A guide to archaeological resources

Introduction to the Guide

The Guide to Archaeological Resources (GAR) (v.ii)

The Guide to Archaeological Resources is an article designed to offer a constantly updated resource for both current and potential students of archaeology. Its aim is to collate, summarize and review the many internet, paper-based and institutional resources that are likely to be useful both during the applications process and during time spent as a student. The logic of a wiki article is that it will benefit from many writers contributing specific and specialist knowledge, moving toward a more comprehensive and arguably more objective document.


OxCal v.4 is available for download at http://c14.arch.ox.ac.uk/embed.php?File=oxcal.html.


I: Excavation

Fieldwork and excavation are both important aspects of the archaeological process; in the majority of university courses training and practice are provided in at least an introductory format. As with any practical enterprise, however, a lot of archaeological knowledge is based on "rules of thumb". These rules interact with 'established' ways of doing archaeology, such that most excavations are a combination of both, with a greater or lesser reliance on one or the other.

Field archaeology is dominated by what we might call "Barker's Law". In his Techniques of Archaeological Excavation, Barker observes that;

'each refinement [in excavation methodology] will produce more complicated evidence, which, in its turn, will bring greater difficulties of observation and recording' (1993: 1)

In this regard, scientific, systematic archaeology is not 'simpler' than earlier archaeologies; indeed, the introduction of new analytical, chemical and scientific equipment has increased the 'duty load' on any and all archaeologists. For example, an excavation conducted on palaeosols (ancient, sunken river beds) will require, for example, context sampling. For this, each independent context must be sampled any number of times. The supervisor may ask that four samples are obtained; one for dry sieving, one for wet sieving, one for immediate analysis (if the facilities are available) and one for the sample archive. It is easy to see how the 'archaeological process' becomes a longer, more deliberate one as new evidence and equipment are introduced. However, this also increases the number of archeologists with independent specialisms, such that a whole variety of training is available to students of archaeology.

An anecdote:

When working in Cambridge in the past year, I was introduced, for the first time, to a Mesolithic excavation. We were targeting an area that once contained an active river channel, which due to the nature of the Fens had dried. This left an unmistakable trace, identified by its colouration and compaction, in the earth. For the first time I learned how 'rules of thumb' are vital when working on complex archaeology such as this; my adviser, a prominent name in geochemcal archaeology, hunched down beside me as we talked about the stratigraphy. With an artist's candor he explained how iron-oxide in the surface leeched down into the sub-soil, creating an inverted cone of red staining on the exposed surface. This isn't the kind of thing we are taught in our classes, nor do many books really describe it in such clear terms. This was an 'earth lesson'; what I call those things that I've learned while sitting in the mud.


Archaeological site formation, or 'seeing time backwards'

As the archaeologist excavates they 'read' the past in a confused order which does not directly reflect how that site was formed. In the simplest of terms (though the theoretical debate on these terms is highly complicated), M. Schiffer (e.g., 1983) identified two major contributions to the archaeological record (AR); C-transforms (cultural transforms) and n-transforms (natural transforms). C-transforms represent human activity which has contributed to the AR; this is described in the following diagram (Diagram 1):

Binford, however, argued that no 'ideal' AR existed, at any point in time; there was no "pure" Roman village (etc), for that Roman village was in a continual process of decay, rebuilding and dynamism. A dropped coin could be kicked a few feet, or trodden into the earth, before it was covered to any depth. As such, we do not talk of C- and n-transforms as "altering" a "pure" archaeological record, because geology isn't that clear-cut (see Binford 1981; Ascher 1962). Binford attacked Schiffer's position as too strictly distinguishing the systematic and archaeological contexts (SC and AC) from one another; for Binford, the SC is continually ongoing, while the AR is simply 'what we get' when first recovering a context. Indeed, excavation is itself a C-transform.

More recently, fieldworkers and academics have debated the structural and logical reasoning which accompany the process of archaeological excavation. Hodder observes that excavation is, and should be, "fluid" and "flexible", always a subjective interaction between the AR and the person who excavates and interprets it. Thus, Hodder has critiqued Barker's (1977) argument that "interpretation" is subsequent to excavation and recording. Quite the contrary, he argues, because the very process of excavation (data-collection) is subjective; where do we dig? What am I digging now? Could it be X or Y? I will dig here first, because it is interesting, and over there later. Anybody who has spent any time on an excavation will notice that such decision making and interpretation start as soon as we get on site, yet very little, or none, of it gets onto the final context sheet; here, concludes Hodder (1997), is a simplified 'end of process' "record", yet one that ignores the aforementioned processes. And it is these very processes that Shanks and McGuire call the "craft of archaeology", its technical and emotional program (1996: 76-7).


The context sheet represents for many an annoying yet necessary staple to the archaeological process. Filling these sheets in correctly is another 'rule of thumb' methodology, and something that may take time to feel confidence in. While the idea of single context recording (SCR) is almost universal, the actual character of the sheet, and the expectations of the site director, will vary enormously.

Several websites offer advice, both formal and anecdotal, for the use of context sheets ( Despite everything said above about the importance of formal recording in archaeological excavation, the context sheet is a sort of 'comic release' among fieldworkers. I've certainly described the 'conditions' on site in an unnamed extremely humid country as 'tundric', while I know of people who have left messages in context sketches and interpreted features as 'take your guess'.

Excavation 'rules of thumb'

While training manuals and courses provide the 'established' archaeological skills needed to excavate, 'rules of thumb' dominate the craft. These can be useful and effective ways of doing exactly what a more formal method would achieve, and should not be disregarded in this respect.

II: Funding

Funding for undergraduate and postgraduate research has several sources, both generic and specific in requirements. Generic funding bodies are listed immediately below, while 'area/period/methodology' (etc) specific funding sources are listed below these.

Generic Funding Bodies/Programs

  • Arts & Humanities Research Council


III: Equipment and Services

Radiometric calibration

The calibration of C14 dates can now be performed online through OxCal v.4.1.3 (http://c14.arch.ox.ac.uk/embed.php?File=oxcal.html). When writing formal items (articles and theses) it is recommended that you recalibrate at least any older dates, if not recent ones, in order to understand the strength of that sample. You may notice that a new set of curves will alter the date significantly, and the software, and research more widely, is constantly updated to keep up with this need.

Radiocarbon dating has been continually refined since Willard Libby's original development of the technique during the 1940s. In particular, most, if not all, laboratories now perform AMS (Accelerator Mass Spectrometry), which allows Carbon isotope 14 to be extracted from exceptionally small samples, thus extending the range of radiometric dating as a chronometric tool. Several considerations must be kept in mind when using C14 data. These include (a) the 'old wood' problem, where wood may have been re-used many years after its felling (the point at which it stops absorbing carbon 14 from the biosphere), and before entering the archaeological record (b) the 'old charcoal' problem, which is the same as 'a', but reflects the re-use of charcoal (c) the unreliability of dating shell (d) Carbon 'leeching' from the surrounding matrix into a sample (such as limestone) (e) the radiocarbon 'plateau', or the period between ca. 900-400 in all calibration curves, which greatly 'flatten' the probability accuracy of a calibration.

Excavation equipment

There is no standard equipment required of an archaeologist, and you will find that, in the field, different workers favour different types and brands of equipment to assist excavation. Specialist archaeology equipment and supplies are available from a few online vendors including Past Horizons and Archaeology Tools Ltd.

The following items can be regarded, however, as generically useful:

Trowel: There is a large degree of slightly ironic debate among archaeologists as to the best brand of trowel. The most popular is WHS, whose "4 trowel is something of a standard among British field archaeologists. Anything larger than a "4 is unnecessary, whereas smaller or 'leaf trowels' ("3 and "2 inch) are popular with many, usually in conjunction with the "4. The leaf trowel is an advantage when clearing delicate material, or when working in a space limited by surrounding features and material.

Buy online: 4" WHS trowel (http://www.barnitts.co.uk/products/details/4295.html or http://www.archaeologytools.co.uk/whs-archaeology-trowel.html)

Notepad and pencil: many agree that keeping a notepad and pencil, especially when excavating in a stratigraphically complex level, can help you to record your thoughts and data while excavating. This greatly speeds up the process of writing a context sheet when the level is complete.

Tape measure: an extendable tape-measure is very useful for plotting diagrams and measuring depths and sizes.

Trowel Technique

Breaking compacted earth: Either (a) push the tip of the trowel, facing upwards, into the earth to a depth of 1 or 2 inches. Secondly, lift the earth with the point and continue adjacent to this area of removed earth, clearing the spoil away with a brush while searching for finds (b) hold the trowel facing downwards, using the point to break into the earth and using the wrist to 'flick' the compacted fill upwards.

Removing loose spoil: hold the edge of the trowel parallel to the surface, 'scraping' towards your body while 'biting' into the surface to a minimal depth

IV: Employment

Archaeological employment can take many forms, depending on what academic level you are at and the amount of experience you have. Prospective Lara Croft’s and Indiana Jones-es, prepare to be disappointed.

"A recent survey of earnings in archaeology revealed that the average income for a professional field archaeologist was £17,000 a year - less than the earnings of an unskilled manual worker. Even the Unit Directors are paid an average of £22,600." (http://www.archaeology.co.uk/advice/how-to-become-an-archaeologist.htm)

If you are in this for a decent wage, then you're in Archaeology for the wrong reason. Many people who stay in archaeology do it because they love it, not for the money. Read on if you are still interested!

Academic Positions

A job in academic archaeology would usually take the form of teaching. This is extremely difficult to achieve with a basic undergraduate degree, as you probably will have not had enough experience of the subject to teach it at a high level. A master’s degree is usually the basis for teaching at university level, although a PhD is often the required academic level. Archaeology GCSE and A-Level qualifications do exist, and although they are not taught widely to young people, they may well be taught to mature students. These jobs are also very rare, although archaeology is growing in popularity as a degree course. Academics in the field of archaeology often do not spend their summer holidays at their institution; they are often away in any part of the world conducting fieldwork they have obtained grants to further their personal research. With regards to gaining a paid job in this sector, try applying to universities and colleges, after gaining the relevant teaching qualification, be it a masters degree in your chosen subject or a PGCE if you are planning on teaching at GCSE or A-Level.

Commercial Positions

Commercial archaeology is the sector of archaeology that is not often associated with academic departments, governments, and volunteer sectors. It is made up of registered companies and self-employed archaeological experts, looking to receive payment for their work. These companies have arisen from the implementation of PPG16 (Planning Policy Guidance 16: Archaeology and Planning), stating that ‘Detailed development plans…should include policies for the protection, enhancement and preservation of sites of archaeological interest and of their settings’ (1990:8), thus requiring the need for approval from the archaeological sector. Independent construction companies often hire a commercial archaeology company, although some go for the local-government faction. Commercial archaeologists cannot always have the guarantee of continuous employment, but often their love for the subject keeps them content when they face low wages and limited career options. Commercial archaeology is often hard to get into as a newly qualified graduate, although a masters degree may help somewhat in this area. Experience of archaeological excavations is also very useful if you are planning to go into this sector of archaeology, the more experience the better.

The internet or a phone book is probably your best bet for finding a job with a commercial archaeology company, although it is possible to be a self-employed commercial archaeologist. Also your local government/authority may have a contact for commercial archaeology companies.

Freelance Positions

As a newly qualified archaeologist, you may be able to get a job on an excavation as a field archaeologist, possibly also known as trowel-monkey, dig-monkey, or shovel-monkey. These jobs can last anywhere from a few days to a couple of months, but once the excavation is over, you’ll be searching for a new job. It is not always necessary to have an academic qualification to be a field archaeologist, although it is worth having if you want to be paid for your work! Some field archaeologists have to supplement their field work with another job when digging is ‘out of season’, as there is no guarantee of a steady wage if you are planning on being freelance. (Dig ‘season’ is broadly from April – October, although this may vary depending on where you are employed). Freelance archaeologists may also have a specialism – such as archaeobotany or environmental archaeology – although they are generally in the position of a field archaeologist, looking for work in the dig season and having to supplement the income during the off-season. Specialists may have the advantage, however, in being employed for excavations spanning a long period of time, as the results from artefacts will require more attention than merely excavating them.

With regards to finding these freelance positions, possibly http://www.bajr.org/# (British Archaeological Job Resources) may be a good start.

Heritage Positions

Heritage companies, such as English Heritage, Historic Scotland and Cadw (Wales), have responsibility for many of the heritage attractions across the UK. They offer a range of positions, from shop assistant to Ancient Monuments Inspector, and as they have responsibility for many attractions, they may hire for these places online. For example, Historic Scotland advertise jobs at Edinburgh Castle on their website, whether it be for an admissions assistant or a tour guide. These jobs may not require an academic qualification in archaeology, however for the higher paid positions, experience is often necessary.

For the independent heritage attractions across the UK, they are more often than not run by volunteers who are trying to keep the attractions open and preserve the heritage for the future. Paid positions in the independent heritage sectors are either non-existent or very poorly paid.

Keep an eye on http://www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/http://www.cadw.wales.gov.uk/ and if you have an idea of which independent attraction you would like to work at, keep looking on their websites too.

Local Government/Authority Positions

Positions in the local government or authority are similar to that of freelance archaeologists, although there is usually a lot more pre- and post-excavation work to be done when digging is not taking place. These positions do tend to give a steady wage, because they are not necessarily dependant on excavations for employment. Local governments/authorities co-ordinate a lot of outreach programs with schools, adult learning facilities and the general public, trying to explain the significance of archaeology in the modern world. The archaeology sector in local governments/authorities is usually very small, and often the first to have their funding cut when money is tight. In some places, these sectors have been greatly affected by the credit crunch, and as a result, positions in these sectors are sparse. Again, an archaeology undergraduate degree is often necessary for a position in this sector, and a post-graduate degree is beneficial, too. Keep an eye out on job centre plus and your local government/authority page for vacancies.

Museum Positions

Posts in a museum can vary depending on the amount of experience and expertise you have. A lot of posts, such as a tour guide or shop assistant, may be purely voluntary, especially in the smaller museums, but there are many other posts, such as conservators and display co-ordinators, that require at least an undergraduate degree. These posts often also require a very high level of expertise on the subject, for example; a conservator would need experience of dealing with select materials before being allowed to work with artefacts, and a display co-ordinator would need experience of displaying artefacts to their fullest potential before being allowed to direct a display. Museum jobs are generally few and far-between, and employers prefer candidates to have had experience of working in a museum as a volunteer before applying for a paid position. This site may however give you some indication of the type of paid jobs in museums: www.nationalmuseumjobs.org.uk

Voluntary Positions

Voluntary positions in archaeology are abundant. They can take many forms, such as volunteering on an excavation to helping run a museum or outreach programs with professional archaeologists. Volunteering on a dig is relatively easy, experience is not often necessary and places are more available if you are flexible with your time. The Council for British Archaeology is a very useful resource when looking to volunteer for a dig, they supply the contact information for the area you wish to volunteer in; please visit http://www.britarch.ac.uk/cba/groups for a list of the contacts.

However, some places will charge for volunteers, to cover basic costs such as insurance and equipment during the excavation. If you are willing to pay for an archaeology ‘holiday’, then please visit http://www.earthwatch.org , they have a list of current excavations across the world that welcome volunteers. Volunteering in museums and heritage attractions is also relatively easy; you can go into the place you wish to volunteer at and enquire about their volunteering opportunities. Experience is not usually necessary for volunteering, although a passion for history or archaeology is always useful.

Final Note: Volunteering and experience is the key to getting a paid job in archaeology. Academic qualifications are also useful if you wish to advance your career in archaeology, so an undergraduate degree will get you on the stepping-stones to that dream archaeological job.

V: Books, journals and documents


The primary resource for archeological publication remains paper-based, or, as is increasingly the case, digital publication. An enormous variety of publications, guides and journals are published each year and it is these resources which represent the accumulation and critique of archaeological knowledge. Journals include both broadly generic publications, or those which accept high-quality admissions from a variety of fields, to those which are more narrow in their material and impact. The following journals are those which have an international prestige and are 'inclusive' in their choice of material:

Current Anthropology


Journal of Field Archaeology

Recommended and important journal articles

The following list does not claim to be comprehensive, and instead offers a range of references, broken-down by theme, which the contributors to this Wiki have found useful and/or interesting.

Chronologies and time

Bailey, Douglass W. (1993) Chronotypic tension in Bulgarian prehistory: 6500-3500 BC. World Archaeology, vol. 25, no. 2 (Oct., 1993): pp. 204-222

Ingold, Tim (1993) The temporality of the landscape. World Archaeology, vol. 25, no. 2 (Oct., 1993): pp. 152-174

The archaeology of South Asia

Ali, I. et al (2002) New exploration in the Chitral Valley, Pakistan: an extension of the Gandharan Grave culture. Antiquity, Vol. 76, No. 293: pp. 647–653

Coningham, R. et al (2007) The state of theocracy: defining an early medieval hinterland in Sri Lanka. Antiquity, Vol. 81, No. 313: pp. 699–719

Tewari, R. (2003) The origins of iron working in India: new evidence from the Central Ganga Plain and the Eastern Vindhyas. Antiquity, Vol. 77, No. 297: pp. 536–544

Tomber, R. (2007) Rome and Mesopotamia – importers into India in the first millennium AD. Antiquity, Vol. 81, No. 314, pp. 972–988


Introductory Texts: These will give you a very basic introduction to archaeology.

Balme, J. and Paterson, A. (Ed.) (2005) Archaeology in Practice: A Student Guide to Archaeological Analyses London: Wiley Blackwell

This offers a good introduction to the scientific side of archaeology, with in-depth methods of analyses, it is a very user-friendly volume. The case-studies within this text offer a valuable insight into how the methods are used, which can be useful when trying to understand how to implement each method effectively.

Barker, P. (1993) Techniques of Archaeological Excavation London: Routledge

This will give you the basic introduction to the techniques of excavation, but is a poor substitute for experiencing an excavation. You will learn more in the field, learning by doing rather than learning by reading, as has already been discussed at the beginning of this article. However, this is a good introductory text for referencing before taking part in an excavation as a stepping-stone to learning the basics.

Greene, K. (2002) Archaeology – An Introduction London: Routledge

This is a good introductory text for people with little prior knowledge of archaeology, so I recommend it for prospective students. Once you reach university level, however, you may well wish to look for a more concise and in-depth text as this will perhaps seem too simple.

Hunter, J and Ralston, I. (Ed.) (1999) The Archaeology of Britain: An Introduction from the Upper Palaeolithic to the Industrial Revolution London: Routledge

This is an excellent volume of articles detailing the chronological archaeology of the British Isles from the prehistoric to the relatively modern period. A useful volume of introductory texts to each period of British history, it is useful as a starting point for further research into different periods. Very highly recommended.

Renfrew, C. and Bahn, P. (2008) Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practice. London: Thames and Hudson

This will give you the basic introduction to the theories, methods and practices of archaeology, but should be used with discretion. Many lecturers will frown upon the use of this text as a primary source for an assignment, but should be useful as a basis for further research.


Ceramics: While standard textbooks do not exist for archaeological ceramics, the following volumes are among the most important contributions to the field.

Arnold, D.E. 1985. Ceramic Theory and Cultural Process. Cambridge World Archaeology.

Arnold's "ceramic theory and cultural process" provides a theory of ceramic which "will elucidate the complex relationship between ceramics and culture and society" (Blurb, 1985), in which vein it presents a 'systems theory' and 'ceramic ecology' model for archaeological approaches to ceramics.

Miller, D. 1985. Artefacts as Categories: a study of ceramic variability in Central India. Cambridge World Archaeology

Archaeology and the 'information age'

As Reilly and Rahtz observe, computing and archaeology have become increasingly linked since the 1970s (1993: 1). Indeed, the Institute of Field Archaeologists (IFA) sees that training in computers and archaeological computing is both useful and important for archaeology (ibid. 2).

VI: Cultural Heritage/Archaeology Legislation

Archaeology is, on both an international and local scale, informed by and conducted within a network of legislation and guidelines.

The most inclusive (that is, global) body of legislation is derived from the UNESCO (United Nations Education, Society and Culture Organization). Member states are not automatically held accountable to this body of legislation, and must therefore become a signatory of one/more than one item of legislation. According to UNESCO (Culture Sector Online, 2009):

One of UNESCO's mandates is to pay special attention to new global threats that may affect the natural and cultural heritage and ensure that the conservation of sites and monuments contributes to social cohesion

In this light, UNESCO negotiate and maintain a body of legislation whose source is the 1972 World Heritage Convention (see: http://whc.unesco.org/en/convention/). UNESCO provide funding, material and intellectual resources to the upkeep of cultural heritage as a sustainable resource.

'Below', though by no means inferior to, international legislation is that of various economic and cultural blocs, including the European Union. At the level of practical field archaeology, however, the most common body of rules and legislation is that of the nation. National policy provides the structure of ethics, practice and process by which both professional and amateur archaeologists are bound. There is a wealth of information available on this area, with that applicable to the U.K. provided below (as time passes this section will be expanded to incorporate a greater number of nations).

United Kingdom resources:

Note, as of 23rd March 2010 PPG15 and PPG16 were replaced by PPS5 (Planning Policy Statement 5: planning for the historic environment). Details of this replacement can be found here: [1].

PPG16 (http://www.planningportal.gov.uk/england/government/en/1021020427943.html): PPG16 sets out the government's policy toward archaeological remains, material and land, including the rules regulating its treatment and conservation.

PPG15 (http://www.planningportal.gov.uk/england/government/en/1021020427913.html): PPG15 sets out the government's process of recognizing historic buildings and outlines the planning system for their protection and conservation.

Town and Country Planning Act (1990) (http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts1990/Ukpga_19900008_en_1.htm): 'An Act to consolidate certain enactments relating to town and country planning (excluding special controls in respect of buildings and areas of special architectural or historic interest and in respect of hazardous substances) with amendments to give effect to recommendations of the Law Commission' (Preamble, 1990)

National Heritage Act (2002) (http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts2002/ukpga_20020014_en_1): Dealing with aspects of underwater heritage, trading functions and for support for other heritage organizations

Heritage Protection and Conservation (English Heritage) (http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/server/show/nav.1368): This website is a useful resource for getting to grips with the many responsibilities of English Heritage as an organization.

Portable Antiquities Scheme (1997-) (http://www.finds.org.uk/involved/info_pack.php): The PAS provides the machinery for the recording and databasing of finds recovered and not recorded in the process of archaeological excavation.

VII: Institutions

CBA (Council for British Archaeology) - ("The CBA is an educational charity working throughout the UK to involve people in archaeology and to promote the appreciation and care of the historic environment for the benefit of present and future generations" Website, 2009)


IFA (Institute of Field Archaeologists) - ("The Institute for Archaeologists (IfA) advances the practice of archaeology and allied disciplines by promoting professional standards and ethics for conserving, managing, understanding and promoting enjoyment of heritage" Website, 2009)


WAC (World Archaeological Congress) - ("The World Archaeological Congress (WAC) is a non-governmental, not-for-profit organization and is the only representative world-wide body of practising archaeologists. WAC seeks to promote interest in the past in all countries, to encourage the development of regionally-based histories and to foster international academic interaction. Its aims are based on the need to recognise the historical and social roles as well as the political context of archaeology, and the need to make archaeological studies relevant to the wider community" Website, 2009)


VIII: Regional trends in archaeology

South and Central Asia



While quite antiquated, the Harappa website is updated regularly and features a decent range of essays, articles and links to alternative material. While the majority of the website is dedicated to the Bronze Age city of Harappa (Pakistan), there are a good range of articles and, most importantly, photographs, dealing with sites located predominantly in India and Pakistan.


The Anuradhapura Project (Sri Lanka). A well maintained and presented website, offering an introduction to the site and project, plenty of images/diagrams (negating any need to scan them from the monographs) and a list of publications.


Downloadable Google Earth 'Places' file, containing sites from Kalat/Surab and NWFP (Pakistan). Cite: A. Pawlak 2009 when using this map data.