Inside a Dig

A look at how the City Archaeologist conducts a dig, from start to finish.

The City Archaeologist reviews construction projects on City properties and properties designated as City Landmarks. If a project may disturb archaeological deposits, the City Archaeologist may request a dig be performed prior to the work beginning. The City Archaeologist may perform the dig himself with volunteers if it is a city-funded project, and they work with non-profit groups to reduce the cost of archaeological survey.

Clough House (210)  Rear Lot (210)

The Clough House, built in 1715, is one of the five oldest standing houses in Boston and is part of the Old North Church campus. It was also the first dig site of 2013.

When a dig is required, the City Archaeologist requests a State-issued Archaeological Permit from the State Archaeologist of Massachusetts. The application process includes a detailed site history of the project area, plans for how the dig will be excavated, and a discussion of what may be found through archaeological survey. With permit in-hand, the dig commences.

Volunteer Digging (440)
Volunteers began digging in the rear lot of the Clough House on May 16, 2013.

During the dig, all artifacts are recorded by their layer and depth in the ground. After digging a pit, the walls of the pit are drawn and photographed.

Stratigraphy (440)
Studying the stratification of soil helps to identify the context and date of many artifacts.

Once the dig has been completed to the specifications included in the permit proposal, the City Archaeologist writes a letter to the State Archaeologist stating recommending either that the dig has found enough information, or that more digging is needed to document any archaeological resources. When the State Archaeologist agrees that enough digging has been completed, the digging is done and lab work begins.

Paperwork at the Lab (210) Volunteers Washing Artifacts (210)
Washed Artifacts (210) Washed Pottery (210)

Volunteers work together to clean and identify artifacts found at the Clough House.

Lab processing involves washing, sorting, and cataloging artifacts. The catalog is then used to reconstruct the history of the site based on the artifacts found. The results of the dig are published in a formal archaeological report, which describes in detail all of the history and information revealed through the archaeological survey.

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More Information

  • See More Pictures from the Dig

    The Archaeology Program's Facebook is frequently updated with pictures from its surveys, including the dig at the Clough House. View more pictures and join in on discussions with other archaeologists, researchers, and enthusiasts!

    Archaeology Program Facebook Photostream

  • Learn more about the City Laboratory

    The extensive collections in the City Archaeology Lab include Boston's oldest artifact, a 7500 year old spear point found on Boston Common, as well as artifacts from archaeological digs at the Three Cranes Tavern, which was burned by British Troops during the Battle of Bunker Hill; Paul Revere's House; and Faneuil Hall, just to name a few.

    More Information about the City Laboratory

  • Visit, Volunteer, or Research with the City Archaeology Program!

    There are numerous ways to get involved with the City Archaeology program: helping out on a dig, conducting a research program, or simply visiting the lab. Learn about current opportunities and review necessary requirements before contacting the City Archaeologist.

    Get Involved with City Archaeology