Example A practical report

Archaeology of early societies: a practical report What the student said about this:

I'd never written anything like this archaeological report before I came to university, so I just had to try and make some sort of judgement about what was needed and follow that track. My tutor had some examples of past reports he showed us, and also we all discussed it together on our course. With this kind of report they always ask us to answer particular questions, and so I sort of got a feel for what they were wanting by looking at the kinds of questions that were being asked. We also did some preparation in class first, and the ways that people were talking gave me some ideas about how to write it out. These reports always ask questions and want direct, short answers. I found that difficult to do. It was also the first time I had had to put in diagrams and tables.

Extract from 'Archaeology of early societies: a practical report':

Stratigraphic and sedimentological reinterpretation of Buckfastleigh Cave, South Devon.

Q1. What is the true stratigraphic sequence? i.e. Which is the oldest deposit, which the youngest and in what order did the deposits in between accumulate? Furthermore, was the deposition of sediment continuous or can major breaks (unconformities) in deposition be observed?

In order to understand the stratigraphic sequence we need to understand the law of superimposition which basically maintains that, in stratigraphy, the deposit lying on top will be younger than the one underneath, as deposits are laid down over time, one on top of the other. Although there are circumstances where this is not the case, the vast majority of the time this law does apply.

In order to record the stratigraphic information in a coherent manner we use a Harris matrix which shows the relationship between each layer. Here is the Harris matrix for Buckfastleigh Cave:

PI [4]

[1] |







So we can see that the most recent unit was either unit 3 or unit 4 but as they are not directly related to each other we put them on the same level. Unit 1 is the next most recent unit so it comes beneath units 3 and 4. The matrix continues according to these rules.

The deposition of the different layers would not have been continuous. Different layers were laid down in different ways, some over a long period of time and others much more quickly. The sharp breaks between the different strata suggest a sharp change rather than a continuous deposition.


This is a very particular kind of report which seems to be specifically designed for assessment, with its question and answer format. Later in this chapter we will be looking at other kinds of report writing, which are more similar to professional reports. Notice the way in which this student has to make use of both writing and a diagram (the Harris matrix) together. The written and visual parts of the text are both important in this report format.

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