Excavation methodology

The excavation strategy employed by West Wickham and District Local History Club involves using volunteers of all ages, with minimal or no archaeological experience, working under the direction of an experienced archaeological supervisor. All work adheres to the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists’ Code of Conduct and to their Standards and Guidance for Archaeological Excavation.

A test-pit is a small archaeological trench that is dug scientifically in a series of layers, or spits, to find artefacts and cultural material that can tell us what was going on in the past. Test-pit locations are decided prior to each excavation by the archaeological supervisor and project manager in order to fulfil the objectives of the project.


Excavating a test-pit.

Test-pits each measure 1m sq. Turf is removed and each test-pit excavated by hand in a series of 0.1m deep layers, or spits, to the natural substratum or a maximum depth of 1m, dependent on which is reached first. All excavation is undertaken with a view to avoid damage to archaeological deposits or features which appear worthy of preservation in-situ or warrant more detailed investigation than for the purposes of the project. All spoil is screened for finds using sieves with a standard 10mm mesh, with the exception of any heavy clay soil which are hand searched. Test-pit locations are tied into the Ordnance Survey National Grid using appropriate methods. Once finished, every test-pit is backfilled and the turf reinstated.

Test-pits are recorded using a pro-forma recording system comprising a 16-page Test Pit Recording Booklet devised for the project. This is modelled on a system developed by Access Cambridge Archaeology for use with members of the public with no previous archaeological experience. The recording booklet contains pages to plan and record individual spits, record the sections of the test-pit, locate the test-pit and record what is found. If necessary, any complex archaeological deposits encountered can be excavated and recorded using standard procedures on separate prepared pro-forma recording sheets and drawing film. A photographic record of the investigations is also created illustrating in both detail and general context the test-pits excavated and the principal features and finds discovered. The photographic record also includes ‘working shots’ to illustrate more generally the nature of the archaeological operation mounted.

The excavation process.

The excavation process.

All non-metallic, inorganic finds and bone are washed on site, dried and bagged separately for each spit of each test-pit. Subsequently, artefacts from each spit are sorted into find groups (i.e. pottery, animal bone, metal, flint etc.) and bagged separately ready for specialist analysis. Some finds deemed to have little or no research value (i.e. undiagnostic and/or modern building material) are discarded at this stage. Finds considered appropriate for recording, analysis and curation include: all pottery, all faunal remains, metalwork, worked stone and burnt stone, and all finds pre-dating 1800. Finds appropriate for disposal after recording include: all plastic, modern glass, modern metal objects, modern building material and other modern items (i.e. batteries, shotgun cartridges, fabric etc.); all unworked stone including fossils; and all modern organic material such as wood. All finds work adheres to the CIfA’s Standard and guidance for the collection, documentation, conservation and research of archaeological materials.

Current Excavation