throughout the day, our students can participate in any of these activities". In fact they don't have a choice - they are directed what to do, as tasks come up. We tend to have 1 x 4 m trenches with 2 or 3 people - and they become possessive of their trenches - so work on things related to their trenches. If a Special Find occurs in their trench they will be shown how to record it. We try and arrange trenches with an experienced person in each.

For some tasks they are taken out of their trenches for a spell - eg finds processing, or if any geophysics is being done, or if any extension is made to the Grid, or level readings are done on it.

The "only 77 students got to draw a section" may result from the site being organised as one big trench. If it is a training school the site should be organised so the main archaeological activities will come up - in this case a number of smaller trenches, even if they are later combined.

This leads into the issues of how we cross check things so that errors which may occur from students doing drawings or taking reading or measurements can be detected and put right. With the full use of recording forms most things have two ways of providing the answer, and we take steps for all these to be checked.

We have a system implemented where our Schedule of Records are double checked not only by the field unit, but also by students themselves. This system allows the students to understand and learn the different processes of field archaeology, but without them feeling undermined but also ensuring what they are being taught by the field unit is the correct procedure.

Our double checking procedures are as follows:

For all our sites we will use forms: Site Log, Contents Index, Context Records, Level Register, Photo Register, Special Finds Register, Finds Records, Sample Register, Plan & Section Register with Plan & Section Drawings.

Each of these forms are cross checked against information recorded on other forms.

The Site Director will also take a measurement by rule in case a students reading by level is incorrect.

Context Record

The Director will measure the depth of layer from ground surface by rule - depth of plan feature. This is just in case students' reading by level is wrong, and will have an adverse effect on other readings.

Level Register

All trenches at ground surface measured by metre and each becomes a datum with level reading by the Site Director in case students' reading by level are incorrect. Each level reading by student is also checked and compared by another student.

Photo Register

Each section photo were possible is taken at the same distance from the section with the staff along the ground surface and ranging poles at trench bottom. This enables distances (grid positions) and depth of any feature to be calculated and checked against any student's drawing or record. Each plan has a photo, depth of a feature, grid position and measurement by rule. This is in case any level has an error.

Special Finds Register

Each special find is recorded on its own form.. Director will photo with co-ordinates marked on photo and depth by rule, also included in the Photo Register. This is in case of any recording errors.

Plan and Section Register

Formation of Composite Sections - construction from Geodetic Survey Datums and cross checked from section photos, Plan Drawings cross checked by photos. Composite Sections (putting sections together) Geodetic Survey constructed from Director's Datums and details from students' Section Drawing layers by measuring down (by dividers) on students' drawings from ground surface. Removes any students' errors in recording. This can also be cross checked against Section Photos and Plan Drawings, together with the archaeological grid showing on the photos.

We have also discovered from speaking to our students in the past that in professionally run sites professionals tend to take over when important things come up, whereas we show them how to do it so they get the experience - or how much of this from your experience is the case. Based on our procedures, we feel that our training courses which enables hands on archaeological experience, shows teamwork, initiative, and determination, and many of our students have gone on to become professional archaeologists or work in a profession that our courses have benefited in their chosen career.

Richard Whaley & Clare Lodge


Anna Welch & P Trimmis Professional standards for training excavations and field schools, The Archaeologists Issue 105 Autumn 2018, p3.