• Congress Voting Independence

    Independence

    National Historical Park Pennsylvania

Brushes and Trowels

Photo of backhoe in use.

Archeologists excavating on urban sites often employ earthmoving equipment to remove fill layers and demolition rubble. Here archaeologists direct machinery working to expose buried backyards and building basements at the site of the new Independence Visitor Center on Independence Mall

(Photo: NPS by Jed Levin)

Brushes, Trowels and Backhoes:
Digging An Urban Site

Armed with this information, archeologists begin the process of sifting the soil on the site for clues about the past. The first critical step in this process of exploration is a testing phase designed to determine the accuracy of the information gathered from the archives and libraries. Despite careful research there are frequently surprises. Historical records are not always complete and sometime testing reveals that more or less is preserved than was expected.

Conducting archeological testing on urban sites involves a unique set of challenges. To deal with these challenges the urban archeologist draws on a diverse tool kit. Alongside the more traditional arsenal (including trowels, brushes, shovels and similar hand tools) the archeologist may use heavy earth moving equipment. In many cases the early building lots and features are covered by more recent building remains or fill deposits. When this is the case, back hoes and bulldozers may be called on to clear the way. Under the direction of an archeologist these powerful machines can become tools for precise excavation.

Drawing on these tools, from the smallest trowel or dental pick to the largest bulldozer or backhoe, the archeologist works to expose the historic features preserved on the site. The information gathered during library research is confirmed and extended. Gradually a full picture of the site's potential is developed. The archeologist abandons areas where the site. s earlier history has been destroyed by modern development and focuses on those areas that have escaped this destruction.

When a full picture of the state of preservation on the site has been gathered, the project moves into its final phase. Reviewing the information gained during the testing phase, archeologists make decisions about what areas of the site should received additional attention. Those areas of the site that have the greatest potential for producing information which can expand our knowledge of the nation's past are identified and subject to intensive excavation.

When a full picture of the state of preservation on the site has been gathered, the project moves into its final phase. Reviewing the information gained during the testing phase, archeologists make decisions about what areas of the site should received additional attention. Those areas of the site that have the greatest potential for producing information which can expand our knowledge of the nation's past are identified and subject to intensive excavation.



Did You Know?

Photo of Liberty Bell center exhibits

The exhibits in the Liberty Bell Center showcase the Liberty Bell’s role as a symbol in the abolitionist movement, the fight for women’s suffrage and the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960’s.