Kids Dig Archaeology Blog

Tools of the Trade

Dr. Arty Fax’s Archy Facts is a weekly blog introducing kids (currently stuck at home) to the exciting world of archaeology!

Last week we learned about what archaeologists study (do you remember without looking back?) and how they use artifacts and archaeological sites to study the past.  This week it is all about tools.  All the different tools archaeologists use to uncover how people lived in the past.

The most common and well-known tool archaeologists have in their tool bag is the simple TROWEL, many archaeologists even have more than one.  This is not to be confused with a gardening trowel, which typically has a scooped-shape instead of a flat triangular blade.  We borrowed this tool from masons who use it for spreading cement when laying brick.  Can you believe it!? Our most-used tool wasn’t even made for archaeology, and you can even buy it at the home improvement store.


Do you know what archaeological site is pictured at the top?
Scroll down to find out!


Now of course we use lots of other tools as well, many of them are also borrowed from other professions like a paint brush, dental pick, and tooth brush.  Our teeth must be really clean in the field – just kidding!  Would you want to put this dirty tooth brush in your mouth?  Some of the most important tools we have are a pencil and paper (although today people use smartphones and digital tablets too).  Archaeologists write down or record everything, like locations of artifacts and site features and other observations.  We also record our interpretations, that is what we think it all means (more on that in a later post).

Not all of our tools are low-tech like trowels, brushes, and pencils, some are very high-tech like the TOTAL STATION.  A Total Station Theodolite is an electronic tool used  that measures many things at once, like the distance and elevation of a feature at an archaeological site.  Archaeologists use satellite global positioning systems (GPS) and DRONES to map archaeological sites.  As time goes on, we develop better and more accurate tools to study the past – sometimes we even go back and reexamine a site in order to apply our new technology, however nothing has replaced the TROWEL as our favorite tool.


How many of these archaeologist’s tools can you find at home?

Rome, Italy

Fun Facts:
The ancient Roman Colosseum was a large sporting arena built by Emperor Vespasian between 72 – 80 AD.  The Colosseum could seat 50,000 people and contained many underground passages called a hypogeum.  There were even trap doors!  This allowed the actors, animals, and gladiators to suddenly appear in the middle of the arena.  Talk about some ancient special effects! Graffiti was discovered on the walls, most likely scrawled there by gladiator fans – don’t do that at home!

Read more about the Colosseum here, here, and here.

Want to learn more?

Check out:

Dig Deeper: What Tools Do Archaeologists Use?
Archaeology 101 Exhibit

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With the assistance of Center staff, the intern will use photogrammetry to prepare one or more archaeological collections for digital preservation, as well as create a virtual museum exhibit for our Public Archaeology department. Per approval, special projects of the intern’s choosing are also available. During the research and planning, the intern will receive guidance as appropriate to their selected project. Prospective interns should already be familiar with photogrammetric procedures, and Agisoft Metashape.

Collections Management

With the assistance of Center staff, the intern will prepare one or more archaeological collections for curation. During the course of the internship, the intern will learn to identify artifacts and ecofacts common to the San Diego region, including lithics, ceramics, historical objects, and faunal, botanical, and mineral specimens. Center staff will instruct the intern on archaeological laboratory procedures such as basic artifact analysis, manual and computer cataloguing, storage requirements, and preventative conservation. In addition, the intern will become familiar with historical trends in archaeological practice in the San Diego area and will be introduced to current legal and ethical issues in archaeological curation as well as the concerns and rights of culturally affiliated groups with regard to archaeological materials.

Development and Marketing

Under the direction of Center staff, the intern will support the department in various activities, including, but not limited to, fundraising and grant research; e-newsletter development; social media marketing; and website maintenance. This internship will give the intern valuable, real-world experience in non-profit fundraising and marketing.

Geographical Information Systems in Archaeology

Prospective Interns must have completed three courses: Introduction to GIS, GIS Database Management, and Intermediate/Advanced Methods in GIS. The intern will be assigned a project where they will create shapefiles and maps for curated archaeological collections, museum exhibits, and/or public outreach using ArcGIS 10.6. Center staff will instruct the intern on archaeological GIS laboratory procedures such as computer cataloguing, storage requirements, and database management.

Library Science

With the assistance of Center staff, the intern will arrange and catalog materials in the Center’s library. During the course of the internship, the intern will take a leading role in the cataloging, sorting and storing of research files and creating user guides for these collections. Center staff will instruct the intern on archival procedures, computer cataloging, storage requirements, and preventative conservation.

Public Archaeology

Harness your passion for Public Archaeology and gain hands-on experience with K-12 museum field trips, lectures, and public outreach. Additional projects may include creating virtual museum exhibits and activities, assisting in the development and implementation of K-12 curricula programs, planning and presenting public facing content, or educational field trip content of your own design. Must be able to pass a Live Scan.