Excavation is destructive: digging something means destroying the composition of layers that have existed for
hundreds or even thousands of years. No form of excavation can be repeated once it has taken place, so even
archaeological excavations are a form of controlled destruction of ancient deposits. This places a heavy burden
of responsibility on archaeologists to do the best possible job of digging and recording.
Excavations should be carefully planned, once other types of pre-excavation information such as survey results,
historic maps or aerial photographs, have been studied and taken into account. Archaeologists will therefore
have an idea about what they may be investigating (such as a Roman fort or a Bronze Age burial, for instance)
before they start excavating, although they should be prepared to re-think their ideas and to be surprised by
the unexpected. Sites very often turn out to be much more complex and long-lived than pre-excavation indications
suggest. Occasionally there is less to be found than expected; in some cases the pre-excavation indications are
The skill and excitement of archaeology is in finding and recording new information in the ground: responding
to expected and unexpected discoveries, and being able to make sense of them.
Learn more about Running a Dig, Recording,
Site Health and Safety, or Choosing a Site or return to
main Teaching and Learning page.