15 Archeologist Tools and How They’re Used

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published April 14, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Archeologists can take great care in their work as they research remains of past human civilizations. Their work covers the entire process of uncovering, studying and preserving artifacts so that other scientists and the public can better understand history. They use a wide range of tools to accomplish their goals and understanding these tools can show the importance of their work. In this article, we explain what duties an archeologist performs and the tools they use to perform their duties.

What does an archeologist do?

An archeologist is a professional who studies the remains of past human civilizations to learn more about them. Some of the primary duties of an archeologist include:

  • Surveying: Archeologists survey sites that might contain new fossils for them to locate. This comprises researching the location beforehand by studying historical and topical maps of the region.

  • Excavating: Archeologists can spend the bulk of their work carefully digging at a site as they look for remains to study. This can include detailed work to ensure anything they find remains clean and intact.

  • Cataloging: Archeologists record notes on any item they find at the current dig site. This helps ensure that they have the proper data to analyze when they return home.

  • Presenting: Once archeologists thoroughly study the remains they've excavated, they use the information they find to create hypotheses about past civilizations. When they finish researching and developing their hypothesis, they share their results with other scientists and the public.

Related: How To Become an Archaeologist: Education Requirements and Steps

15 tools that archeologists use

Some tools that archeologists use include:

1. General digging tools

Archeologists have larger digging tools, like various shovels and trowels, to start the work on the dig site. The general digging goes down to what archeologists refer to as the cultural layer or the area where they may locate remains of civilizations. They also use the flat edge of a trowel to gently scrape away dirt the closer they get to their goal.

2. Detailed digging tools

Once they locate remains, archeologists use smaller and gentler tools to ensure the remains stay as intact as possible. This may include tools like brushes and dental picks or other nonconventional tools like plastic spoons. They can also use tools to blow air onto the remains so they can reveal as much detail as possible.

Related: Learn About Archaeology Degrees (Definitions and Types)

3. Buckets

Archeologists use buckets to collect all the dirt they collect from a site. They keep the dirt on hand so they can backfill or restore an excavation site back to the proper ground level once they finish their work. They can also use buckets to help clear an area and maintain an orderly workspace.

4. Sieves and screens

Sieves and screens are a form of utensil made of various levels of metal mesh and settled in a frame. Archeologists use these to carefully comb through any dirt from the excavation site. This means they're more likely to find smaller remains that normal excavation methods can't find, like pieces of pots or extremely small bones.

5. Recording materials

Once they locate remains, they can catalog them. Archeologists use a variety of recording tools to make sure they have all the data they need for proper analysis. They use pencils, pens, paper and clipboards to create proper notes. They also properly bag and label any piece they find with detailed information on where it was on the site.

6. Measuring tools

Before digging at an excavation site, archeologists use string and stakes to create and other measuring tools like metric sticks to create a square grid before digging. This can allow them to record the precise location when it gets labeled later. They also use tools like tape measures to measure the size of the located remains.

7. Cameras

Photography can be a useful tool for archeologists, as it allows them to start digitizing their data. It can allow them to establish the context of the remains found compared to their location in the excavation site. Taking high-quality photographs allows archeologists to show the condition, detail and character of each artifact as it's discovered.

Related: Photography Skills: Definition, Tips and Examples

8. Mapping tools

One of the major things that archeologists can do to create a precise recording of an artifact's location is to use mapping tools to get the exact latitude and longitude. This can include more modern tools like a GPS unit or something less advanced, like a compass. They can also take advantage of previously made historical maps of their location to make it easier to locate possible locations for artifacts.

9. Total station transit

A total station transit is a precise optical measuring tool used in modern surveying. Archeologists use these to precisely determine the edges of their excavation site and record precise locations of each piece of remains. The data from a total station gets downloaded onto a computer so that archeologists can start the digital recording of information.

10. Construction tools

Excavation sites follow the same standards as construction sites to ensure the safety of the scientists. They use items like high-contrast clothing, hard hats and boots to reduce the risk of accidents. Archeologists also use brightly colored caution tape around the perimeter of the excavation site to clearly mark the edges for people not involved in the dig.

Related: 10 Tips for Maintaining Construction Safety

11. Safety tools

Having a first-aid kit on hand is can be important in excavation sites where there's a possible risk of injury. Archeologists also can make sure they use sunscreen to keep themselves protected, as most excavations take place underneath direct sunlight. They also may keep water on them, as hydration is important in their sometimes strenuous work.

12. Analytical equipment

Archeologists continue their data analysis of their artifacts after coming back to the laboratory. They can use a variety of scales, microscopes and calipers to refine the measurements and detail of each artifact they discovered. This allows them to better understand each artifact so that they can come to a proper hypothesis of its greater context.

13. Cleaning and drying tools

Archeologists take stable artifacts and wash them using water and smaller brushes to remove the last of the dirt covering them before letting them dry on racks. For more fragile artifacts, they simply use stronger dusting tools to assure the item is clean. Keeping an artifact clean and dry can allow for the better preservation of it.

14. Computer databases

Archeology generates a massive amount of information that can be useful for creating proper a hypothesis. They digitize this information in computer databases that keep track of the photographs, original location and other details recorded. The computer databases also allow future scientists to easily locate the data and current location of each artifact so that they can study the artifact well after they finish the work at the excavation site.

Related: FAQ: What Are Database Servers and How Do They Work?

15. Long-term storage

Artifacts that are cleaned and properly studied can move to long-term storage. Most of the excavated artifacts are organic in nature, which means archeologists take great care during the storage process to reduce the risk of deterioration. They also keep the boxes that contain the artifacts organized on the shelves to make future reference and restoration easier.

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