Using Heavy Equipment

Guided by archaeologists, a skilled backhoe operator removes the mixed overburden in small increments.Archaeologists sometimes use heavy machinery like backhoes. This kind of equipment is very helpful if used properly. The greatest advantage it offers is efficiency. In a given amount of time these machines can move much more soil than several people can with shovels.

Heavy equipment should almost never be used on an archaeological site as a first step. We brought a backhoe out to the Prince Henry site at City Point only after intensive testing by hand. The initial tests told us where it was reasonable to use the machine and how much soil to remove.

The backhoe operator was directed to strip away only the upper foot or so of soil. This upper layer had been churned up over the years by garden plowing and other modern activity. Moreover, we had already obtained a sample of artifacts from the "plowzone". The machine was not allowed to dig into deeper strata which remain undisturbed. The benefits of machine stripping were seen almost immediately. It was with the backhoe that the large Civil War Feature 8 was exposed.

Once a trench has exposed the subsoil, careful examination and further shovel scraping reveals archaeological features. Examples include old pits, postholes, and cellars too deep to have been disturbed by later ground-disturbing activities like plowing.