Test pits

Starting on the test pit

An archaeological test pit is a small 1m x 1m trench dug in a series of 10cm layers (contexts) to a depth of about 1m. Test pits can be dug quickly and easily using everyday garden tools, and their small size makes them ideal for investigating built-up areas such as village centres.

The archaeological materials collected from each layer tell us something about how the site has been used in the past.

Sieving the soil

All the soil from each layer is sieved and anything man-made is kept. Bone is also kept as this could indicate feasting and therefore settlement. We also need to keep a close look-out for pieces of worked flint.

The finds are carefully washed to remove any loose soil and allowed to dry. Coins are never be washed as their surface can be easily damaged.  Once dry the finds from each layer are bagged. The bag is labelled with the test pit number, location and context number.

Washing the finds

After the dig has been completed and the test pit filled in the next stage is to get the finds identified and a report written.

You can easily separate out any modern materials and bone and at this stage you can also check the bone for any butchery marks.

The finds from a single context

Any remaining material (pottery fragments, possible worked flint, coins etc) can then be sent for formal identification.

Forms are completed to record the exact location and direction in which the test pit is dug, and to record the details of each layer in full including any finds and changes in soil colour.

Once you have all the information together the final report is written which will then give an indication of how the site has been used in the past.