Once something is discovered, the first priority is to create record upon record upon record of every minute detail! First, we use a measuring device to measure exactly where the piece was taken out of the ground and record it on a ground plan of the site. Onsite, we call this “dropping the location.”
We then wash the pottery in water and dry it in order to check the surface, condition, color and form of the pottery once the soil is cleaned away. This process of numbering each item is called “registration.”
What attracted you to excavation work?
I was interested in Mesopotamia. As the birthplace of civilization, it will always hold a strong attraction for me, and I will never tire of it. In excavation as well, the amount and type of precious artifacts we uncover is overwhelming.
The next stage is to record the pottery from various different angles on paper. First, we observe fragments and calculate exact angles. We take photos of any distinctive pottery, but, most of the time, we create line drawings.
What sort of people are best suited to excavation work?
Patient people with the perseverance to complete silent, simple tasks, as it takes steady work. International survey groups tend to divide tasks, but many Japanese archaeologists are able to do everything from item measurement to chart creation.
First, we trace the actual piece of pottery. To record a cross-section, we measure the thickness of the pottery using vernier calipers. We feel the pottery to pick up several points where the thickness changes. We usually discover a large amount of clay pots and fragments at any one time, so speed is of the essence. With experience, you come to know instinctively where you need to measure.
Do you like this kind of task?
Well, if I’m being honest, I don’t like it... If I had an assistant, I would get him/her to do it. But doing this over and over again probably does help build knowledge and experience. I wouldn’t necessarily say that it is better to get someone else to do these simple tasks.
We measure three-dimensional forms with this profile gauge. You use it to gauge the shape of the piece. I think the bamboo conformateur was designed in Japan. If you used a metal object, it could damage the item, but this is a gentler way of handling precious artifacts. We are extra careful when measuring the parts that are vital to ascertaining an artifact’s specific archaeological age.
Don’t you take photos and 3D scans?
We do get asked sometimes why we don’t take a 3D scan instead of drawing the lines by hand, but, surprisingly, it can be better to draw the pertinent records by hand, so that you can clearly see the distinguishing features. For the same reason, it is better to select and record certain information rather than take photos of everything, so that the material can be more useful as reference data.
We record the color of the pottery. This is the color chart we use to gauge the color of the earth. Owing to its age, there may be many different colors on the inside and outside of any one piece of pottery, so we record them all by writing for instance, this section is a dark yellow, and this section is light yellow in color.
Is this not too analog?
Yes, this certainly is an analog method. Recently, some people have taken records by sending a drone up into the sky to do some photographic surveying, but, at the moment, it is more accurate to measure each piece at a time with the measuring instruments. Having said that, I don’t think it will be long before we are using artificial intelligence and drones more actively. To date, humans have decided roughly where ancient ruins are likely to be located by intuitively judging topographical features and the lay of the land, but one day soon it could be possible to sense those sites automatically.
Finally, we scan our handwritten records, and use pen or drawing software for tracing in order to compile a full report like this one. Anyone can understand the excavation conditions and any information about the pottery just by looking at this information. We collect and share this kind of information to help promote the development of archaeological research.
Mistook for a huge discovery!
It was when we were excavating in the Kyrgyz Republic. We found a fragment of clayware in a 13,000 year-old land stratum. If it really was a 13,000 year-old find, it would have been the oldest piece of clayware in Central Asia. I spent the return flight thinking of a title for my article. However, when we got back and analyzed the piece scientifically, we discovered it was actually only about 3,500 years old. I was really disappointed. Oh well, I guess those sorts of things happen all the time, and that, in part, intrigues me.