Archaeology is the study of human activity.
From an amateur perspective, it can be a fascinating hobby, not only for adults with an interest in the past, but also for young people who want to learn more about local history and possibly develop a future career. This tutorial gives a basic outline of digging a test pit at home and finding some archaeology in your own backyard.
Please be aware that in some countries the federal, state, or provincial laws regarding heritage materials differ substantially from those of the USA. In some places, simply disturbing real heritage materials can garner you a hefty fine, and land you in jail.
Please do your homework first!
Do your history research first. It can save a lot of time looking at the history of your local area as that way you will have a fair concept of what to expect, if anything is in your area. If your home has been occupied for many generations, you will likely find a better structure of the history to analyze. Places with little records, or that were known to have phases of occupation and desertion can be just as fascinating.
It is important to know the local history or local myths
If your area is said to have history dating back hundreds of years, it can be a far more complex job to correctly identify layers, whereby if you are in a new development, the likelihood of finding old and complex human activity is minimal.
In this case, interesting finds or anything you don’t understand should be referred to the local museum or archaeological authority.
Look in your backyard to scout out earthworks and other signs
Earthworks can include signs of ploughing, levelling, terracing, or raising the earth to build on. There can also be banks and ditches, which can have a range of interpretations––these changes may have been recent, or much older and may be very subtle. Other useful signs to look for include:
Parch marks or stunted growth in grass or fields.
While this can be caused by plant pathology and soil fungus, regular shapes or marks where the soil is dry can be signs of compacted earth and foundations of buildings or other structures (including smaller things such as old bird baths, sundials, ponds and other garden furniture).
Natural stone close to the surface could be of geological interest
There may be evidence of chemicals or waste dumping in the past. In this case, proceed with great caution, as exposing yourself to dangerous chemicals can be harmful or even lethal. (Contact your local authority if you are concerned this is the case.)
Look at your local landscape and consider why people decided to live there in the first place. It might be near a river or stream for water supplies, good soil for agriculture, forests for wood and hunting, local hills and valleys that protect from the elements and other aspects.
Why you live in your area isn’t always the reason why older generations decided to live there
Very often, you may find existing structures, such as the garden shed, compost bin, fencing and paving.
This is the archaeology of the future as the installation of these will leave telltale marks in the soil for the future archaeologists to discover. What you are doing is looking for the activity of generations past, which have also left traces for you to find.
Google Maps or other satellite maps can be a great free source as you can zoom into your target for an aerial view.
Several recent world discoveries in dangerous war zones and inhospitable terrain have been made using satellite maps from home offices.
If you have ever watched any history or archaeology shows such as the History, National Geographic and Discovery Channel, or watched programs such as “Time Team” in the United Kingdom, you can get an idea about what’s involved.
Look for a good place to dig in your own backyard (or your neighbour’s if they give you permission)
Seek permission before you dig, as not only do you need the land-owners permission and local government permission if necessary, it can be important to check if there are existing services such as gas, electricity, sewerage, etc., in the place you wish to dig. Many nations and local governments have a “Dial before you Dig” program where you can get advice (and financial penalties for failing to seek the advice first.)