A Day in the Life of a Survey Tape

Archaeologists love measuring things. It is an essential part of the way archaeologists map the world, bring order out of chaos and mark out the extent and limits of the past as it intrudes into the present. There are many pieces of equipment to do this, from electron scanning microscopes through total stations to geophysical prospecting. Perhaps the most elemental piece of equipment is the tape measure, used to record the length and breadth of  features as well as plot their locations. Locating features using tapes requires two long tapes, maybe 30 or 50 metres long. One is laid out as a baseline towards which each part of a feature deemed worthy of measuring is located by using another tape measure. This second tape is held by one person with zero at the point the archaeologist wishes to measure, while another person swings it backwards and forwards along the baseline. When the shortest distance is measured on the baseline you have a right angle and therefore the accurate distance to the feature.

I spent a day following two tapes as they went to survey military training features in Snowdonia National Park. Students of Sheffield’s MA in Landscape Archaeology did the survey with the help of Colin Merrony, the departmental teaching fellow in survey archaeology. This seemed a good way to follow the work of landscape archaeologists while featuring the need to measure and plot archaeological features. The results are below, presented as a slideshow.

Day in the Life of a Survey Tape

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About Bill Bevan

Bill Bevan is an archaeologist, writer, photographer and heritage interpreter.
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