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Archaeological Investigation

Archaeological Investigation (Paperback)

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Drawing its numerous examples from Britain and beyond, Archaeological Investigation explores the procedures used in field archaeology travelling over the whole process from discovery to publication. Divided into four parts, it argues for a set of principles in part one, describes work in the field in part two and how to write up in part three. Part four describes the modern world in which all types of archaeologist operate, academic and professional. The central chapter 'Projects Galore' takes the reader on a whirlwind tour through different kinds of investigation including in caves, gravel quarries, towns, historic buildings and underwater. Archaeological Investigation intends to be a companion for a newcomer to professional archaeology - from a student introduction (part one), to first practical work (part two) to the first responsibilities for producing reports (part three) and, in part four, to the tasks of project design and heritage curation that provide the meat and drink of the fully fledged professional. The book also proposes new ways of doing things, tried out over the author's thirty years in the field and brought together here for the first time.

This is no plodding manual but an inspiring, provocative, informative and entertaining book, urging that archaeological investigation is one of the most important things society does.

Martin Carver specialises in the archaeology of early Medieval Europe and field archaeology in all periods. He was a free-lance archaeologist from 1972 until 1986, when he was appointed professor and head of department at the University of York. Since 2003 he has been editor of the journal Antiquity.

More books by Martin Carver

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Staff Choice

There was once a time when archaeologists could rebut all criticism of their professional judgement with the simple retort: ‘the spade never lies.’ Whilst history is written by winners,archaeological excavation reveals the past as it was, unsullied by the duplicitous meaning of words. At least that was the holding line, until Philip Greigson pointed out that even if ‘the spade cannot lie, it owes this merit in part to the fact that it cannot speak.’

Rising to this challenge, a great number of field archaeologists have written about life and work at the trowel’s edge; and of these plentiful books there are a handful that have gone on to influence a generation. From Mortimer Wheeler’s Archaeology from the Earth, through to Phillip Barker’s Techniques of Archaeological Excavation, and onwards to Steve Roskams’ in-depth elucidation of the MoLAS excavation manual, occasionally there are pivotal moments when key ideas in excavation are published in a useable form. Martin Carver’s Archaeological Investigation ranks as one of those important and influential works.

Drawing on a multitude of examples from around the world, with explanatory photos, plans and maps on nearly every page, Carver has brought his considerable excavation experience to bear on this topic, guiding the reader step-by-step from initial project design to final publication. The book is intuitively divided into four parts, and as the author points out in the preface, this structure mirrors the traditional career path of a life spent in archaeology. Part 1 returns us to the undergraduate lecture theatre, with a discussion of first principles and how excavation strategies have developed in line with archaeological theory. Those first few tentative steps into the field as a Site Assistant are given clear direction by Part 2: a review of field techniques and the most appropriate circumstances for their application. In Part 3 we are taken through the process of writing up, and the responsibility that comes with supervising or directing excavations, as well as the duty to report our work to varied groups of stakeholders. Part 4 takes the reader into the project design process, covering pertinent issues for decision-makers.

This is an ambitious book mining a lifetime of rich archaeological experience. Prior to his current post as Emeritus Professor of Archaeology at the University of York and editor of Antiquity, Carver set up BUFAU (Birmingham University Field Archaeology Unit), a busy contracting unit focused on development-led archaeology. He has garnered an international reputation as Director of the Sutton Hoo Research Project, in addition to his latest venture excavating the Pictish monastery at Portmahomack, Tarbat, Scotland. Nevertheless, this book isn’t content to trade on the author’s impeccable credentials. There is a Big Idea here – a drawing together of key concepts of evaluation, design and embedded interpretation that Carver calls ‘Field Research Procedure.’ Scholars of excavation theory will know that this value-led system, with its emphasis on design, stakeholders, deposit models, recovery levels and publication, has been described by Carver elsewhere. All the same, this book represents the first time these new ways of doing things have been brought together into a coherent and comprehensive guide.

For a previous generation of archaeologists, the long hours spent getting to grips with a spade were an essential rite of initiation. Today there are many different types of archaeologist, and not all of them dig holes in the ground. Specialisation has brought great benefits to the profession, but a side-effect is that career paths have become increasingly inflexible; colleagues with little field training are regularly required to make difficult planning decisions or monitor work on complex excavations. With this book, Carver points a clear way through the system, doing much to help us all be more fully-rounded archaeologists.

Reprinted with permission by

Charing Cross Rd Bookshop - 22/02/2011


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