Assessing the ploughzone: The impact of cultivation on artefact survival and the cost/benefits of topsoil stripping prior to excavation

Gordon Noble* (Corresponding Author), Peter Lamont, Edouard Masson-MacLean

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
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Thousands of archaeological sites in Europe lie under the ploughzone. Previous studies and experiments have highlighted the impact that arable agriculture has on the preservation of archaeological sites, yet the ploughzone has also been shown in some cases to preserve important information. In this study, the value of the ploughzone was assessed through metal detecting and through sieving of the ploughsoil directly over one of the most productive areas for artefacts at an important early medieval site in Scotland. The purpose of the assessment was to gauge the extent to which removing the topsoil may lead to the loss of important information and to evaluate the extent to which strip-and-map approaches to excavation might contribute to information loss. It is the largest such experiment of its kind in Scotland and the experiment allowed an assessment of the type and condition of artefacts found in excavation compared to that in the ploughsoil. The study showed very few artefacts survived in the topsoil at this site with certain artefact types entirely absent. The study also showed the significant impact that even light ploughing has had on categories of objects such as metalworking moulds. The conclusions are that while cropmarks remain a diminishing resource, strip-and-map allows rapid assessment of these sites and where artefact densities are low this approach is unlikely to lead to loss of significant information.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)549-558
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science: Reports
Early online date30 Nov 2018
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2019

Bibliographical note

Fieldwork at Rhynie has been funded by the University of Aberdeen Development Trust, British Academy, Historic Environment Scotland, the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, and Aberdeenshire Council Archaeology Service. The writing of this article was also supported by a Leverhulme Trust Research Leadership Award (RL-2016-069). Staff from Historic Environment Scotland and Dr Karen Milek, University of Durham read and commented on drafts of the text and we extend our thanks to them. Thanks also to two anonymous reviewers for their comments on the text. As always any remaining errors are our own.


  • Ploughsoil
  • cultivation
  • truncation
  • artefact preservation
  • strip-and-map excavation
  • destruction of archaeological sites
  • Cultivation
  • Destruction of archaeological sites
  • Artefact preservation
  • Strip-and-map excavation
  • Truncation


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