Getting out and participating in an archeological dig can be fun, educational, and a wonderful community bonding experience.

But everyone who has never participated before asks, what is it like, how do I join in, what is required?

Some sites do require participants to be a certain minimum age because of indemnification, so inquire of the site team. Other sites allow special days and times for the children to learn and get involved.


Expect a very casual group of participants with a few expert archeologists overseeing and directing operations.

Expect long days in the heat and sun, bring a straw hat and sunblock and plenty of bottled water.

Repeat..."...Expect long days in the heat and sun..." Weather, weather, weather! It defines the experience. You can quickly start looking sunburned, and sometimes you'll run for cover from a thunderstorn!

Expect to walk in a ways across natural terrain, especially if rainy weather has passed recently, even sites with some vehicle access can become impassable because of weather - many a truck has had to be pushed out of the mud at a site!

There will be buckets galore - to carry dug soil for screening, to collect artifacts, for water.

Guidance will be provided at every stage of participation, you can start out knowing next to nothing about digging and learn. Some of your fellow diggers will have spent years studying and digging.

surface survey

Surface survey for exposed artifacts before digging begins

An easy first place to help is with the screening process, but expect to be guided there too, learning to see the many items that may be of significance is a learning process in itself. Things like bits of wood, charcoal, tiny seeds, and certain types of stone will be identified as important to gather from the dirt. Even the obvious things like arrowheads come in many developmental stages that will train your eye as you see them being found. At first they may not clearly stand out in your mind, then other items will appear interesting but turn out to be inconsequential.


Screening at the Claggett site in Frederick County.

The basic digging area is called a unit, usually about three feet square and marked off by stakes and strings, also usually part of a larger rectangle with several other squares, both open units and those that are still sealed soil. A patchwork of units will be investigated, depending on what is being found, if anything, then either continued or abandoned.


Working a unit


Investigating a soil feature

An area of special interest, artifact positions, or soil appearance changes will be called a feature.

Sometimes digging begins with long trenches or bulldozing strips of ground to seek the most promising areas of a site or lcoate additional possible features. The lead acrheologists will have a precise map of the areas and the work with unts and features identified and numbered. Survey markers will oriente the mapping.


Cautious shovelling by Maryland State Archeologist Charlie Hall

A whole new way of using shovels and trowels will eventually become part of your digging process as you progress and are trained at a site. It can be painstaking and slow work, but every action is a vital part of the digging. you will see how these techniques reveal stained areas of soil that indicate various activity or features of the site, such as decayed wooden post mold holes. Places where fires were laid hundreds or thousands of years previous will come to light, and bits of charred wood or ashes will be saved to determine the age of the activity.


Careful trovelling in a unit

If you are at a site when any human remains are discovered, you will find that they are treated respectfully and quickly covered back with soil and left intact. Archeologists no longer recover or explore these ancestral remians out of respect for their cultures and any possible descendants, even if those people are no longer known or are unidentified, they are in fact all of our ancestral heritage.

post mold

Discussing a possible post mold feature

You will learn, and the moment you turn up that first wonderful item that has not been touched by a human in a thousand years, you'll be hooked on the excitement and special activity of digging archeological sites!

Usually after lunch (bring a bag lunch unless instructed otherwise, sites are often far from commercial food centers), there will be a formal educational session or discussion, you will gain insight into what the experts are thinking from the finds and digs.


If digging is not in your blood, then there can be opportunities to help with cleaning artifacts, first usually under a shady tent near the field site, or later in lab areas. handling the items will be a very specific process, separating and bagging by locations and types so the information and meaning of the finds can be derived by researchers.

lab work conservation

Lab work and conservation

As your experience progresses, you'll form a picture of your dig site, its history, and the people who lived there. You will feel connected to a new understanding of the past and your community as part of a continuum of lives and cultures.

after rain

It rained last night! Good thing we covered up our unit!

Watch Remote Ground Sensing Radar Used at Monocacy National Battlefield, Best Farm, Slave Village Site