Surface, deposit, process – interpreting archaeological evidence


Every archaeological excavation is an interpretation of the buried archaeological evidence. Furthermore, it is an irreversible invasive procedure. Various excavation methods have been developed and tested for the most efficient investigation of an archaeological site. The most effective still seems to be the stratigraphic excavation, through which all deposits are excavated in the reverse order to their primary deposition following the rules of stratification. The accurate documentation of these deposits and surfaces – the stratigraphic units - is crucial. Through the last decade various techniques emerged for this purpose such as Terrestrial Laser Scanning, Image Based Modelling and the introduction of Geographical Information Systems and geodatabases to archaeology. All these new techniques provide the chance of reproducibility and transparency of the excavation process. Nevertheless the most emotionally discussed question how close the interpretation of a site gained by its excavation is to the actual stratification and context before its excavation could not be answered. Still the results of an excavation have to be seen as the most plausible assumption constructed by the excavators according to well-defined methods. It is impossible to excavate every single deposit of an archaeological site keeping in mind the enormous complexity of deposition and transformation processes. In analyzing the documented (incomplete) sequence of deposits and surfaces in terms of topography and material, these processes could be examined, without necessarily detecting every single deposit during excavation presupposing accurate documentation of all revealed surfaces and sampling.