How do archaeologists know when to stop digging? Couldn’t there be many more dead sea scrolls if they just keep digging up more of the area?



How do archaeologists know when to stop digging? Couldn’t there be many more dead sea scrolls if they just keep digging up more of the area?

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Generally they stop digging when the funding runs out. Although they can also take some reasonable guesses as to whether an area is likely to be worth the time. If they’re digging in an established area and they see signs that they’ve reached the edge of the habitation, either in area of in time, there probably isn’t much point in continuing to dig. There *might* be–there could be an adjacent settlement or one that existed earlier in time–but the chances are lower. It ends up being a bit of a judgment call.

When establishing a new dig area, they typically conduct a number of different surveys to try to predict where they’ll most likely find something. Satellite photos have become very popular for this but other methods exist, including picking an area and digging some random test holes.

Archaeologist here. I can’t really speak to this project. As the other person said, yeah the dig usually ends when the funding blows out. But that said, ethics dictates you always leave at least some portion of a site undug. The reasoning is that some day in the future, someone might come along with far better methods and technology than what you have available, so you want to leave them something untouched to study. If people hadn’t at least sometimes followed this rule in the early 20th century, we would have lost a lot of stuff that can now be dated by radiocarbon and other means. It’s also why I’m reluctant to wash excavated artifacts any more than is absolutely necessary, and I always keep a portion totally unwashed. Who knows what kinds of residues or other data someone might be able to pull from that 50 years from now.

If I’m not mistaken, the Dead Sea Scrolls weren’t dug up. They were found in containers inside of caves. There is an Israeli archaeological project under way to explore more of the caves in the area.


They can tell when they have reached the natural, undisturbed ground or bedrock, when they know there is no point in digging further because there can’t be anything there.

I work in western Canada, we stop when we reach sterile sediments which we interpret as glacial deposits because people weren’t here before glaciers.

Archaeologist here. We know it’s time to stop digging when it’s about 5pm. Beer doesn’t drink itself.

Even if the archaeologists were willing to work for free, it still costs a lot of money. One day when we have robots the digging probably never will end.

Fun fact. When the Dead Sea Scrolls were first found in those caves they were nearly overlooked as human made artifacts because they were so covered in Bat Droppings.

Batman issued a formal apology.

I actually know a woman who works on the Dead Sea scroll digs. She’s one of very few experts on the Dead Sea scrolls in the US (might be the only one? I’m not sure). The Dead Sea scrolls are kind of a special case when it comes to archaeological digs because there are looters in the area who are after all the same artifacts that the archaeological teams are looking for. There’s literally a race to find the Dead Sea scrolls because whatever the archaeologists don’t protect, the looters will sell on the black market. It’s some Indiana Jones shit.

Edit: here’s an article about it

Funding and regulations also play a part. Most countries have a limit on how deep you can dig.

Your example of Dead Sea scrolls is. If the best since they were found in a cave. People keep saying it’s funding, which can be tru, but not what you are asking.

Typically, any site that you are digging will have layers, called stratigraphy. Here represent the time periods that people lived a a different site. The layers can represent a few year to a few hundred years. She. Digging, we usually dig in trenches or squares (units). We keep things very neat and only dig down a bit at a time. This can be in a set measurement (10cm) or by following the layers until they change. Every layer is mapped and recorded. The wall as are also mapped which shows the layers in a profile (kinda like a layer cake).

Usually you don’t dig unless you have done a tone of research and know generally what you are toning to find. In the US if you are digging at a native America site, you would assume to find artifacts relating to the culture you are looking for and footprints of houses or hearths. Once you stop finding those, you assume that the layer you are digging predates the culture you are trying to learn about and you stop.

2020 was bad enough, can we please not cause a second impact and start the human instrumentality project? Pretty please?

They didn’t “dig up” the Dead Sea Scrolls, they were sitting in a cave high on a mountain. They were found between 1947 and 1956 by local Bedouin in the caves of **Qumran**, about 20 km east of Jerusalem.

I worked with a professor that would help explore caves in the deserts of the Middle East. He would use a pull behind sonar device that would help determine if there were objects below the sand. Technology is good enough that you don’t necessarily need to dig to find out if something is there.