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Iron Experiments - June 2007 - Post Smelt Excavation

Date: 10 June, 2007

Location: Vinderheima

Premise / Questions

We had received some questions about the debris field after a smelt. Before our double smelter on July 9 we laid down a clear layer of fresh sand. On the 10th the July Dr. Ron Ross and Neil Peterson of Wilfrid Laurier University brought out the grid squares and did a sketchmap of the debris field.

Tools and equipment:

This description was written by Ken Cook. This dig was his introduction to some of these techniques and he recorded the techniques used quite well. This makes this text a good introduction for other interested parties.

This is work which involves a high attention for detail, an ability to draw and the patience to record the details as found. Since any small detail may be the key to un-locking an archeological mystery, it behooves the archeologist to record everything, even if it seems irrelevant.

Dr Ron and Neil used those really cool plan frames, which made layout very easy within the 1 meter squares.

The first thing Ron did was layout a base line for the site. Normally, the baseline runs North - South if possible. In this case Ron laid out the baseline so that it ran along the axis of the smelting site and then took a bearing with his compass to get the relation of the baseline to true North.

Next, he laid out 1 meter intervals along the baseline and marked them with the plastic tent pegs. These tent pegs then became the reference points against which the plan frames were set.

The next step involved setting up the tracing paper so that the baseline ran down the centre of the paper. The co-ordinate system set-up by this method runs on the military grid system. In this case, everything EAST of the baseline was a positive number. Everything WEST of the baseline was a negative number. The baseline has a ZERO point. Hence everything within the excavation now has a co-ordinate which locates it precisely with respect to the baseline and the EAST/WEST direction. All measurements are in Metric.

The baseline represents SITE NORTH, and this is not always TRUE NORTH. TRUE can be obtained by survey techniques.


Ron and Neil talked about a KEY or LEGEND. This KEY is how objects are marked on the plan diagramme of the site plan. It is very important to be consistent when recording objects within the plan and maintaining the correct KEY for the same type of objects. i.e.: always mark slag debris with "DOTS" etc.

Object resolution is also a concern since the record has to be detailed enough in order to capture the information you want. It is my understanding that things 1 cm and larger are drawn as discrete objects, while things less than 1 cm are shown as areas, usually with descriptive notes attached.

The recording of data can be done in lead pencil only, but it makes sense to record data in colour in order to separate types of data and also make patterns more readily apparent.

The scope of the "DIG" needs to set with regard to the nature of the site, the material that needs to be included in the analysis and the material provides context only.

Context material sets the "tone" of the dig I think, in other words, it is rather like a signpost letting you know when and where the next town is. Material for analysis is the meat and potatoes of the dig, and this is where most of the physical effort is expended.

Cameras are a must, they can provide both context and analysis material for the site in general and for the 1m X 1m square plans. They can help identify patterns and may show objects and patterns which are not readily apparent to naked eye. A full suite of pictures were taken with the digital camera recording each 20cmx20cm square. These pictures are not reproduced here. Extreme care must be take to ensure that such pictures are accurately labled with the grid location and scale.

Copious notes are a must, both for context setting and for data recording. Temperature, humidity, geology, geography, altitude, latitude soil types, pH, climate and climate patterns (if known) are just some of the things which can set context and provide data for analysis of the site. For the prupose of this "dig" this data was not collected as the raw material was deposited the day before and would not be impacted by these factors - yet.

As I mentioned before, attention to detail is very important, so is not having a set of blinkers on when recording data. Drawing skills are important as well, these can be developed over time and with practice.

The final cleaned up version of our sketch map

Some Discussion Points:

This text is taken from our own observations and discussions with Kevin Smith at the Haffenreffer Museum. It has been edited to make it a single text block rather than attempting to attribute specific thoughts or questions.

      Updated: 4 Dec, 2007
Text © Neil Peterson, Ken Cook, Kevin Smith,Darrell Markewitz, 2007   Photographs © Neil Peterson   Copyright details
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