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What Are the Different Types of Archaeology Digs?

Archaeology digs are time capsules unearthed, revealing human history layer by layer. From prehistoric settlements to ancient cities, each dig type serves a unique purpose. Excavations range from rescue digs, salvaging relics from development-threatened sites, to research digs, meticulously planned for scholarly discovery. What secrets might these varied digs uncover? Join us as we explore the remnants of past civilizations.
Alex Tree
Alex Tree

The different types of archaeology digs include research excavations, pre-development excavations, and digs performed by hand or machine. Research excavations are paid for by academic organizations and private parties. Development excavations are paid for by a developer and, while quite similar to research excavations, this type of dig is often rushed. All digs are also performed either by hand, machine, or both. In addition, each dig falls into a certain category based on the site where it is performed.

Archaeology digs differ based on how much time an archaeologist has to recover an artifact or body. The most preferred type of dig is called a research excavation. Research excavations occur when everyone has enough time and funds to carefully recover all items. These archaeology digs are not rushed, so the archaeologists can take months or even years to fully recover everything from the site.

Jaffa, Israel, an ancient city that has been studied by many archaeologists.
Jaffa, Israel, an ancient city that has been studied by many archaeologists.

Another kind of dig is called the pre-development excavation. This kind of dig occurs when a business plans or has already begun to build on the site. The artifact is usually a surprise discovery, with no one knowing the site was a burial ground or other site that might have historical significance. In this situation, archaeologists act quickly to recover the artifacts and sometimes work around building equipment that is already in place. This type of dig is typically paid for by the developing company rather than an academic organization, and time is of the essence.

A research excavation, like those that often occur at Great Britain's Stonehenge, seek to uncover new evidence about past societies.
A research excavation, like those that often occur at Great Britain's Stonehenge, seek to uncover new evidence about past societies.

Many archaeologists perform archaeologist digs by hand using special hand-held tools. The work can be labor-intensive and often takes a long time to complete. On the other hand, sometimes an archaeologist uses a machine to dig up artifacts, which is a controversial practice. Machines are less precise than humans when it comes to archaeology, so they are usually limited to removing overburden. Basically, they are limited to digging in areas where there is a lot of soil and other debris covering the item of interest and the machine has little chance of disturbing something important.

Archaeological digs require cautious and painstaking uncovering of objects.
Archaeological digs require cautious and painstaking uncovering of objects.

Archaeology digs are performed on all different kinds of places. From burial grounds to causeways and finding lost bodies or ancient roads, archaeologists work in a wide variety of places around the world. Digging up a lost body is very different from recovering a religious structure. It may require different tools, take longer or shorter to complete, and need different experts to decipher the meaning of the items found.

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    • Jaffa, Israel, an ancient city that has been studied by many archaeologists.
      Jaffa, Israel, an ancient city that has been studied by many archaeologists.
    • A research excavation, like those that often occur at Great Britain's Stonehenge, seek to uncover new evidence about past societies.
      By: Gail Johnson
      A research excavation, like those that often occur at Great Britain's Stonehenge, seek to uncover new evidence about past societies.
    • Archaeological digs require cautious and painstaking uncovering of objects.
      By: kmit
      Archaeological digs require cautious and painstaking uncovering of objects.