survey (archaeology)


  • Modern technology such as GPS has made survey recording much easier, as positions of artifacts or artifact clusters (“sites”) can be taken well within the limits of accuracy
    and precision necessary for survey work.

  • The types of questions that archaeologist often ask of survey data include: what is the evidence for first occupation of an area; when was this area occupied; how are sites
    distributed; where are sites located; what evidence is there for a settlement hierarchy; what sites are contemporary with each other; how has the modern landscape interfered with the visibility of archaeological remains; what sorts of activities
    can be recognized (e.g., dwellings, tombs, field systems); how many people lived in this area at any given time or how did population density change over time; why did people choose to live where they did; how has the landscape changed over
    time; what changes in settlement patterns have there been?

  • However, they may also be searching for archaeological materials in particular locations to test hypotheses about past use of those spaces.

  • [4] Extensive surveys may be designed to target the identification of archaeological sites across a large area, whereas intensive surveys are designed to provide a more comprehensive
    picture of the location of sites and the nature of off-site data (e.g.

  • This is particularly important for purposive surveys, but can also be used to guide sampling surveys by eliminating the need to survey areas where, for geological or other
    reasons, we can reasonably expect all ancient traces to be destroyed (e.g., by erosion) or far too deeply buried (e.g., by alluvium) to be detectable.

  • The surveys may be: (a) intrusive or non-intrusive, depending on the needs of the survey team (and the risk of destroying archaeological evidence if intrusive methods are
    used) and; (b) extensive or intensive, depending on the types of research questions being asked of the landscape in question.

  • Surveys can be a practical way to decide whether or not to carry out an excavation (as a way of recording the basic details of a possible site), but may also be ends in themselves,
    as they produce important information about past human activities in a regional context.

  • A single researcher or team will walk slowly through the target area looking for artifacts or other archaeological indicators on the surface, often recording aspects of the
    environment at the time.

  • In archaeology, survey or field survey is a type of field research by which archaeologists (often landscape archaeologists) search for archaeological sites and collect information
    about the location, distribution and organization of past human cultures across a large area (e.g.

  • These methods provide excellent resolution of many types of archaeological features, and are capable of high sample density surveys of very large areas and of operating under
    a wide range of conditions.

  • An intensive survey is the more costly, timely, and ultimately informative of the two approaches, although extensive surveys can provide important information about previously
    unknown areas.

  • As the number of well-documented surveys grow, this becomes a slightly easier task, as it is sometimes easier to compare two survey results than to compare a survey result
    with an excavated site.

  • An extensive survey, on the other hand, is characterised by a low-resolution approach over targets within a study area (sometimes including hundreds of km²).

  • (Although one or more sites may be known from an area, often little is known about the wider distribution of contemporary settlements, and how settlement patterns may change
    over time.)

  • [8] Databases containing existing regional archaeological data as well as other landscape GIS layers such as soils, vegetation, modern features, and development plans can
    be loaded on a mobile GIS for referencing, for sampling purposes, and for groundtruth updating directly in the field, resulting a more informed archaeological survey process.

  • The use of more recent technologies and finds from other sites may provide reason to re-examine the site.

  • Appropriate instrumentation, field survey design, and data processing are essential for success, and must be adapted to the unique geology and archaeological record of each

  • For instance, very little may have been found during a field walk, but there are strong indications from geophysical survey and local stories that there is a building underneath
    a field.

  • Narrowing it down[edit] Because of the high costs involved in some kinds of surveys, it is often helpful to use “predictive modelling” to narrow down the search for archaeological

  • The former, sometimes also called “archaeological prospection”, involves cases where archaeologists are searching for a particular site or a particular kind of archaeological

  • Although geophysical surveying has been used in the past with intermittent success, good results are very likely when it is applied appropriately.

  • Extensive vs. intensive survey One way to classify archaeological field surveys is to divide them into two types: intensive and extensive.

  • The assessment determines whether the area of development impact is likely to contain significant archaeological resources and makes recommendations as to whether the archaeological
    remains can be avoided or an excavation is necessary before development work can commence.

  • They were often carried out by methods that left behind much of the evidence the modern-day archaeologist is looking for.

  • The former is characterised by the complete or near-complete coverage of the survey area at a high resolution, most often by having teams of survey archaeologists walk in
    a systematic way (e.g.

  • Archaeologists conduct surveys to search for particular archaeological sites or kinds of sites, to detect patterns in the distribution of material culture over regions, to
    make generalizations or test hypotheses about past cultures, and to assess the risks that development projects will have adverse impacts on archaeological heritage.

  • As many older surveys and excavations were published in papers that are not widely available, this may be a difficult task.

  • However, it remains difficult to compare datasets produced by different research teams.

  • Rationale[edit] An area may be considered worthy of surveying based on the following: • Artifacts found: Locals have picked up physical artifacts, sometimes held by the local
    museum but more often collected in private homes or old buildings such as churches and synagogues, and it is unclear where they are coming from.

  • Permissions[edit] It is usually a simple matter to gain permission to perform a cultural field survey, especially a non-intrusive one.

  • A method often used to determine its value is to compare it to sites of the same period.

  • • Archaeological hypotheses: Some kinds of archaeological theories — about changes in agricultural strategies or population density for example — are investigated or tested
    through the use of archaeological surveys of areas that should or should not contain particular kinds of archaeological materials if the theory is true.

  • Survey results can be used to guide excavation and to give archaeologists insight into the patterning of non-excavated parts of the site.

  • Prior to engaging in fieldwork, desk-based assessments will likely take place, during which, written, visual, and electronic information is gathered for the purpose of evaluating
    and developing a plan for future fieldwork.

  • This can be valuable in determining the cost of an excavation – if there is a build-up of several meters of soil above the layers the archaeologist is interested in, the price
    will obviously be much higher than if artifacts are found only centimeters below ground.

  • This is often the case if it is a rescue survey, but less common in a regular survey.

  • An archaeological field survey is the primary tool for discovering information about previously uninvestigated areas.

  • • Oral sources: In many locations, local stories contain some hint of a greater past, and often they have a basis in history.

  • [1] Consideration should be given to the nature of the landscape (vegetation coverage, existing settlement or industry, soil depth, climate) before a range of techniques is
    selected to be applied within an appropriate overarching method.

  • However, variations in artifact visibility related to topography, vegetation, and soil character, not to mention the imperfect detection abilities of human observers, bring
    into question the very concept of complete coverage.

  • The contents are examined to determine the depths at which one might find cultural layers, and where one might expect to strike virgin soil.


Works Cited

[‘1. Standard and guidance for historic environment desk-based assessment (PDF). Chartered Institute for Archaeologists. 2014. pp. 1–16.
2. ^ Whimster, R. (1989). The Emerging Past: Air Photography and the Buried Landscape. London: RCHM(E). ISBN 978-0-9507236-9-3.
3. ^
Taylor, Christopher (1974). Fieldwork in Medieval Archaeology. Batsford. pp. 59–60. ISBN 978-0-7134-2850-6.
4. ^ Foley, Robert (1981). Off-site archaeology and human adaptation in Eastern Africa. Oxford: British Archaeological Reports International
series 97. pp. 8–12. ISBN 978-0-86054-114-1.
5. ^ Schofield, A. J. (1991). Interpreting Artefact Scatters: Contributions to Ploughzone Archaeology. Oxford: Oxbow. ISBN 978-0-946897-25-4.
6. ^ Tabor, Richard (2004). Regional Perspectives in Archaeology:
From Strategy to Narrative. Oxford: British Archaeological Reports International series 1203. pp. 48–52. ISBN 1-84171-350-3.
7. ^ Tabor, Richard (2008). Cadbury Castle: A hillfort and landscapes. Stroud: The History Press. pp. 32–33. ISBN 978-0-7524-4715-5.
8. ^
Tripcevich, Nicholas (2004). “Flexibility by Design: How mobile GIS meets the needs of archaeological survey”. Cartography and Geographic Information Science. 31 (3): 137–151. doi:10.1559/1523040042246025. S2CID 73534049.
9. ^ Shott, Michael (1989).
“Shovel-Test Sampling in Archaeological Survey: Comments on Nance and Ball, and Lightfoot”. American Antiquity. 54 (2): 396–404. doi:10.2307/281714. JSTOR 281714. S2CID 163372346.
10. ^ Verhagen, Philip (2013). C. Corsi; et al. (eds.). “Site Discovery
and Evaluation Through Minimal Interventions: Core Sampling, Test Pits and Trial Trenches”. Good Practices in Archaeological Diagnostics. pp. 209–225.
11. ^ Tabor, Richard (2004). Regional Perspectives in Archaeology: From Strategy to Narrative.
Oxford: British Archaeological Reports International series 1203. pp. 41–46. ISBN 1-84171-350-3.
12. ^ Néhémie Strupler (14 June 2021). “Re-discovering archaeological discoveries. Experiments with reproducing archaeological survey analysis”. Internet
Archaeology (56). doi:10.11141/IA.56.6. ISSN 1363-5387. Wikidata Q110811952.
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