Excavation is the most long standing archaeological method for understanding the procedures of the human past, and it is, of course, identified as the sort of work that the vast majority ascribe to archaeological exploration. It is used in order to determine the types of human activities that took place at a particular site over various periods of time, researchers can then use the incomplete material record along with evidence from site survey to reconstruct the cultural history of the place at particular points in time.There will always be a need for excavation, it is required in order to investigate certain research questions. However, despite the suggestion that excavation is essential it can be unclear as to why it is necessary to carry out an archaeological excavation, additionally the subject of what the most suitable recording methods are must be discussed.There are many reasons for undertaking an archaeological excavation, three main reasons have been identified which will be discussed; salvage, or rescue archaeology: sites are excavated to save and record any information that will not be available in the future (Renfrew, C., Bahn, P., 2000, p74).
Secondly, research projects: excavating to support or confirm data collected from site survey and to test hypotheses (Renfrew, C., Bahn, P., 2000, p78). Thirdly, conservation: for purposes of preserving cultural and heritage sites (Renfrew, C.
, Bahn, P., 2000, p11). Barker suggests that excavation is necessary to sample the sequences and effects of surface changes at certain points (Barker, P., p13), Barker states that excavations are carried out so that questions, which cannot be solved through other archaeological techniques like survey and aerial photography, may be answered or at least made clearer.
(Barker, P., p14) so a key reason for excavation is archaeologists may have a research question about the past that they think can only be answered by excavation in a particular area. Although this may be the case Barker also suggests that while excavation is essential it is also always destructive (Barker, P., p13) additionally, excavation tells us a lot about a little of a site, and can only be done once, whereas survey tells us a little about a lot of sites, and can be repeated (Renfrew, C., Bahn, P., 2000, p78). Therefore, it can be said that while excavation is useful to provide more sound evidence to support certain research hypotheses, it is possible to obtain reasonable evidence from site surveys without excavating, there are other reasons for undertaking archaeological excavation to consider.
Another key reason for undertaking archaeological excavation is the preservation of culture and heritage. Excavation must be carried out in order to increase the production of archaeological knowledge in still poorly documented parts of the world and in order to preserve the archaeological heritage of humanity (Demoule, P., 2011, 10) it is clear that excavation provides a history and heritage to many cultures and offers insight into the rich past of various cultures over the world. It seems it is vital now for archaeologists to use excavation as a tool for preserving culture due to the conjecture that world culture is a resource that is being depleted rapidly (Renfrew, C.
, Bahn, P., 2000, p12). Nevertheless, as with the first key reason for archaeological excavation, while it is essential to excavate in order to preserve culture and heritage, we run the risk of doing more harm than help due to the destructive nature of archaeology and removing artefacts from their original context.
There is an undoubtable importance for excavation when one considers the number of potentially crucial archaeological evidence and contexts which are destroyed due to development and expansion of public infrastructure. Thus, another key reason for undertaking archaeological excavation is to salvage, or rescue, archaeological sites which may be threatened by developments and therefore save and record as much archaeological evidence as possible as it will not be available for future use. In fact, the ratio of rescue excavations to research project excavations varies, but “rescue projects account for the larger part of the total annual budget spent on archaeology in many Western countries.” (Johansson, N., Johansson, L.
G., 2010, p306). However, while it can be acknowledged that it is preferable to have any information from a site that’s about to be destroyed, rather than have no information at all, Barker argues that evidence taken from rescue sites may be misleading or encourage bias due to any information salvaged being taken completely out of its archaeological context. (Barker, P., p14)Once an area has been excavated there is no way of putting things back where they were found, and what remains in regards to field notes, photographs, and drawings provide the only means by which one could restore the trench. For this reason, responsible and accurate recording during excavation is the most essential component of any project, and an excavation can be considered meaningless if written and visual records go unpublished after the excavation.
(Demoule, P., 2011, p8)Most excavations use site notebooks to record the process of excavation. The field notebooks allow for a standardised way of dealing with information about finds, features, excavation, photographs, and stratification; this thus guarantees consistency between various trench supervisors in the sorts of data gathered and allows simple change of the information into a digitized format. The field notebooks are the principal means of recording the process of excavation. Details recounted in these field notebooks include information about the conditions of excavation such as the workers present, the methods employed, and various working conditions like the weather (Ohio State University website). Field notebooks represent a traditional yet efficient way of recording archaeological finds and other details that may be useful for post excavation work, they provide a continuous narrative on particular sites, however they may introduce bias due to allowing for researchers to input their own personal opinions and beliefs about the site and finds where a more objective view may be preferable. It is imperative to record structures that cannot be moved lest they get destroyed as the excavation moves through a layer, not simply by written description in field notebooks, but by accurately scaled drawings and photography (Renfrew, C.
, Bahn, P., 2000, p111).In comparison to field notebooks, Barker favours ‘single context recording’ over site notebooks, developed by the Department of Urban Archaeology Each excavated context is assigned its own context number. Artefacts from each context are bagged and labelled with their context number and site code for later cross referencing and classification carried out post excavation. Barker favours single context recording as it is a recording method which is logical and objective, whereas critics of single context recording point out that it encourages a lazy attitude towards attempts to phase the site while excavation is in progress, and that it diminishes the incentive for archaeologists to interpret what they are digging beyond the boundaries of the context being excavated. Although critics of the recording system have this opinion, Barker suggests the system does not encourage a lazy attitude with regards to interpreting the evidence it may be that this system does not confuse the evidence with its interpretation, adding to the unbiased nature of the system.
(Barker, P., 1993, p169) To sum up, there are many reasons for undertaking archaeological excavation, three key reasons have been identified; for rescuing or salvaging archaeological sites, for research projects, and for conservation purposes, at this point in time it seems that excavation for rescuing archaeological sites is the most important reason for undertaking archaeological excavation, more efficient site survey methods can make excavation obsolete with regards to research projects, additionally when it comes to excavation for conservation purposes digging can do more harm than good due to the destructive nature of excavation. In distinguishing between the most suitable recording methods during archaeological excavation it can be said that innovative new recording methods are at the forefront right now like the single context recording method, however while it is proven to be a reliable recording method due to its objectivity and thus unbiased nature, it does not allow for the recording of other factors relating to the excavation such as the number of workers present, the excavating methods used and the working conditions, whereas the use of field notebooks covers all of these other factors, for this reason it can be suggested that the most suitable method for recording during excavation is a the use of a mix between the objective new method of the single context recording system and the traditional but effective narrative of field notebooks.