Site Survey: What do we have here?
In order to locate and assess the size and scope of a potential archaeological site, archaeologists do a site survey. Depending on the objective, site surveys can range in level of detail, amount of documentation, and even methodology. The goal of archaeological survey is to be able to produce a basic document on the site detailing the type of site it is, its geographical boundary, and the level of disturbance within that boundary. A comprehensive site survey is an important first step in order to understand the nature of the archaeological site and how best to approach any further investigations.
A surface, or pedestrian, survey is often the first thing that is done on a new site. Archaeologists look for above-ground evidence of an archaeological deposit. Artifacts and features, along with mounds, extra green spots in a lawn or a suspicious depressions can all be clues indicating a hidden archaeology. Copious notes, measurements and photos are taken. Artifacts are recorded and either collected or left in place, depending on the project protocol.
Archaeologists use sampling techniques as a way to find out more about what lies beneath the surface of an archaeological site. Through sampling, archaeologists can verify whether an area contains any archaeological remains, check out soil stratigraphy, and identify site disturbances. A common form of sampling involves placing shovel probes or test excavation units across a potential or known site, giving archaeologists a snapshot of what lies beneath the ground. Soil probes, augurs and geophysical instruments can also be used to "see" underground. These techniques can provide lots of data on the location, size, type, and layout of an archaeological site—vital information for determining if and where to excavate.
Careful and thorough surveying of a site can save archaeologists time and money. It can also help prevent needless excavation—and, as a result, destruction—of archaeological sites. Where possible, archaeologists always like to leave a portion of the site intact "in perpetuity," as research questions and technology are constantly evolving. Sampling strategies allow researchers to get good archaeological data while at the same time leaving some of the site intact for the next generation of archaeologists.