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Introduction to Military Archaeology

Archaeology is the study of past human activity through research, excavations, and artifact analysis.

Together, these help the archaeologists reconstruct a picture of the past.

Archaeologists enter the field for an excavation with well-crafted skill sets in excavation technique, artifact identification, and documentation. In addition to locating artifacts such as pipes, bottles, and projectile points, archaeologists also interpret colors and textures in the soil to determine if postholes, hearths, or other features are present. These features can tell archaeologists more about the people who lived in the past, what they ate, how they lived, and how long ago they lived. Stratigraphy helps archaeologists in determining the age of artifacts, features, and an entire site. While excavating, archaeologist take photographs to document the excavation process, artifacts, and features. They also draw maps of the profiles and levels of each unit. Fieldnotes are also written to describe what the archeologists are finding, and lists their interpretations of the excavation.

There are three phases in archaeology.  Phase I investigation can utilize a combination of the following techniques:  shovel test pits (STPs) that are excavated in transects, pedestrian survey, remote sensing, and auger testing. The objective of a Phase I survey is to determine if a site is present and define the site’s boundaries within an Area of Potential Effect (APE). The artifacts that are recovered are analyzed in the archaeology lab and prepared for curation.  Then, a report is written and submitted to the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) for review and compliance under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. This is done for each phase of archaeological investigations.

Phase II investigations take place after a Phase I survey to determine if a site is potentially eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). The standard method used during a Phase II investigation is systematic STPs; however, augers, remote sensing, surface collection, and test units are also excavation methods used during this phase. During this phase of excavation, archeologists are looking for high artifact densities, the limits of the site, and the presence of intact stratigraphy and features. All of these are not necessary for a site to be eligible for nomination to the NRHP, but help to uncover the story of the site.  After a Phase II excavation is complete, the Determination of Eligibility (DOE) must be evaluated. If a site is found eligible for nomination to the NRHP it is protected from disturbance, or impacts (such as land development, or military training).  If disturbances must occur in order to accomplish the military’s mission, a Phase III excavation will take place at the site.

Click here to learn more about archaeology at MCB Camp Lejeune.