Truely Beautiful Sections

I thought I would post a choice selection of some rather fine examples of sections.

Now us in the UK (I’ll be honest and admit my shortcomings here, I don’t know where else in the world) dig in verticle stratigraphy, we don’t like to box things unless really difficult/necessary, and in commercial we certainly don’t like to dig in single context.

So when you go off all bright eyed and bushy tailed to university to commence your degree in archaeology, you sit in the lecture hall for archaeological practice 101 *insert generic module title here* you will learn about the beauty of stratigraphy (the layers of soil in your feature, in geology its the layer of different stones/sediment etc that make up the land).

When digging a feature by and large you dig out half of it (or split the whole thing into 4 and dig out opposing quadrants). This is so that once you have your half section, you can see the full profile of a feature. That simply means that you dig out all of the odd coloured soil until you hit natural, you make sure that the slot or part your digging out has a really sharp straight edge and then that edge will act as a window to the feature. It will show you all of the lovely layers that fill in your feature and your expertise will be able to interpret how those layers formed.

So here goes, some text book beauties…

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I dug this in the hope that there would be a body in it. But as you can see, there is one singular fill throughout the extent of this pit which has been cut into limestone. Turned out to be post-med in the end, all I found was one sherd of pottery near the top. Needless to say I was a tad disappointed! It was the perfect size for a grave too!


This was a section through a lovely Iron Age pit cut into chalk. It started to get a little deep for me, as I’m a short house, so I was able to bottom it. But you can see all of the lovely layers of soil that make up the section to this pit. We have some natural build up in the bottom from when the pit was dug and left open for soil to naturally wash in. We have a few lines of charcoal from where it’s been dumped in by people. That white band is a layer of redeposited charcoal (probably a ‘cap’ over something smelly). Finally the top has been filled up by more natural build up.


Now I must confess that although those legs in the background are mine, I didn’t actually dig this rather nice example, a colleague of mine did and he just happened to photograph it on my phone. It’s always nice to dig on chalk, there’s very little chance at all that you can get it wrong, you dig dark soil out until you hit the solid white chalk 🙂 lovely! But here you can see little sections dug out of a shallow ditch, at the very forefront an ‘L’ or box section has been put in where two ditches collide in the ground. This is so we can see a section of both ditches to see which one has wiped the other out! And because I didn’t dig it and just stole the photo I’m not 100% sure what age this turned out to be. I remember the site and the majority of the stuff we dug was Roman… so let’s go with that!


Ignore the mattock there. I took this photo to show a non-archaeologist how much I’d dug out that day (that non-archaeologist being a 4 year old and she told me the hole wasn’t big enough! No pleasing some people). It’s nice because It shows the scale of the ditch, it’s filled up with clay over years and then through the movement of the plough stones have been pushed into the soft ‘fill’ of the ditch once the clay had had time to build up within it. This was a Roman defensive ditch at the entrance to a small farmstead near Chester. There was once a smaller enclosure ditch which remains at the bottom of this picture, but that has been completely cut out by a larger ditch which actually terminates about 1m from that section cut. The square part of the ditch which goes down deeper in the square cut terminus for the big ditch!


This is my favourite, again I can’t take credit for any of this work, the slot itself was dug out by a machine and the cleaning up of the section was completed by a near army of men (there was a lot of huffing, puffing and muscle flexing!). 4 or 5 of them spent a good couple of days clearing out the water and soil that had built up since the machine dug a whole through it, and then spending time getting the edge of that machine slot razor sharp. By jove it was worth it! There are actually 6 ditches in this one section. The middle one (the part of the soil with the stones in, to the left of the orange pipe), was the last ditch to be dug across that area (minus the bit with the orange pipe, that’s a land drain… not counted). From the left hand side of this picture is a series of 3 other ditches leading to the middle one. The far left came first, cut by the second to the left, cut by the third to the left, which has then been cut by the middle one. We can tell this because of the layers of soil and which ones survive the best.

From the right hand side of this picture it goes one ditch on the far right, which has been cut by the ditch second to the right which has again been cut by the middle ditch!  Unfortunately, because the ditches to the far left don’t touch the ones to the far right, within this section we can’t tell which came first, I’ll have to wait and see what pottery came out from them and if they can be dated that way!!

We know they’re all Roman, from the slot as a whole they collected a lovely copper brooch, some decorated terra sigilata (red slip/samian ware) and other local forms of Roman pottery 🙂

I realise that none of that probably makes much sense. But it’s very difficult to explain in a short space how to interpret the fills and cuts. The important thing is that this picture is an example of a lovely section and shows a perfect window into what’s happening in this mess of ditches!


This is another nice simple ditch. It’s got a lovely dark fill at the bottom, with a lighter one on top. All of it is clay, just different colours of clay. I’ve included this photo as an example of what to leave in the section. As you can see I left lot’s of bits of pottery sticking out. Two reasons for this: 1) I don’t want gaping holes in my straight section from where I’ve pulled stuff out (same rule applies to stones) and two, it’s nice to have on record the pottery in each layer, good dating evidence and once I photographed and drew it into the archive I pulled it out bagged and tagged it! 🙂 This too was Roman, part of the small farmstead just outside of Chester. My guess is that it’s a small divisionary ditch, not much defending can be done by that!

By this you can probably tell that as a person who spent nearly 4 years at university focussed on Prehistoric Britain… I have of course been assigned to nearly all Roman sites! Ha! That’s the luck of the draw in commercial work!

So there we have it. Some sexy sections!


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