Recording the pits

DAACS archaeologist Karen Hutchins (left) and UWI student, Clive Grey, work together to record an excavated STP at New River I, Nevis

Each of the 718 shovel-test-pits excavated in 2008 contained a wealth of information. The texture and colour of the sediment in each pit tells an archaeologist if the sediment in the area was deposited by natural forces or by human activities. The depth of a pit can also help archaeologists identify areas that were impacted by human activities such as ploughing, terracing, or building construction. In order to capture a range of data related to the pit, we used standardised methods for recording sediment colour, texture, and the depth of each pit

Video: layers in a shovel test pit

In this video Fraser Neiman explains to students the significance of the layers in a shovel test pit at the 18th century slave village at New River, Nevis.


Fraser Neiman: Gather around this hole so you can see down in it. Look at the side walls, right, and what do you see inside. Rocks? Right. You've got your rooty zone, right, and fewer rocks right here. Then there's this pretty homogenous zone with rocks in.

This dark stuff is the top of a stable soil surface that was here before the terraces were constructed so all this stuff above it, it's all probably colluvial [hill wash], maybe some alluviation here as well, that has accumulated behind the rock wall which it formed against. We've been pulling 18th century artefacts out of this pretty much all the way down, and this duplicates some of the stuff that Carter was seeing and some holes on that terrace as well yesterday. So this is going to be pretty good evidence that the slave village site is either contemporary with or pre-dates the construction of the terrace.

Video: recording a shovel test pit

In this video Becky Kettle, University of Southampton, discusses recording a shovel test-pit


Becky Kettle: This - here we have a shovel test pit and we're digging down to see if we can find any remains from the slave village site - and material culture. And what we have here - we have three distinct layers - soil layers - and the first level is the top soil - you can see it has very little inclusions, granules of silt or pebbles - and then we move down to level 2, which is the middle layer, which has a slightly darker colour to it and it's quite densely packed with granules and pebbles, and then we move down to the final layer which is more of a gradient colour gradient change, and much more compact with a bit more granules in it than pebbles.

But at the bottom of the pit we do meet two very, very big stones which we believe are part of the terrace. And they're stuck in together.

And we are about to fill in a context or a shovel text pit form which has details on the depth of the pit, what we found in there and the artefact types and the soil types that we found in each layer and the sediment texture, and obviously who excavated it and the date, and that's what we're doing. And we're doing lots of shovel test pits round the site.

Video: digging a shovel test pit

In this video Kathryn Temple and Josh le Cheminant, undergraduates at Southampton University, record a shovel-test pit at Jessups


Josh le Cheminant: STP 1-H-06

Kathryn Temple: shall we do the artefacts first?

JLC: Yes, we've got 20. We've got some glass, some AC ware [Afro-Caribbean pottery], a bit of brick, and let's see I'd probably place it as being some English stoneware with a salt glaze.

First layer. Here it goes down to about 10 [centimetres] I'd say. Thicker topsoil layer than usual. Texture-wise, we're definitely looking at a silty loam.

KT: What about the inclusions in that one?

JLC: Well I think you've got a bit more, you've got some pebble, also there's a cobble over there. I'd say maybe 5% maybe up to 10% granules, pebbles and I think that might be big enough to classify as a cobble there. Right well, shall we move on to the next on in this hell-hole of heat, this unbelievably difficult toil!

KT: Back fill.

JLC: Oh, back fill - of course!