Basic Recording Procedures

This document provides a basic introduction to the procedures used in all aspects of recording at the OSU Excavations. Recording is a crucial consideration since all records of activity and all objects, drawings, photographs, etc., must be properly recorded and related to their archaeological contexts. It is often (and correctly) said that excavation is also destruction. Careful, consistent, and accurate recording is necessary in any archaeological undertaking; it is essential for archaeological interpretation and it is one of the basic tasks of site conservation and preservation. These directions proceed from the most general (broadest) considerations to the more specific aspects.

Areas of investigation

We are involved in many different broad areas of scholarly investigation. These focus on excavation in the Sanctuary of Poseidon at Isthmia, but they include various areas and projects that are more broadly based. They include the following:


  • The Byzantine Fortress
  • The West Cemetery
  • The Northeast Gate
  • Theater
  • North Drain
  • Theater Court
  • Northwest Precinct
  • Tower 14
  • Tower 10
  • Tower 2
  • Tower 15
  • Ionic Column Base and Decaubille Graves
  • Fortress Stairways
  • Loukos
  • East Field
  • Roman Bath

Other Sites:

  • Sofiko (Medieval site in SE Korinthia)
  • Evraionisos (Island in the Saronic Gulf)
  • Agios Vasilios (Medieval Castle)
  • Dokos (Early Byzantine settlement and castle)
  • Ancient Korinth (Modern village with its agricultural hinterland)
  • Akrokorinth (Pending permission of Corinth excavations)
  • KenchreaiI ( in cooperation with Richard Rothaus)

medieval castle of Agios Vasilios, south of Korinth.

Medieval castle of Agios Vasilios, south of Korinth

Harbor of Dokos,an island in the Gulf of Argos

Excavation and recording system

It is crucial that all staff members be familiar with the basic principles of our recording system. Essentially, we seek to record the location of all information using a 3-dimensional grid, based upon a "northing-easting-elevation" system. We assume that a crucial fact is archaeological context--for buried objects the archaeologist can determine what objects went into the soil together, and that this context should be preserved. This context becomes the basis of our entire archaeological recording system. This procedure is a modified version of the "Corinth system," developed by Charles K. Williams, II, probably the best living excavator in Greece today. Context is determined, first of all, by the broad geographical location of the items being investigated.

This means that, in recording our excavations at Isthmia, the broadest category is the Area of the excavation (as listed above). Within the Area are normally many Trenches, and each trench is made up of a number of "Baskets," each of which is carefully recorded in a notebook.

The Basket is the basic archaeological context: it normally should be seen as a three-dimensional space that contains objects that have some relationship to each other. The limits of the Basket (or Stratigraphic Unit) are normally determined by the excavator on the basis of soil type, color, density, and "feel" of the soil. That is, a single basket will be determined by the homogeneity of its appearance; it is assumed that all of the material in a single basket (soil, seeds, bones, pottery, gold coins) got into the soil at the same time (roughly) and probably as a result of the same cause or causes.

At Isthmia Baskets are numbered sequentially (1-up) in each notebook. Thus, in order to know where an individual basket (say, basket 10) was located, you have to know what notebook it was in.

Differences in recording systems: pre and post 1980

Up until 1980 Trenches were related directly to Areas; thus, in 1969 excavation was carried out in both the Northeast Gate and in Tower 14 (among other places). Each of these areas had its own series of trenches (e.g., 69-NEH -Trench 2, and 69-T14-Trench 2). Since 1990 trenches have been numbered sequentially (from 1 up) by year, with out regard to area location. Thus Tr 95-1 was in the Northeast Gate, while Tr 95-2 was in the Loukos Area. (Note: there was no excavation between 1980 and 1990.)

Likewise, until 1980 notebooks were normally identified by the initials of the trench supervisors (CDL, RP, etc.) and almost all recorded excavation in one area only. Since 1990 notebooks are identified by a running number (1 onward) and they may be used to record exploration in any area of the site.

Excavated material

When we excavate a single context, we divide the material that is excavated into three separate groups:

Discarded material: Although in many New World excavations there is a goal to preserve 100% of what is excavated, in classical lands this is clearly impossible. We must, in fact, sample our material, simply because we find so much. We cannot save it all. Thus--in very general terms--we have to throw the "dirt" away, often with some of the cultural material. Clearly, we have to water sieve and save seeds, bones, samples of soil, etc., but we cannot save everything. It is the duty of every classical excavation to determine what it will save and what it will throw away, and to make this clear in the excavation records. In addition, it is important to make clear where the discarded material has been thrown, so it will not be encountered again, or if it is, our successors will know what has happened.

Inventoried objects: Some objects are selected from an excavated context for special treatment. This is usually because they are a) unusually well preserved or b) perceived by the excavator to be especially important. These are then separated from the context material and separately inventoried. These objects, then, receive:

An inventory number, marked upon it. This number is based on the following system:

Type of object -- Year -- Running Number

Thus, the following abbreviations are used to mark the type of object:

  • IA Architecture
  • IC Coins
  • IM Miscellaneous (small finds: glass, jewelery, etc.)
  • IPB Byzantine Pottery
  • IPG Greek Pottery
  • IPL Lamps
  • IPR Roman Pottery
  • IS Sculpture
  • IS Inscriptions

Then, the year of discovery is added, along with a running number, based simply on when the object was inventoried.

Sample inventory numbers, thus, mig