A few words on the art of sieving

Archaeologists use various tools to survey and excavate sites. Some are very expensive and require specialist expertise – see Geophys at dawn for images of us working on Baker’s Flat with some of that particular kit. Some are much cheaper and easier to recognise – I’m thinking plastic buckets and the archaeologist’s trowel here.

But something that is dear to my heart is the sieve. Archaeologists sieve excavated dirt so that smaller remains that have been overlooked in the trench can be found. When we excavated at Baker’s Flat earlier this year, we started by sieving every bucket of soil that was excavated. At some stages, depending on the needs of the trench, we sieved one in two buckets, or one in three.

By the end of the dig, I estimate the sieved pile was about 16 tonnes of dirt. The  picture below shows the pile when it was tiny, and anybody that knows me may recognise the silhouettes of my two sons, who came to visit the site on a Saturday and were immediately drafted in to work.


Below is the pile as it got bigger – two sieves standing sentinel waiting for the next buckets.
IMG_3349 cropped

And then there’s the lonely walk back to the trench, carrying the empty buckets, on a sort of Sisyphean journey – up and down the hill carrying buckets that are emptied only to be immediately filled again.IMG_3202

And the close examination of sieve contents. At Baker’s Flat, most of the material being found in the sieves were bits of rusty metal, most likely corrugated iron that had been used as roofing. But we also found two green glass beads, which might be the spangles or weights from a lace bobbin. And some metal trouser buttons – from hard-working Irish trousers? There were also numerous ceramic and glass shards.IMG_3520

And why do I love sieving so much? It always reminds me of Christmas. All that wrapping, in this case dirt, hiding small treasures.

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4 Responses to A few words on the art of sieving

  1. Barbara Barclay says:

    Would I be right in thinking that sieving in SA would be a completely different experience to sieving in Ireland? I don’t think there’d be much use of dust masks here for example!

    • sarthure says:

      Maybe on a summer’s day you might need a mask? But you’re right, they’re essential here in South Australia. And the dust flies everywhere. Four months later, I’m still wiping dust off pages in my notebooks!

  2. Peter Pascoe says:

    Hopefully the link will work. An ode to your sieving efforts.


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