What tools and equipment do archaeologists use?

Whether you’re a DIY enthusiast or a working tradesperson, the kinds of tools archaeologists use will probably strike you as unusual. They’re oddly shaped and often quite dainty compared to your loud and proud power tools. Archaeology is delicate and painstaking work!

For the archaeologists among us, archaeology and excavation tools are absolutely vital. A lot of their tools are highly specialised and come with hefty price tags, while others are simply common household objects fixed up for the purpose of excavation. In fact, many archaeologists use soft-bristled toothbrushes as part of the process.

In this article, we’re going to do some digging (sorry) to find you the most commonly used and interesting archaeology tools used by practitioners across the world. We will also recommend some storage solutions if you’re an archaeologist yourself. Take a look and craft your very own archaeology tool kit!

So, what tool do archaeologists use?

Small blades and picks


You might ask, do archaeologists use pickaxes? Interestingly enough, these excavation tools are reminiscent of the kinds of silver metallic tools wielded by dentists/surgeons, when in fact archaeologists find other uses for them. ½ inch blades are the most common because of their low-profile and delicate shape which makes precise work easier without being heavy-handed.

They’ll turn over small amounts of fine soil without disturbing the surface or, worse, striking the object of the dig. They’re perfect tools for ‘micro excavation’ and when the archaeology is delicate and complex, such as human remains, these tiny tools and equipment can be employed.

Shaker screens

You’ve probably seen shaker screens used by archeologists in various films and television shows. Generally used for sieving out thicker clumps of material from finer material, shaker screens allow you to identify minute artefacts and findings from the soil and dirt. Shaker screens are generally constructed from 3/8 inch or 1/4 inch wire mesh.

Masonry trowels

Most archaeologists have adopted masonry trowels for their own uses, mostly because masonry trowels are adept at turning over soil without disturbing too much. Their flat bladed shape enables the user to scrape soil away in fine layers, and like bricklayers spreading cement into the small spaces between bricks, archaeologists are able to work with similar dexterity.

Like a scalpel to a surgeon, trowels are absolutely essential to carrying out archaeological digs and surveys. After the large-scale initial excavation, most excavation is carried out by hand with masonry trowels.

Paint brushes (all sizes)

Once the soil is cleared away and the artefact is visible, paint brushes are used to remove the finer grains of soil so the archaeologist can discern certain details and really inspect their finding. It’s vital that great care is taken in the process, especially as the archaeologist begins to uncover the artifact. Again, this is an instance where archaeologists have managed to adopt tools from other uses for their own purposes.

Shovels and large pickaxes

Before excavating with trowels, shovels and pickaxes are first used to loosen topsoil and prepare the site for further excavation. To get through the first few layers of soil, an archaeologist will need to rely on the combination of shovel and pickaxe. Despite the heft of shovels and pickaxes, together they are able to carry out precise excavation layer by layer. Pickaxes used for archaeology generally go by another name: mattocks.

Tool storage for archaeologists

If you’re an archaeologist, you’ll know first-hand the challenges in the field. From long-distance travelling to lugging equipment across difficult terrain, there’s a need for sufficient and rugged storage solutions. Our Plastica Panaro range is perfect for smaller tools like blades and picks, while our heavy duty tool cases will work a treat for bigger pieces.

Our DIY custom foam service is a great way to store delicate tools or even an artefact or two. Using our calculator page, tell us the exact specifications you need for your insert and we’ll give you an instant quote. You’ll receive completely unique inserts for your foam tool box in no time at all.

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