Phase III Archaeological Data Recovery excavations are large-scale excavations designed to recover the data a site contains before a project proceeds and the site is lost. Phase III data recoveries require the preparation and execution of a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), an element of which is a Data Recovery Plan that addresses the level of excavation needed, as well as the analytical protocols for the data recovery. Data recovery excavations are the most labor-intensive of the archaeological phases, and as a result, the most costly phase of archaeological compliance. A well-designed sampling strategy is a critical element to a successful project; it recovers the important information contained in a site while minimizing costs. Effective sampling strategies employed by New South Associates include the use of geophysical survey to identify resource locations and heavy equipment to remove disturbed soils and identify and map cultural features, as well as the use of a variety of cutting-edge analytical techniques to maximize the data gained from artifact analysis.
Data recovery projects generally include large-scale excavations, in blocks when sites are deeply buried, or on surfaces where features are present. “Features” are recognized as stains in the ground that represent the locations of excavations made in the past, such as post holes, pits, privies, and wells. Features were often filled with trash when abandoned, which means they provide archaeologists with closed-context time capsules of great benefit when addressing a site’s research significance. Detailed notes, photographs, and drawings are made of all excavations, and soil samples are retained for the recovery of preserved plant and animal remains through a process called flotation.
The analysis of artifacts at the data recovery phase includes the recovery and identification of plant and animal remains for dietary information, the reconstruction of pottery vessels, the calculation of various statistics and indices, and other specialized research protocols. Data recovery reports are very detailed and discuss not only the site under investigation, but also, more importantly, how the information gathered from that site contributes to archaeological research. Public outreach is often a requirement and always a beneficial element of a data recovery project, and websites are a useful, timely, and cost-efficient way of letting the public know about work being done, as well as the project spurring this work.