top of page

Field Archaeologists' Toolkit

When working in the field, archaeologists have many tools that will help them while excavating. Each archaeologist will build up a collection of tools over the years, some will keep them in a bag, in a roll kit, tucked in pockets of their coats or in a tool box. Here are some of the key tools for using in the field, and what they're used for. 


An example of an archaeologists' tool kit. © James Harvie


A trowel is the first tool ever archaeologist will own. A trowel has many uses, they help to cut through layers of soils, and can have different effects on the soil depending on the pressure you use. Trowels are used for following the different contexts, removing soils and helping to shape features. Archaeology trowels are different to trowels used in gardening or plastering - they are smaller and thicker, making them more durable. You will find that many archaeologists can become very attached to their trowel - even giving it a name. The more the trowel is used, the more it will become worn down and smaller and smaller!

As well as the standard archaeology trowel, there are many other types of trowels that can come in handy on site:

Sectioning Trowel

A sectioning trowel can be useful for creating the straight edges that are essential when digging. When Archaeologists half section features, its very important to create a straight section and this tool will help!


This is also known as a Japanese hoe or a hand hoe. Its curved and has a sharp edge that can help to cut through different types of soil. It's especially useful for straightening long sections. 

Leaf and Square Trowels

Leaf and Square trowels are used for more delicate work. They have a leaf shaped tool on one side and a square shaped edge on the other - hence the name! These trowels can come in different sizes. They are very useful for when small or delicate artefacts or deposits are found and archaeologists have to take extra care!

String and Line Level

Having string, some nails and a line level is very important in archaeology. When deciding where to excavate, archaeologists will string out the area - this can be a section of a feature or small or large trenches. It's very important to have straight edges when excavating, so archaeologists will create a square (with perpendicular edges) using the string so that they know they area they are excavating in will look neat and straight. When archaeologists record and document the feature, this involves drawing the section, from the string line. This line should be perfectly straight, so archaeologists will use a line level to keep the string level. 

Tape Measure

When archaeologists record features, it's important to note the measurements of the feature - its length, width, and depth. Having a tape measure in your tool kit will help you find out this information about the feature, and draw it too.

Pencil, Pen and Marker

To record the features, its important to always carry a pencil, pen and marker with you! Any drawings that you do should be done in a pencil (usually 4 or 6H), context sheets are filled out in pen (usually black), and information written on tags, bags and buckets should be written in permanent markers.

Plumb Bob

So that archaeologists can get the exact point on a feature or an artefact, they use a plumb bob. Plumb bobs are lead weights on a string, which archaeologists hold over the point and can measure to the line. This means that they can get the measurement as exact as possible. 


Archaeologists don't use brushes nearly as often as you might think! Brushes can be used for cleaning artefacts, or structures like walls, but are never used for brushing the soil. This is because the soil and different layers can be smeared together by brush strokes. Brushes are only used for getting soil off of hard surfaces and delicate cleaning. Having a collection of brushes of different sizes is very useful for an archaeological toolkit.


A selection of trowels with varying use affecting their shape and size (© Emily Johnston)

bottom of page