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Inside a dig

Take a look at how the City Archaeologist conducts a dig — from start to finish.

City Archaeologist Joe Bagley reviews construction projects on City-owned and landmark properties. If a project could disturb an archaeological site, Joe can make a request to perform a dig before the work starts.

Joe may perform the dig with the help of volunteers if it’s a City-funded project. He also works with nonprofits to help reduce the cost of an archaeological survey.

When we need to dig

The Clough House, built in 1715, is one of the five oldest standing houses in Boston. The house was part of the Old North Church campus. It was also the first dig site of 2013.

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When Joe needs to dig a site, he first requests an Archaeological Permit from the State Archaeologist of Massachusetts. The application process includes:

  • a detailed site history of the project area
  • plans for how he will excavate the site, and
  • what he may find through a survey.

After Joe gets a permit, he starts the dig.

At the dig site

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Volunteers (left) began digging in the rear lot of the Clough House on May 16, 2013. Studying the stratification of soil helps to identify the context and date of many artifacts.

During the dig, Joe and his volunteers record artifacts by their layer and depth in the ground. After digging a pit, they draw and photograph the walls of the pit.

Joe and his team need to complete the dig based on the requirements included in his permit proposal. After they finish, he writes a letter to the state archaeologist. Joe will either write that the dig has found enough information, or that they need to dig more. If the state archaeologist agrees with Joe, the digging ends and the lab work begins.

Back at the lab

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Lab processing involves washing, sorting, and cataloging artifacts. Joe uses the catalog to reconstruct the history of the site based on the artifacts. He also publishes the results of the dig in a formal archaeological report. The report details the history and information found through the survey.

Volunteers work together (left) to clean and identify artifacts found at the Clough House.

Example dig site report

Katherine Nanny Naylor (Cross Street) and John Carnes (Paddy's Alley) Site Report

The 1996 report focuses on the 17th-century features of the Naylor privy, and the 18th-century features of the John Carnes pewter workshop. The report also talks about many other significant aspects of these two areas:

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