Home HISTORY Explain the stages of the process of an Archaeological Survey

Explain the stages of the process of an Archaeological Survey

Archaeological Survey

Explain the stages of the process of an Archaeological Survey

According to Fagan (2003), archaeology, is the scientific study of the human past ancient human behavior from the earliest time right up to the present. As such most archaeology is the part of a much wider discipline anthropology which studies all aspects of humanity ancient and modern.

According to Martha (1980:2), archaeology comprises two words which are “Archaeos” means ancient and “logos” means word discussion or reason. By definition archaeology is the science by which the remain of ancient man can be methodologically and systematically studied to obtain as complete a picture as possible of ancient culture and society and thereby to reconstruct past ways of life. It is a discipline that involves study observation, recording and experiment. Archaeologist study in detail the complete life of culture and their pattern of change in an attempt to delineate the causes and effect of cultural process.

Archaeological Survey, according to Bill (1942), the term archaeological survey has been defined as the situation whereby on or more people walking around an area attempting to find surface artifact that indicates the presence of area of human habitation. If any artifact are sighted their location is marked on the site survey and noted in the survey report.

Generally, archaeological survey is a type of field research by which archaeologist (often landscape archaeologist) search for archaeological site and collects the information about the location, distribution and organization of past human cultures across a large area. Example typically in access of one hectare and often in excess of many kilometers.

Archaeologist conduct survey to search for a particular archaeological sites or kind of sites, to detect the patterns in the distribution of materials culture over region, to make a generalization or test hypothesis about past culture and to assess the risks that development project will have adverse impacts on archaeological heritage.

There are two types of archaeological survey which are explained as follows;

Surface survey (reconnaissance survey) is the systematic attempt to locate, identify and record the distribution of archaeological site on the ground and against the natural geographical and environmental back ground. (Fargan 1985:192).

Generally surface survey is the preliminary examination of an area to identify major site, assess its archaeological  potential purposely to establish tentative sits distributions for example, it examining  archives and historical accounts, talking to people and acquiring general environmental information.

Another type is Sub-surface survey, is the survey whereby features are often detected with the resistivity of the soil between disturbed and undisturbed areas. Proto magnetometer is used to lacate iron object. Fired clay furnaces and other features (Fargan 1985:191).

According to Renfrew (1996:85) explained sub-surface survey as a survey which used to determine what coal beneath the ground, perhaps by digging test pits (usually meter square) to assess a site horizontal extent ultimately by more through exaction.

Generally, Sub-surface survey is the systematic detailed field survey that covers entire areas. The major aim of this kind of survey is to determine the location and distribution of archaeological sites within the survey areas.

Archaeological survey it has got various purpose such as; to locate the site, to establish the site boundaries to completely plot the areas, to sub-divide the site into trenches or a grid for the purpose of excavation, to describe topographical nature of the site and to measure the site. (Joukwsky 1980:66).


According to Fargan (1985:222), archaeological survey have objective to record information on sub-surface features such as wall, buildings and fornication, to collect and record information on artifact to use both categories of data test hypothesis about the age significance and function of the site.

The following are the stages of the process of an archaeological survey;

First, the formulation of topic of study, any archaeological research begins with fundamental decision about problem or areas to be studied. A research problem can be grandiose as determining the origin of agriculture in the South West, a truly enormous project s or as specific as determining data of the second phase in stone hanges construction. The initial decision will identify both the problem and geographical region in which will be investigated. (Fargan 1985:184). In addition to that, research problem or hypothesis be tested through the field are defined in formulation stage. relevant background research that review the history of archaeologist, geological and other studies apartment to the problem support objective. (Hester 1975:22-23).

Second, reconnaissance or to understand the area, methods of understanding individual site includes consultation documentary source and place name evidence, but reconnaissance in circumstance where archaeologist is more free agents. For instance much modern biblical archaeology concern itself with such or over  the near East for hard evidence of the place as well as the people and events describes in the old and new testaments, treated as one possible source of information about near Eastern sites. (Renfrew 1996:68-69).

In addition to this place name evidence also lead to actual discovery of new archaeological sites. In South West Ethiopia for example many pre-printed stone tombs have been found thank old names printed on the map  that incorporate local words for “stone” or “tombs”. (Renfrew 1996: 69).

Also early maps and old streets name are even more important in helping archaeologist work out the former plans of historic town in England, for example it is possible in the better documented towns to the map many the streets, house, churches and castles back to 12th Century AD or even early. (Renfrew 1996:69).

Also maps are among the most basic tools and sources used by archaeologists, they are used to locate and explore sits and to answer questions about previous use of the land scope. There of particular value in tracking changes through time (settlement shape and location, bounderies, land units, fields and hedges).

They can also be used to relate sits to geology and topograph (Jim Grant et al 2008:7). These maps then form a reliable basis on which to decide where it would be most profitable to carry out survey work excavation.

After understanding the area a researcher is required to have permission, for instance on a federal land and foreign countries requires some forms of antiquities laws and customs vary and change often.

Example in United State of America it is essential to follow the guidelines of native American Graves protection and repatriation act of 1990 and applicable state law (Hester 2009:23). The purpose of understanding the areas, it helps to define boundaries of field area, it helps to assess the extent to which the surface materials have been covered or removed by geographical process, it helps to understand how easy or difficult to reach and record an area, also helps to understand condition of the area, helps to prepare equipments t be used in survey process(Renfrew 1996:70-74).


Third, the preparation of LOGISTICS or preparation of instruments (materials) to be used in archaeological survey. The stage includes time, costs, staffs and equipments to be used. In time archaeologists determine the time to be used during the excavation according to the nature of the area, for instance to simple excavation area it may take short time while too difficult excavation area it may take long time to finish. In case of costs, archaeologists determine the costs of the area where they conduct a research. For example the use of transportation payments to members, costs of transporting equipments and the like.

In case of staffs or surveying teams are compose of three or preferable four person, the head and two or three other experienced surveyor is director of the operation and must be able to locate with high precision horizontal points or bench marks to which all alter survey work done on the sits will be referenced. He or she is expected to determine the terrain accurately and is also responsible for laying out stakes to mark the site control points and lines around the area of proposed excavation. This person must also cross-reference each of the detailed survey and is responsible for the accuracy of notes. The head surveyor must be sure that the instruments have been checked for accuracy and adjusted if necessary before they are taken into the field, once in the field  he or she must be able to adjust the instruments so that it is level, adjust the eye piece, sight of stadia rod, bringing it into proper focus and finally accurately read it and record it. The head surveyor is also referred to as the rear tape man the instrument man or the note taker as these are generally his or her duties.

One assistance is responsible for the correct vertical positioning of points to be measured, involving equipments  such as surveyors pins, the stadia rod and the range pole, also called the nod man, this person must stand behind the rod, holding it with both hand, making sure it is vertical and taking care that his or her finger do not block the instrument man’s view of the calibrations on the rod while watching the head surveyor (instrument man, rear tape man) for signals. The note keeper is responsible for the proper recording of data in the surveyor’s field notebook. These notations are an important phase of the expedition and must be clear, orderly and accurate. (Joukowsky, M 1980:89-90).

In case of equipments to be used in archaeological survey, there are different instruments which are used in archaeological survey including the Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), are a remote sensing device which involve radiating short pulse of high frequency radio waves into ground from antenna. Part of those waves will bounce back from buried objects or boundaries between different deposits, while the rest waves passed through the next interface. A receiving antenna record variation in this return signal. Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) it is bases of image when there is something solid beneath the ground like stone wall foundation or brick floors or drains. (Drewett 2011:51).


Another instrument is Auger, this is the instrument used to drill or bore through sub-surface deposits to find depth and consistency of archaeological deposits lying beneath the surface. (Fargan 1985: 207).

Also air craft, aerial photography produced by aircraft give an unrivaled view of the past-sites can be photographed oblically or vertically at different seasons or time of day and from many directions. (Fargan 1985: 202).

Other instruments in Magnetometer, this is essential instrument used to locate buried features and burnt areas, where as magnetic susceptibly locate occupation areas because to enhancement of susceptibly by the use of an area by human. This technique is particularly important where occupation evidence survives only in top soil either insity or having eroded down slope. (Drewett 2011:50).

Also there is Geographical Information System (GIS), this is an instrument which used in archaeological mapping, and GIS designed for collection, storage retrieval analysis and display spatial data. Also GIS incorporate the ability to the ability to carry out the statistical analyzing mapping catchment area and site territorial lacking the surrounding terrain in account. (Renfrew 1996: 83).

Other instruments which are used in archaeological survey includes shovel, test pits, Global Position Systems (GPS), total station, Notebook and Pencil, Pen, Camera.

Fourth, decision marking; under this stage archaeologists decide on the type of survey to be used either surface of sub-surface survey. Surface survey is the systematic attempt to locate, identify and record the distribution of archaeological site on the ground and against the natural geographical and environment background. (Fagan 1985:192). There are two types of surface survey which are systematic way employing either a grid system or a series of equal space traverses or transect. The area to be searched is divided into sector and those samples of them are walked systematically. In this way no part of the area is either under or over represented in the survey. This method makes it easier to broad the location of findings since one’s exact position is always known even greater accuracy can be obtained by subdividing  traverses into unit of fixed length, some of which can then more careful examined.


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