Object of the month – an archaeologists best friend

Having been on holiday and not quite back in the flow I decided that this object of the month could be an object from the present day.

A nearly new trowel

A nearly new trowel

It’s a trowel!  We are all told when we start digging to get a solid cast WHS 4 inch pointing trowel, no bigger and definitely not a round-nosed builders’ gauge trowel, or a garden trowel!

Other pointing trowels are often too thin and can slice bone when digging, or they are too bendy and if not solid cast they can snap when digging up stones or attacking a hard sun-baked layer.

The stages in the life of a trowel

The stages in the life of a trowel

Over the years they shrink as the metal is worn away, and eventually the old favourite trowel has to be replaced with a new one as it is just too small for most work. You can tell whether the archaeologist who used a particular trowel was right or left-handed or even ambidextrous, which most of us are, due to the shape of a trench with a section on the left and one on the right, unless you turn round!

A predominantly right handed digger

A predominantly right-handed digger

An ambidextrus digger

An ambidextrous digger

Archaeologists are very protective of their trowels, as they wear with you and become just right for your hand and digging technique. This often leads to carvings and other kinds of decoration to identify it if it gets mislaid, or ends up on the spoil heap by mistake! The project run by Barbara Bender and the University of London at Leskernick included anthropologists who looked at the temporary homes of the diggers and how they personalized them or not. I’m not sure if they looked at diggers’ trowels as well.  http://www.ucl.ac.uk/leskernick/articles.html

Diggers 'tag'

Diggers ‘tag’

Painted handle, very worn!

Painted handle, very worn!

Archaeologists in future will be able to tell quite a lot about a trowel that may have been left down a trench. At Caerwent we found the remains of a brush and hand shovel that an antiquarian had left behind many years earlier, sadly no trowel.

How would you decorate your trowel, you have to remember how it’s held so there are no lumps and bumps to rub your hand. 🙂

10 thoughts on “Object of the month – an archaeologists best friend

  1. I have a 20-year old trowel, inscribed with my name, which I take everywhere with me as it’s ‘my precious’. I set up a joke ‘Trowel Travels’ page for my fellolw diggers and post shots of it from various holiday locations, including my honeymoon! Confession over…is there a self-help group for me?!!!!

  2. The coloured handled one, in the pictures, is my oldest trowel and like Martin it stays in my tool box, I do like to use it now and then so it does not feel neglected now that it is a bit too small 🙂 Many happy memories.

    • Thanks for the re blog 🙂 you have some great pictures, I have photos of a tractor a bit like the fire truck, over the years its totally disappeared!

  3. The painted trowel looks almost identical to one I lost in Swanage in the mid nineties whilst visiting the penny arcade whilst on a dig. For a brief second I thought I had finally found it. I still can’t work out what happened to it.

    • Hi Nick, hope it brought back happy memories and not too much sadness at its loss. Glad to know others got arty with their trowels 🙂 they are so easily lost on site, I remember when working on Maiden Castle in 1985 one of the diggers lost their trowel but it was found three days later in the bottom layer of a large sectioned pit! very odd! I must get out the paints again as need to keep hold of my latest trowel that keeps going walk about! cheers

      • Reminds me of strange memories of excavating somebody’s trowel in an excavation of a site that had previously been excavated in the 1960-70’s. The circularity of the universe and all that. I usually lost mine behind my right side as forever putting it down without thinking, then wondering where it had gone; only to finally look behind me – took 9 years to train myself to look behind me before panicing.

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