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Excavation methods  



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Meeting our objectives requires us to do six things:

  1. Excavate on a large scale

  2. Integrate data from excavations in several parts of the same settlement

  3. Quantify the data and publish them in detail

  4. Focus on close stratigraphic analysis

  5. Examine the use of space and how it changed through time

  6. Make extensive use of natural-science techniques

Most Iron Age excavations in western Sicily meet some of these goals, but we hope to be the first to meet all of them.

The Stanford team typically has about 50 members, most of them staying in Salemi for the full season (normally mid-June through early August). Most team members are Stanford undergraduates, but a significant minority comes from other universities in the US, Italy, and other countries, and volunteers from Salemi and neighboring towns. Since 2000 we have had team members from the US, Italy, Canada, Britain, Spain, Sweden, Norway, Germany, Latvia, and India. The trench supervisors are mostly graduate students.

We have laid out a 5 x 5 meter grid across the site on a north-south axis. Excavation normally begins with 4 x 4 meter trenches in the southwest corner of each 5 x 5 meter square, leaving 1-meter wide balks along the north and east edges. Each trench has a supervisor and a team of 2 or 3 excavators. We then modify the grid plan to respond to the features uncovered, excavating rooms or defined activity areas as complete contexts.

All excavation is stratigraphy-driven. Information is entered onto standardized context sheets. Each trench also keeps a notebook and makes entry into a video diary on alternate days. Every member of the trench team takes turns in filling out context sheets and making entries in the notebook and video diary. At the end of each week there is a site tour, when the trench supervisors describe their week’s progress to the entire team.

Findspots are recorded in Arcview by Leica Totalstations and a GPS system. Stratigraphic profiles are recorded on paper. Each trench has its own layer numbering sequence, and the separate sequences are coordinated and phased through Harris matrices (one for each zone). Measured sketch plans of every deposit are entered on the context sheets every day, and significant deposits are manually planned in greater detail on paper as well as digitally mapped. Paper plans are recorded at 1: 20. Photographs are taken digitally and on conventional film. The originals are stored in California and copies of all documentation are deposited with the Soprintendenza di Archeologia in Trapani.

All closed deposits are dry-sieved through a 5-millimeter mesh, and flotation samples are collected. Pollen and macrofossil densities are low at Monte Polizzo, so samples are normally large—at least 10 liters whenever possible. In 2002 we began taking micromorphology samples.

Classification of finds, cleaning, restoration, drawing, and analysis are done in a lab at the Dig House in Salemi. The artifacts are recorded in a computer database, linked to the Arcview database and photo archive.

We publish annual preliminary reports in English in the Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome (beginning with volume 46, 2001) and in Italian in Sicilia Archeologica (beginning with volume 35, 2002). These reports are on this website [See under "Reports"].


Mortimer Wheeler, Archaeology from the Earth (London 1954)

Clive Orton, Sampling in Archaeology (Cambridge 1999)

Steve Roskams, Excavation (Cambridge 2001)

Gavin Lucas, Critical Approaches to Fieldwork (London 2001)




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