The Essential Tools and Equipment Archaeologists Use

Archaeologists use a wide array of tools and equipment on site and some of them are familiar to us while the others are more specialized. We have listed the tools necessary for Archaeology and brief descriptions about them. These will be the tools you will see on a field session.


Trowels are very useful and they are also the most iconic tool for archaeology. It is the tool that masons employ in applying mortar to a brick wall, but it is used in archaeology to excavate in an area where the space can no longer be dug up by a shovel.

There is actually a long-standing debate within the community of archaeologists regarding which trowel is better, either the square-ended or the pointed ones. Opinions vary a lot among archaeologists, but it would still boil down to personal preference.


Shovels, may it be square or rounded, are used as a primary excavating tool especially in units that has no artifacts or features to be discovered. Shovels are an essential tool because they are efficient in moving soil from a particular area to another.

Soil is being shoveled either into 5-gallon sized buckets which will then be carried into a screen, or it is shoveled directly unto the screen.


A screen is used to sift through the shoveled soil that comes from a particular unit. This process is necessary for searching and spotting artifacts. There are a lot of screen varieties, but the most common are the box or personal and the tripod screen.

The soil is being poured down into the screen from a bucket or shovel, and then shaken rapidly back and forth in order to let the lighter soil fall through the mesh. The heavier artifacts, if there is any, will remain within the screen box.

Hand brooms/Dustpans

Hand brooms and dustpans are utilized by archaeologists because they are also efficient in moving soil out. The hand brooms are the ones that keep the surface of the unit clean especially when it is time to take pictures. Dustpans help move the soil at a quicker pace when trowels are being used. The excess soil will be gathered into the dustpan and contents will then be dumped into the bucket. This is more sensible than moving soil using only a trowel which is much smaller in size.

Tape Measures

Tape measures, like how most people use them, are being utilized by archaeologists to measure the depth and size of a specific unit. They are extremely useful in the creation of maps.

Line Levels/Plumb Bobs

Plumb bobs and line levels are primarily used to map excavation units. A plumb bob is used in conjunction to the measuring tape in order to give a more precise location to artifacts or feature boundary that are in the floor or walls of a unit. On the other hand, line levels, which are attached to strings, measure the depth of any level an artifact where it is found.


Digital cameras are important for documentation purposes. Archaeologists release official images of the walls and floors of all of the excavation levels, plus there has to be pictures of the found artifacts. Occasionally, archaeologists take candid shots of themselves, too, with the rest of the crew as they work on the site.

These are the most common tools and equipment you will find in an excavation site. Archaeologists use only the highest quality tools and equipments due to the fact that excavation sites are usually away from civilization.


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