A Lesson in Proper Troweling Techniques and the Perils of Comfortable Archaeology

   A Lesson in Proper Troweling Techniques and the Perils of Comfortable Archaeology

picture of Madeline excavating while crouchingHere at Marj Rabba, we hold ourselves to a high standard, even when it isn’t easy. For example, no matter how hot it gets, we always maintain proper troweling technique and excavation posture. This means: carefully (but quickly, and also precisely) scraping the edge of the trowel across the excavation site, evenly lowering the entire locus from the top rather than chopping into it from the side, and crouching on our toes or standing and bent over while excavating and sweeping.

picture of trowel being scraped along the top

The right way to trowel

picture of trowel digging in point first

The wrong way to trowel

M. demonstrates the RIGHT way to trowel     C. demonstrates the WRONG way to trowel* * these demonstrations are staged. No archaeology was harmed in the making of this blog

Trowel technique allows us to observe important features in context, which preserves data and adds to our understanding of the site. For example, using proper troweling technique, area CC has found a mudbrick floor. This is easily distinguishable by a flat, relatively smooth (except for the mole trails) area of mudbrick which was added to over time. Area AA has also found mudbrick like that of CC, but its use is unclear. The area is dotted with pits and places where the mudbrick is absent for no clear reason. Had we troweled in from the side, the two areas might look similar; both have a fairly thick layer of mudbrick. If we found some pieces of mudbrick and pottery, we might not be able to tell if the pottery came from on top of or beneath the floor. Only through clues like these can we contextualize and understand our findings.
picture of Parker crouching to trowel
P. excavating some pottery in context

The best finds, like this artifact, are found in situ, and then carefully excavated around until the entire locus is low enough that the artifact can be seen and removed. That way, we can observe everything else that was going on in the area at that time, and come away with a really good understanding of the site.

Why do we always squat, crouch or stand when excavating, rather than the traditionally more comfortable poses of sitting or lying down? There are two reasons. One, most importantly, is that a person who is comfortable is more likely to slow down and dig in one place than a

picture of Ani excavating while sitting

A. demonstrates the wrong way to excavate

person whose knees are constantly reminding them to move. A person who is comfortable may remain in one place for hours, loathe to shift to a new area or better position, because where they are is just so comfortable. This is how unwanted pits form and excavators miss evidence. Putting our comfort ahead of the site is just not cool.

The other reason is scorpions.

picture of a scorpion

Never give them an easy target.

2 thoughts on “A Lesson in Proper Troweling Techniques and the Perils of Comfortable Archaeology

  1. Pingback: Friday Quick Hits and Varia | The Archaeology of the Mediterranean World

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