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Shovel Testing as an Archaeological Survey Method

Shovel testing is a standard technique in archaeological surveys. Each shovel test is 50 cm x 50 cm wide and typically a meter deep. The location of the shovel test depends on the context and situation of the survey; for example, when we work on private property, particularly with small plots of land, the number and location of shovel tests are agreed upon by the property owner and the survey crew. No shovel tests will be dug in any area without the property owner written consent.


Shovel testing involves a digger and at least one screener. A plastic tarp is placed adjacent to area selected for the shovel test. This is done to protect the grass and facilitate backfilling. The screener places the portable screen directly on the tarp and the digger deposits shovel loads of soil into the screen. The screener shakes the screen so that the soil falls through the quarter inch screen mesh and onto the tarp. Once the shovel test is completed, the screened soil is returned to the shovel test hole and the soil is packed down. If a shovel test is dug into a grass lawn, the grass will be carefully cut, removed to the side, and returned to its original location once the shovel test is finished.


During the screening process, all materials captured by the screen are pulled out and saved. All shell fragments (if any) are measured in terms of the volume and the species present is noted (most common is oyster shell). All artifacts are placed in plastic bags that are properly labeled. Once the shovel test is finished the soil, shell, and other natural materials are put back into the hole. Before backfilling we record the depth and color of the different layers of soil on field forms. The bag of artifacts will be taken to the UNF Archaeology lab to be washed and analyzed.


UNF Professor Keith Ashley and student begin the shovel test example of hole made during shovel test UNF Professor Keith Ashley and student screening material from a shovel test