Careful excavation and mapping of features, knowing what was found with what, and where it was found, helps us to know what people were doing in the past. This provides the context of the artifacts.

A grid is established over the site, so that artifact locations can be plotted. A sketch map is created for each level of each unit or feature. Individual artifacts are also plotted where they form clusters or patterns.

One level from Feature 139 at the Pammel Creek site, with the corresponding field map.



A site is like a layer cake, and the different layers represent different activities. Archaeologists must understand the vertical placement of artifacts in order to know what happened over time. Drawing the cross-section of a feature or unit allows these vertical zones to be recorded and interpreted.

Extensive excavations at the Sand Lake site in Onalaska, Wisconsin, revealed a series of ridged fields where the fertile topsoil was heaped up to form ridges along which corn and beans were planted. The fields were first formed about 1400 AD. During the next hundred years, sediment eroded from the surround uplands and buried the fields. New fields were created within the new sediments, and the process continued. A profile through the ridged fields reveals a series of such episodes.
The photograph shows feature 139 from the Pammel Creek site after half of the feature had been excavated, exposing the profile. The drawing shows the different zones defined in the pit. Each zone may represent a separate activity such as a separate dump of debris into the pit.



Without a good record of what was done at a site, what was found, where it was found, and under what conditions, excavation is just destruction. Records are created for each site, unit, and feature. Tags identify all artifacts. Photographic records, surveying records, and a wealth of other documents are created. These records are critical to the project, and are kept on file permanently.

Sample feature level excavation form and summary feature form. These document level 5 of Feature 139 at the Pammel Creek site.


Photography and Other Documentation

Photography (film, digital, video) is essential to documenting the process of archaeological excavation. Photos capture subtleties not otherwise documented. They also provide a strong visual images to help understand the archaeological materials in their context.