Digital Digs Online Archaeological Excavations

Many people are interested in archaeology, but do not have the opportunity to volunteer at a dig site. Archaeology is a destructive science. Professionals need to be careful about how a site is excavated to ensure as much information as possible is gathered, while at the same time preserving the site for future research. However, with the magic of technology, there are some non-destructive online options that allow you to try archaeology from the comfort of your computer chair. Below are four examples of digital excavations for all ages that provide a sample of the archaeological process.

Colonial Williamsburg – Dirt Detectives Aimed at kids, this activity guides users through the basics of stratigraphy and the law of superposition at a historic dig site. Users are asked a series of questions about which layers and finds are older or younger depending on the context.  There are numerous opportunities during the excavation to provide short answer interpretations of what is being discovered.

Land of the Spirits – Basin Deposit This wonderfully detailed interactive dig walks users through multiple steps of an archaeological excavation. The first portion of the site has links to the basics of archaeology and PDF field note documents that can be printed and filled out during the course of the virtual excavation. Once at the online dig site, there are four different unit excavation options. Each unit is excavated using trowels, brushes, screens, and a tape measure. Once users uncover an artifact they are prompted to record its location on their external field notes. Once excavation is complete, the artifacts are cleaned, labeled, sorted by material, and recorded on the artifact catalogue sheet.  Users then have the opportunity to research more about their excavated artifacts, or dig a new unit.

BBC – Hunt the Ancestor This digital excavation is based in Britain and gives users a feel for CRM archaeology. You are an archaeologist who is tasked with rescuing a prehistoric burial with a limited budget and time before it becomes a quarry site.  In each step of the archaeological process users are given choices along with associated costs and time spent. Do you visit the county records office before taking aerial photographs? What type of photograph do you take? What tools do you use to excavate? Try to gain all the data you can before the bulldozers arrive!

Excavate! Excavate! plays like a strategy and exploration game.  In the beginning users gather a team of archaeologists with different levels of four skills: Strength, perception, intellect and charisma. Each skill is useful for different tasks during the excavation. For example, strength is used for digging, perception for exploring and determining good excavation areas, etc.  Like the “Hunt the Ancestor” excavation, users have a limited budget and must choose what tools to start out with.  Once at the dig site, use the most skilled person in your team to perform different tasks to excavate the site and catalogue the artifacts.