Archaeological Exploration vs Archaeological Excavation

This is the comparison: archaeological exploration vs archaeological excavation. Archaeological exploration, archaeological survey, or archaeological reconnaissance is the systematic method of searching for archaeological remains to identify and record archaeological sites and archaeological remains. Archaeological excavation is the process of unearthing material remains from the past to study the human past.

When we do a comparison between archaeological exploration and archaeological excavation, it is important that we have at least some basic knowledge about both. Since we have full articles on these two topics, you can revoke your memory, or you can just gain enough knowledge about exploration and excavation just by reading them.

Read the full article: Archaeological Exploration; Survey; or Reconnaissance>>

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With adequate knowledge about both exploration and excavation in archaeology, we can do a comparison of them as follows:

Purpose of Archaeological Exploration vs Archaeological Excavation

In exploration, the purpose is to find or recognise archaeological sites and to identify which material remains are to be found at the site. The purpose of excavation is to physically retrieve the archaeological record of a known archaeological site. So, both exploration and excavation aim to retrieve archaeological data to reveal the human past. But exploration does not aim to physically retrieve the archaeological record (material remains). Instead, it aims to retrieve the records of archaeological remains, leaving them untouched. Only on specific occasions, such as when exploring an endangered site, can the purpose of the exploration be changed to collecting the material remains that are visible on the surface to ensure their safety and long-term viability. But an excavation always aims to physically retrieve archaeological records by interfering with them.

Level of Intrusiveness of Exploration vs Excavation in Archaeology

There is no digging in archaeological exploration. But in archaeological excavation, there is always digging. That means the level of intrusiveness of each is different. Archaeological excavation is intrusive as it alters the deposit of archaeological records (material remains). Nonetheless, an excavation is always destructive, regardless of the method applied. Once we excavate an area, it is irreversible and permanent. But archaeological surveying is non-destructive, as it does not include digging. Further, it is minimally intrusive. Because only the sampling and inserting of rods into the soil may damage any archaeological record underneath, as discussed under the section on methods and techniques.

Data Retrieval Capabilities of Exploration vs Excavation in Archaeology

When it comes to the data we collect from explorations and excavations, there are several areas to examine.

Excavations provide micro-level data on a particular spatial unit. In simple words, excavations provide a complete understanding of each and every cubic centimetre we excavate. Exploration, on the other hand, provides us with overall data on the entire site.

Additionally, excavations can miss out on data from the sites, as it only can reveal what is deposited within the boundaries of the excavation pit. Explorations can detect these archaeological data that excavations miss out on as they involve examining the entire site.

Further, both explorations and excavations can provide us with information about the past. Data from both can collaboratively facilitate our understanding of past human culture, behaviour, and cognition.

Most importantly, exploration, such as geochemical surveys, can reveal archaeological data even at sites where there are no physical remains. In other words, even when excavations fail to detect anything, an exploration can provide a very insightful understanding of the archaeological record of sites. While excavations are not applicable, explorations can be.

Time Consumption of Exploration vs Excavation in Archaeology

Archaeological excavations are a surgical procedure in archaeology. So, it requires time. comparatively, archaeological reconnaissance requires less time. Depending on the type of survey and the size of the subject area, the exploration time can vary. Yet, when we compare the time it takes us to excavate one test pit on a site with the time it takes to explore the entire site, the exploration is the most time-effective one.

Cost-Effectiveness of Exploration vs Excavation in Archaeology

When it comes to funding, both exploration and excavation types may require different ranges. But, in general, an excavation of several metres costs more than an exploration of an area of several hectares. Here, we should understand that this comparison is based on the general understanding of archaeologists. If we mistakenly take an exploration project of the entire Sahara desert and compare it with a 10 m x 10 m area excavation with the purpose of exposing the foundation of a building, the excavation may be the cheapest. But, when we compare an excavation and an exploration at the same site, the exploration is the more cost-effective one.

The Order of Employment: Exploration vs Excavation in Archaeology

Usually, archaeological exploration comes first. Then comes the archaeological excavation.

But this does not mean that this should always be the case. This does not mean that exploration cannot happen after excavations. However, the general practice is exploration first and excavation second. The exploration or survey, provides a preliminary understanding of the site. It provides insights into where to excavate, when to excavate, and what to expect from the excavation. Thus, exploration is usually followed by excavation.


Archaeological exploration and excavation share similarities as well as differences. However, each is complimentary to the other. While excavations are the most popular event or practical activity in archaeology, exploration holds undeniable importance and is second to noneā€”not even for excavation. Both are important in the study of past human culture, behaviour, and cognition through material remains to reveal and recreate the history of mankind.

Read the full article: Archaeological Exploration; Survey; or Reconnaissance>>

Read the full article: Archaeological Excavation>>