Tuesday, January 5, 2010

To trowel or not to trowel...

A trowel is to an archaeologist as a pen is to a writer--an absolutely necessary tool for work. I am certain that many of our loyal readers are familiar with the trowel, whether having used it to remove soil in a unit, its principal use, or to sort through materials in a screen. A trowel is used for excavating different strata in a unit, and is especially helpful for defining the edges of a feature (especially when there is a color difference visible in the soils) or gently removing one stratum to reveal another. In your archaeology travels you have likely happened upon two different types of trowels.

The first type has a pointed blade (see image to the right), and in the masonry world would be known as a bricklayer's trowel. These trowels are generally used for spreading or shaping materials such as mortar or plaster. For concrete construction, a rectangular finishing or margin trowel (see the image below) is usually used for smoothing or texturing the concrete. Both of these trowels are flat on the bottom, which is necessary in archaeology to avoid accidentally digging into a different stratum. There are many other types of trowels both big and small, but the two most commonly adopted by archaeologists are the pointed type and squared off type. Why two different types of trowels? Well, pointed trowels are generally used on prehistoric sites while the square trowels are better suited for historic sites. So, if you are a historical archaeologist you had better be carrying a square trowel in your back pocket...that is just the way things are.

Just kidding folks! Neither type of trowel is better for one type of a site over another. Rather, it depends on the soil and materials being excavated. As such, it is not unheard of to use a pointed trowel at a historic site or vice versa...actually, it is not even taboo or strange, despite what you may hear out in the field. I personally prefer a pointed trowel as it is what I first learned to use, though that is not to say I cannot pick up a square trowel is the situation warrants it! I find a square trowel especially handy when cleaning up a wall or corner of a unit.

Also, next time you are out in the field not only note the types of trowels and their uses, but remember to sharpen the edge of your trowel for a much easier and cleaner job!


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