E-monograph Series. No. 24

DigIT: Archaeological Summary Report and Experiments in Digital Recording in the Field

Dominic Powlesland1 and Keith May
with contributions from James Rackham and Jess Tipper

1 The Landscape Research Centre Ltd, The Old Bridge Barn, Yedingham, Malton YO17 8SL. Email: D.Powlesland@btinternet.com.

Cite this as: Powlesland, D. and May, K. 2010 DigIT: Archaeological Summary Report and Experiments in Digital Recording in the Field, Internet Archaeology 27. https://doi.org/10.11141/ia.27.2


This paper results from three small excavations undertaken when much of the agricultural land in large parts of England was inaccessible for fieldwork owing to restrictions related to foot and mouth disease. The objectives of the DigIt project were twofold - to examine groups of features identified through remote sensing, in this case primarily geomagnetic survey and air photography, and to examine through experimentation a range of digital recording techniques applied in archaeological excavation.

The excavation objectives were in part unusual as they were focussed not only on excavating large areas with many features but also on trying to assess the condition of the archaeological deposits, which had formerly been protected by blown sand. Recent ploughing was shown to be aggressively truncating the buried deposits in one area, just starting to erode them in another, but causing minimal impact in the third. The opportunity to examine the blown sand itself in minute detail revealed a stratigraphic and chronological sequence which was only visible in the three dimensional distribution of tiny fragments of material. The excavation assessment is supported by specialist assessments of the environmental evidence and the Anglo-Saxon ceramics. The excavation confirmed the interpretation of some magnetic anomalies as Grubenhäuser, which were directly comparable with those excavated at West Heslerton 2.5km to the west; however, it failed to conclusively resolve the nature and purpose of the hundreds of small ring ditches termed 'barrowlets', revealed along 8km of geophysical survey, although evidence hints at their function as cremation burial sites. It also confirmed the presence of preserved and intact surface deposits associated with a segment of Iron Age and Roman 'ladder settlement' where they had been sealed by blown sands.

The Landscape Research Centre (LRC) had been pioneering the use of hand-held computers and other tools within a primarily digital recording system for more than 15 years and this project provided an opportunity, through a collaboration with the English Heritage Centre for Field Archaeology, to test a full range of digital recording techniques employing more up to date technology than had been used in the past. If this experiment deploying different technologies was to be of any value then it was important that they were tested in a normal environment and thus this article combines both the excavation assessment report and discussion of the digital recording approaches and, where these were fit for purpose, uses them to support the needs of archaeological documentation and excavation objectives. The context of the work within the LRC's established methods and philosophy with regard to excavation recording is discussed and reviewed with reference to changes in the available technology.

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Last updated: Tues Feb 2 2010