From the Field: by Trevor McKinney

This post is about shovel testing! Previously I had been doing pedestrian survey, but recently I was able to get down in the dirt a little with shovels, trowels, and screens. The shovel test site isn’t all that far from where my team had been surveying tracts either, just a short drive outside Peja.

Shovel testing is another form of survey that involves digging in the ground and sifting through the dirt. Shovel test pits are uniform, smaller holes that are systematically dug to sample the distribution of artifacts. Details are carefully documented such as: any artifacts found, at what depth found, and total depth reached. This gives more information about what may be found if an area is excavated, and if this area is worth committing to excavating. The idea here is similar to pedestrian survey, but we get to look in the ground a bit.

Shovel testing.
Our workflow consists mainly of one person digging the shovel test pit and one person sifting through the dirt using a screen to look for artifacts. We were looking to dig each down to a depth of 1m, but stopped short if a certain clay-soil layer was reached first. Digging these holes goes fast at first, but can get a bit difficult as you get deeper. The first 60cm can go much faster than the last 20cm when you really have to reach.

Trevor holding a lithic tool.
Most of the artifacts we find are ceramics, which can often be identified as Neolithic, Bronze Age, Medieval, or within only the past few hundred years. Age can be distinguished by different attributes such as how the pottery is made, its color, or any decoration. If the artifact is a distinguishable part of a ceramic piece, such as the base or handle, this can provide a lot more insight as to ceramic style. Some of the more exciting finds are lithic tools like the one I’m holding the picture. It appears to be some sort of arrow or spear point, and it was pretty cool to find.

Close to where we are shovel testing there’s a cemetery. It’s still used today, as there are modern grave markers. Interestingly, there are also stone cross grave markers that are indicative of a medieval cemetery. It showcases just how long people have been living in these areas and how we are finding artifacts that may span thousands of years, all laying in centimeters of soil.

Stone cross grave marker.