How to Write an Archaeological Report

Archaeological artifacts tell a story about ancient cultures.

Archaeologists use data compiled from archival research, field work and laboratory analysis to document an archaeological site. The National Park Service published “The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards and Guidelines for Archaeology and Historical Preservation” (48 FR 44716). This document defines the standards and guidelines for archaeological documentation. It is designed to provide archaeologists with technical advice about archaeological documentation methodologies. Each state also has its own set of standards and guidelines. Contact the local State Historic Preservation Office for state-specific guidelines. An archaeologist uses this documentation to compile an archaeological report.

Delineate the project area. The report must describe the geographic boundaries of the site. Include a description of not only the area’s physical environment but its history. If previous excavations have occurred at the site, include these findings.

Perform archival research. The report must include a literature review. Archival research is conducted prior to field work. Atlases, ethnographies, historical maps, oral histories, photographs and tax records place the site within both a historical and cultural context.

Define the research design. The report must articulate the project goals. List the research questions to be addressed, the plan of attack and the expected results. Make note of unexpected findings while you are in the field.

Summarize the field work. The report must document features and artifacts uncovered through the use of remote sensing, walkover surveys, shovel testing and excavations. Include sampling and recording techniques. Note problems with bad weather, site access and visibility. Include copies of field notes, maps and photographs.

Analyze the artifacts. The report must list each artifact recovered from the site. Laboratory analysis includes: studying the artifact types and distribution across the site; dating artifacts using dating methods, such as radiometric and carbon-14 dating, flora and faunal analysis; analyzing pollen samples; and analyzing soil samples.

Present the findings. The report must summarize the site data. Use figures, charts, graphs and tables to present the information in an easy-to-understand way.

Discuss the results. The report must evaluate the project in terms of the goals and objectives of the project. Provide recommendations for ongoing research at the site.

Attach an appendix. The report must list all photographs, figures, charts, graphs and tables presented in the report with the page number where they are found.

Include a bibliography. The report must include a list of all sources consulted during the project.

R. Lynne has been writing professionally since 1980. Her work has appeared in "Springfield Business Journal," "The Illinois Times," "The State Journal-Register" and "The Hillsboro Journal." She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in anthropology from Illinois State University and a Bachelor of Arts degree in legal studies from Sangamon State University. She writes about business, real estate and health and wellness topics.