Piedras Negras - Piecing Together the Past

The Process of Digging

This page features the processes of an Archaeological Dig. Follow the links to learn about the processes in an archaeological dig site.

Process of Digging The Process of Digging
   Removing the Topsoil
   Using a pick ax
   A tall dry sifter
   A hand-held dry sifter
   A trowel
   A small poker and paint brush
   Wet brushing

Soil Phosphate Testing Soil Phosphate Testing
   Dr. Richard Terry of BYU with the assistance of BYU students Jacob Parnell, Fabian Fernandez, and Benjamin Crozier, apply the process of phosphate prospecting and heavy metal resulting in immediate feedback to excavators about phosphate concentrations and possible midden loci in habitable sectors. Such sampling has produced great success in predicting the location of rich middens and human burials.

Also during the 1999 field season, ten soil profiles located within Piedras Negras and at rural sites outside the city were described and samples collected from each horizon. Soil properties were characterized and taxonomic designations were determined at the Soil Analysis Laboratory at Brigham Young University.

   Outcomes and uses of soil phosphate testing
   Setting up a grid
   Fabian digs a hold 2 centimeters deep
   A test pit and soil horizons
   The analysis process
   Soil samples
   Layers of soil
   Explanation of a sifter
   Chemicals in phosphate test
   De-ionized water
   The extractor
   Dr. Terry's phosphate process
   Jacob pours samples into filters
   Diluting concentration
   Concept of relative values
   Blank or Control sample
   The colorimeter

Mapping Mapping
   Zachary Nelson’s computer-assisted mapping established, for the first time, absolute elevations in peripheral zones. Nelson also concentrated in the southeast zone of Piedras Negras proper, known to contain many hitherto unmapped mound groups. His mapping recorded no fewer than 68 buildings, many of them missed by Penn mappers in the 1930’s. Typically, these lay in irregular groupings in areas of dense gaymil (second growth) and on low ridges in the seasonal bajo below the South Group.

   Introduction to the process of discovering and mapping new structures
   A brecha
   The process of taking points using a Total Station
   Zach describes his current location and the process of mapping
   The process of 'sighting' points
   The type of paper used
   What can be ascertained from the survey process
   Entering the data into the MC5 data collector
   Zach downloads data from the MC5 collector to his laptop
   Zach describes the work as the real fun of archaeology

Recording Recording
   Independent architectural illustrator Heather Hurst produced architectural renderings that provided three dimensional perspective on the dig layout and individual buildings.

   Heather Hurst explains her illustration of the dig site
   From plans and profiles to perspective
   How the drawings are helpful
   The use of computers in Heather's work

Sifting Process Sifting Process
   During the 1999 field season, BYU student Emily Elmer floated hundreds of soil samples sent in from excavations with excellent retrieval of carbonized plant remains, fish bone, lithics, and small artifacts.

   Emily explains the float process
   Demonstration of the first step in sifting
   Ben (BYU student) removes the lite float
   Explanation of the process of removing the lite float
   Using a tube sifter to remove more lite float
   Emily hangs the float bags out to dry
   Sorting and analyzing the contents of a bag

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