Archaeologists have to keep lots of notes because, as we dig further down, contexts are destroyed or artefacts are removed from the site… and nobody has a memory good enough to remember everything forever. Everything needs an identification number and a description… and that’s why we have numerous notebooks as well as dig diaries.
Every time you give something a number, you need to write it down somewhere. The best way to keep things organised and avoid repeating numbers is to keep running lists. Every time you add something to the list, you give it the next number on that list. An archaeologist will have different running lists: a list of excavation contexts (usually in a notebook you cary with you to site), a list for photos, one for artefacts, one for samples…
The context sheet is a form archaeologists need to fill out to record each individual stratigraphic context (soil layer) or architectural feature. You will have to ascribe a new number to the context (see running list) and describe it in detail (colour, composition, inclusions, size…), how it relates to other contexts (over, under, abutting, fill…), and what was discovered within this context. Most dig directors provide a photocopied sheet that you fill out so that everyone gathers the same kind of information about contexts they encounter during the excavations.
Artefact Description Sheets
Each artefact discovered needs to be properly documented. As soon as an artefact is removed from the excavation unit, it is given a tag with a context number (see running lists) based on where it was found. Artefacts then need to be given an object number and recorded. The description sheet will document several things about the artefact, including its size, colour, material, decoration, measurements, damage or wear as well as where it was found (context). You can also pencil a quick sketch as it facilitates the identification of the object or helps figure out the measurements. Archaeological illustrators (site artists) will later make proper drawings of these objects.
Archaeologists keep dig diaries for a number of reasons. Many will have a diary to record the day’s work and this will include sketches and measurements of the features excavated, mentions of artefacts discovered, levels taken, observations and comments, and perhaps odd little things like the weather, the number of scorpions seen today or funny events. Until 2007, I use to keep a diary of my adventures; however, I have been given charge of several lists and notebooks and now I just can’t keep up with my own diary. At the end of season, though, I draw a cartoon summing up events and discoveries (to the delight of team members who each get a copy). It reminds me what happened during that season… in a fun and colourful way!