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What does it take to set up an excavation?

July 8, 2011

Below, a guest post from UW Student Anna Hopkins (Junior, Anthropology), chronicling her experience in the 2011 Archaeology Field School in Thailand (blog). The variety of UW Study Abroad opportunities our undergraduates participate in is pretty incredible.

Locals visit excavation Thailand

When setting up an excavation at a site there is much more involved than just digging. For instance you must obtain two types of permits in order to excavate a site. You must first obtain one permit from the National Research Council of Thailand. Then you must obtain a permit from the Fine Arts Department of Thailand. Both must extend permission to excavate a site. In your application you need to give a detailed plan not only of how you will conduct your work, but what will happen to your finds after you finish. You need to make contact with certain people in the community as the next step such as the village chief for permission. You need to make contact with the local people of the community to make sure they are involved and feel comfortable with you being there. You need to also contact and make sure it is okay with the land owner to excavate on their land as well.

Communication is a key aspect of setting up an excavation. Without communication the community might not feel as receptive to the idea of you excavating in their site. It is important to welcome the community to the site to make sure they are informed about how you have done the work and what you have found. Community outreach and education is extremely important in the process. Local contacts in the area are highly invloved in communicating to others information from the site and education about the excavations progress. Word spreads fast and you want to make sure people are getting the right idea about the nature of the research.

Monk visits UW excavation site

Once the permits are obtained and contacts are set up, the archaeologists can assemble their team. In our case, Professor Marwick organised a field school and recruited university students to the team from all over the world. Funding from the Luce Foundation supports the participation of students from many Southeast Asian countries. Students all arrive to the site and are trained in the excavation process. Once this is done, theteam heads out to the site to excavate.

We set up trenches and label them to make them easier to identify which was worked in for the day. The trench is set up by using a baseline, which is a line which is used to start the measurement of the trench with. Then we use the baseline to start taking measurements with the offset line to place pegs in the ground to start stringing the trenches out in precise 1x1m squares. From this point we use the total station machine to record the points at the corners of the trenches. Once this process is complete and we have recorded all the points we are able to start digging the excavation one unit at a time. Each excavation unit is just five centimeters deep and we dig it carefully with hand tools such trowels, dental picks and brushes. After each unit, we take detailed notes, photographs, record points with our total station, and then prepare to do the next unit down.

It is a slow and complicated process yet very rewarding. It is very nice to meet people in the community and learn all about Thai culture while participating in a project like this. Being able to have that contact with the community makes the excavation process even more special.


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One Comment leave one →
  1. July 2, 2012 12:18 pm

    It all depends on what your plan to excavate, and where your at. A house is very different from an archaeological dig!

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