How to Keep an Excavation Journal

A crucial part of archaeological fieldwork is keeping a detailed journal on daily excavations. Journals are used for referencing throughout the field season as well as later on during research. These entries are meant to be very descriptive, since after an archaeological layer is excavated there is no going back. As students on the Vindolanda field school, we get to try our hand at this practice, taking time to record what we have been doing in the field each evening, or morning.

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Nick, Sarah, and Steve writing in their field journals before getting to work this morning.

It is important to include the date and context you are working in each day. The context is the archaeological or stratigraphic layer, which changes depending on which part of the site you are working in. For example, those working in the vicus would end their context entry with a different letter than those in the fort. Being descriptive is, again, key when recording the context you are working in within your journal. Today Prem, Rachel, and myself continued work on the 4th century road within the fort, attempting to excavate it down to the 3rd century layer. In my journal I will describe the difference that I can see between each layer. I will also discuss how the team has been having difficulty finding the 3rd c. road.

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Excavating the 4th century road down to the 3rd century road within the fort.

Thankfully by the end of the day the team managed to determine the actual level that the 3rd century road is on. I, however, was given a different task for the latter half of the day. I began work on a drain in front of the 4th century barrack blocks that was built after the expansion of the road. I would note this change in my journal, recording my new context and describing my surroundings.

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The drain between the 4th century barracks (to the right) and the expanded 4th century road which incorporated the 3rd century barracks (to the left).

Any significant archaeological finds are also worth mentioning. An artifact found today, which could be noted, is a fragment of a scabbard chape. It is even handy to draw a small sketch of what you have found!

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Fragment of a scabbard chape found by Rachel.

All together it will look like this…

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A picture of my excavation journal on this lovely evening.

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