Taking a Closer Look: Evaluation

Artifact totals from evaluation shovel tests were entered into mapping software to generate this artifact distribution map of the site. Just as a topographic map represents steepness of slope, contour lines here indicate two clusters of artifacts labeled Concentrations A and B. Artifact distribution and other information from shovel tests guided the placement of larger rectangular excavations called test units (labeled 'TU').Once a survey has established that a site could be significant, the next step is to take a closer look. First we try to locate the most densely used (and thus more informative) parts of the site. This usually involves more closely spaced shovel tests. Information about the contents of each shovel test can be entered into a computer mapping program that pinpoints areas with high concentrations of artifacts. “Hot spots”are shown with closely spaced contour lines, similar to the way a topographic map shows steep slopes.

In areas of the site where shovel tests show high concentrations of artifacts, archaeologists open larger square excavations called test units usually 1 to 2 meters on a side). With more room to maneuver, the soil can be carefully peeled away, keeping artifacts from different layers separate. In these larger units, contrasting patterns of soil become apparent, indicating “features” or manmade disturbances such as pits, postholes, trenches, or privies. These excavations provide a representative sample of artifacts from different locations on the site, and allow a better view of the soil deposits.

These additional excavations, along with more detailed documentary research, provide enough information to decide if the site is significant. The larger sample of artifacts provides more refined dates and a better idea of who used the site and for what purpose: Slaves, wealthy farmers, industrial workers? As a residence, a store, a camp, a workshop? These are just a small sample of dozens of site types in Virginia. Clearer views of the site's stratigraphy and the discovery of archaeological features will show how much of the site survives intact. If the deposits are in good condition and the site type is of high research interest, the archaeologists will recommend preservation/avoidance of the site. Though always the first choice, sometimes avoidance is too costly or unfeasible. In that event, intensive “data recovery”excavations follow.

Test units open wider windows into the archaeological deposits than shovel tests provide. Sometimes these larger, more controlled excavations even reveal archaeological features .By gradually removing the soil with a flat shovel, the field crew can identify the natural stratigraphy and keep separate drawings, notes, and bags of artifacts from each layer.The archaeologist tosses soil from the test unit into the sifting screen hanging from the frame. The soil is then passed through the wire mesh of the screen for easy recovery of artifacts.