3.1 Soil description tool

Experienced field workers are finely attuned to the subtle differences that differentiate contexts. Despite this, most context sheets record little more than soil colour (a transitory and subjective property) and texture. Terminology, relevance and time are the main reasons why further detail is not routinely recorded. It was felt that using SASSA to specify soil information that should be recorded would be overly restrictive and unreasonable. Such an approach would do little to improve the image geoarchaeology has acquired for costliness and irrelevance. Rather, the description tool provides a flexible format for recording information on soils with detailed support on the why, when and how of recording soil properties through information links with the SASSA knowledge base (static wiki pages).

3.1.1 Structure and content of the SASSA description tool

Soils information is stored hierarchically according to site, trench or section, and context. A user may generate multiple sites, each site containing multiple trenches or sections, and each section containing multiple contexts. However, only one soil description can be made for each context. It is left to the user to define these levels and to ensure that the labelling conforms to the specific site standard. Images can be uploaded at all levels of the description.

General information can be entered at each level but, other than a unique identifier, is not required (Fig. 12). An editor tool has been developed that will allow users with downloaded standalone copies of SASSA to edit the form; either to cut out unnecessary data fields or to add more fields if they wish to tailor the form to their own recording methods and needs, including translation into another language.

Figure 12: Screenshot of a section level data entry page in the SASSA field tool

Colour, composition, structure, texture (Fig. 13), stones, inclusions, roots, sedimentary features, soil features (iron pans, concretions etc.) and boundaries can all be described. Drop-down menus and radiobuttons provide possible answers for each part of the description, and information buttons link directly to protected pages in the knowledge base, explaining how and why to complete each section.

SASSA is not intended to act as a long-term data storage facility. All entered information can be exported in either rtf or pdf format for inclusion in the excavator's own site archive. A backup function is also provided to protect against accidental user error or technical malfunction. An example SASSA pdf report can be accessed here.

Figure 13: Screenshot of the soil texture description page

3.1.2 Potential applications for the SASSA description tool

While it is possible to use SASSA to complete detailed soil descriptions, the flexibility of SASSA means that for more routine use, only a tailored suite of relevant properties need be recorded. SASSA aims to provide the excavator with the confidence to identify which properties are most pertinent. The descriptions will not only preserve a fuller description of the soils and sediments for archive, but can also provide much-needed field information to post-excavation geoarchaeological and environmental specialists who are often on-site only for a limited time. The mobility of SASSA means that field workers in remote locations can pass photographs and supporting descriptions back to team members for advice and discussion. Staff and student training is also an important possible use for the system both on- and off-site.


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Last updated: Mon Dec 15 2008