Accurate recording of what is being uncovered during excavation is an absolute obligation upon all archaeologists,
whatever their background and experience. Once an excavation has started, every piece of information retrieved from
the site must be related to the layers, finds and structures around it, so that the complex relationships that
contribute to the interpretation of the site can be recorded. An example might be a Roman pottery kiln, where the
position and quantity of the pottery itself, the kiln structure and waste material from the manufacturing process
are together essential to our understanding of the site - just an individual piece of pottery detached from this
other information loses almost all its significance.
Each layer, structure or deposit uncovered during an excavation is called a 'context' and given a unique context
number. These can run into many thousands on very large and complex sites. As the site is excavated, each context
is described and related to artefact finds and surrounding contexts. This basic site information is written on
paper or computer records. Scale drawings and photography record each context visually. Catalogues of contexts,
finds, soil samples, drawings and photographs need to be compiled because these will be used later to re-trace the
steps taken during the excavation. When the excavation itself is finished, the resulting mass of information still
needs to be sorted, processed and written-up. This is called the 'post-excavation' phase of work (often abbreviated
When excavation and post-excavation phases are complete, future researchers should be able to re-investigate the
archaeology by searching the site records - asking questions that could have been asked of the original archaeology,
such as, for example, the depth of stratigraphy, the size of buildings or the quantity and content of storage pits.
The information that results from excavations is only of permanent value if it is made available to other people by
publication, and by the site records being deposited in publicly available archives.
Learn more about Stratigraphy, Illustration,
Photography or return to Excavation.