The Shovel’s Song

By David Howington

At an excavation site, an archaeologist is only as good as those with whom they are working, and the tools that they are using. At Singer-Moye, our main tool for moving dirt is the flat square shovel sharpened to the point it could shave a man’s face. While anyone can simply pick up a shovel and dig a hole, it is the ongoing conversation between the shovel and the operator that allows the excavator to move from a post hole digger to a scientist excavating a site.

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Field school students learning how to sharpen shovels. The author, David (in black cap), stands right of center.

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Flat shoveling the start of an excavation unit aimed at investigating the extent of a palisade.

If you do your part in utilizing the shovel, keeping it sharp and keeping the blade flat to the surface, it will tell you everything you will need to know. As I have been learning over the past two weeks, if you pay attention to the feedback of the shovel you can be alerted to what lies beneath the soil that has yet to be revealed. With more experience, you begin to be able to distinguish the difference between rock and root, ceramic and rock (I have yet to master this one), and when you are coming into a new soil texture. This feedback has aided me in being able to notify our unit supervisor to possible areas of interest prior to fully cutting through feature layers so that we can be more cautious with the archaeologist’s second favorite tool, the trowel.

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Adam and David troweling the surface of a hearth feature. 

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About Dr. Jennifer Birch

I am an archaeologist who specializes in the Archaeology of Eastern North America. Conceptually, my interests are underpinned by the desire to understand how the lived experiences of individuals and communities articulates with long-term, large-scale processes of social and cultural change. My current research is concerned with the development of organizational complexity and diversity in eastern North America. Ongoing projects in Northeastern North America include: - Geophysical investigations of Late Precontact Iroquoian Villages - Regional synthesis of data on Iroquoian settlement patterns, including intra-site patterns, interregional interaction, and geopolitical realignment Ongoing projects in Southeastern North America include: - Multi-scalar investigations of the Late Woodland to Mississippian transition in the Deep South - Household and community archaeology at the Singer-Moye site
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