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 Roc de Marsal


Excavating Roc de Marsal.  Trowels and brushes are the primary tools.  The shiny black object is a prism (see Technology) used to record artifacts.Paleolithic archaeology has long been known for a slow, deliberate pace that results from an emphasis on very detailed recording techniques designed to capture as much information as possible about the artifacts as they come from the ground.  The bottom line is that the Paleolithic record is extremely poor and so archaeologists must devise ways to squeeze as much information as possible from it.  In another part of this web site we discuss the technology we use to address this issue, and here we describe some of the excavation techniques.

Excavation definitely proceeds slowly.  In a typical field season, we only excavate a few cubic meters of a site.  Most excavation is done with trowels but when the layers are particularly rich or when the finds are particularly fragile, smaller tools are used to flake away the dirt from around the artifacts.
We use very standardized procedures for how artifacts are recorded when they are found.  For instance, any bone or stone larger than 2.5cm is recorded with the total station (see Technology).  If the artifact is elongated, then two points are recorded.  Artifacts that are smaller than 2.5cm (with some exceptions) are placed in an excavator's bucket (see above photo).

When the bucket is full, its location is also recorded with the total station, and it is taken back to the lab where it is wet screened through two different sized screens.  Once the contents of the screens are dry, their contents are available for analysis.  In the screens, we find the small flakes and debris created when stone tools are made.  We also find small fragments of bone and teeth as well as complete bones from very small animals (mircomammals).  Micromammals are important because they are very sensitive to climatic changes and can, therefore, tell us something about the climate at the time the site was occupied.

Additional Links
You can learn more about our methods by watching our day in the life of an artifact video.
The methods used at Roc de Marsal are generally the same as the ones we used at Pech IV.