Posted by: signalhillarchaeology | July 2, 2009

Breaking Ground


Sod removal at the Barracks site

What a great day!  After months of thinking about digging, talking about digging, having meetings about digging, filling out paperwork about digging… we can now get down to brass tacks and actually start to dig!

And so here are our students, removing sod at the Barracks site at Ladies’ Lookout on Signal Hill.  It’s the first (and probably the last) time you’ll see the crew holding shovels. Generally speaking, the shovel is not the tool of choice for archaeologists on research-driven digs like ours.  We care more about removing soil slowly and exposing finds gently, so we work with 5 inch long mason’s trowels.  It’s surprising how much dirt you can move with a small hand tool.

But the sod had to come off first, so students gently pried it off with shovels.. but once the sod was gone, we didn’t start digging immediately.  One of the things the students are (quickly) learning is that paperwork is an important part of the archaeologist’s job.  And one of the most important types of paperwork is the field map.  In this case, the students are drawing a map of the soil layer that we exposed below the sod- showing rocks, artifacts, and the depth below the surface that this soil layer occurs.

There's no escaping the paperwork:  Mapping the exposed soil layer found beneath the sod-

There's no escaping the paperwork: Mapping the exposed soil layer found beneath the sod. Lovely sunny weather makes map drawing more pleasant, though you can see the ever-present Newfoundland fog lurking offshore behind us...

We’re creating a paper trail here– a permanent record of everything that we encounter when we dig, documenting (in this case) the appearance of a new layer of soil that is different from the one above it.  We’re trying to reconstruct the complex physical appearance of the site as we dig, so that other archaeologists in the future can consult our records and know what we’ve done.

As it turns out, we’ve already learned how useful the archaeological paper trail can be.  We’re digging very near where a different group of archaeologists worked in the mid 1980’s, and so we’ve been consulting the maps that they drew many years ago to help guide our interpretations of the site. I suspect some of the archaeologists reading this site may have had a hand in creating that paper trail… thanks for the good maps, folks! (You know who you are…)

All in all, the first day was a good day. And for tomorrow? We’re going to get down to digging, finally!  Though if the weather reports I hear are true, it’s going to be a wet and muddy day for digging… but getting muddy is sometimes half the fun of doing archaeology.

–Amanda Crompton (Instructor)



  1. I think what you are doing is great, I was on the hill this past weekend and saw your site.
    It would be so great to see Signal Hill restored back to it’s orignal condition, whata torest attraction.

    Peter Kelsey

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