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What Tools Are Used in Archaeological Digs?

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Archaeologists are scientists that study how humans lived in the past. They do this by excavating the remains of past human societies. Artifacts such as cups and bowls used for eating, tools employed in everyday activities, and the dwellings they lived in all provide clues for the archaeologist to analyze. Even the soil from which the artifacts are recovered helps the archaeologist recreate the environment where ancient people lived. Archaeology is a painstaking process that requires tremendous patience and attention to detail.

Surveying Transit

The surveying transit resembles a small telescope and is mounted on a tripod. Road surveyors use this tool. It measures distance and elevation, allowing archaeologists to map the area where the dig will take place.

String and Stakes

The site is divided into squares, and then stakes and string are set up to mark the squares. Each square is identified by its own coordinate. This grid map allows researchers to record the exact location where each artifact was found.


Round-edged shovels are used to remove surface material to reveal the strata where the artifacts are expected to be found. When the desired layer is unearthed, flat-edged shovels are used to carefully remove very thin layers of material.

Mason’s Trowel and Small Pickaxe

As they get closer to the artifacts, smaller tools are employed. The flat bladed, pointed trowel used in the bricklaying trade allows archaeologists to scrape the soil away in very fine layers. A small pickaxe is sometimes used to loosen compacted soil for easier removal.

Garden Clippers and Small Saws

Sometimes obstructions such as tree roots are encountered in the process of digging. Clippers and saws help remove these.


A variety of brushes are employed. The goal is to remove the dirt from around the artifact and slowly reveal it. Great care must be taken to not damage the artifacts during the excavation process. Stiff brushes, such as paint brushes or whisk brooms, remove larger material. Finer material can be removed from around the artifact with soft bristled artist's brushes.

Paper and Plastic Bags

Artifacts are placed in bags and labeled with the location where they were found.

Buckets, Dustpans, Wheelbarrows

Soil removed from the site is transported away, as the excavation proceeds down to the next layer.

Shaker Screens

These are constructed of 3/8 inch or 1/4 inch wire mesh. Dirt is loaded onto the screen. It is then shaken so the soil falls through the mesh allowing the artifacts—even tiny ones—to remain. Again, any artifacts found during this process are placed in bags and labeled according to the location that they came from.


Pictures are taken of artifacts as they are being removed. It is important to understand the site around where the artifact was found when scientists study it back in the lab. The relative position of various artifacts provides important information for later study, helping archaeologists piece together a picture of how people of that time period lived.


Brian Hill is the author of four popular business and finance books: "The Making of a Bestseller," "Inside Secrets to Venture Capital," "Attracting Capital from Angels" and his latest book, published in 2013, "The Pocket Small Business Owner's Guide to Business Plans."

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