The Feature System

Archaeology Defined
Mapping the Site
Feature System (FS) recording procedures are designed to provide an efficient standardized system for accurately defining archaeological site context, association and provenience. Recording forms are coupled with computerized relational data base managers to facilitate research and report production.

Terms and Concepts
Terms and concepts integral to archaeological excavation recording systems include:









Feature System Practical Methodology
The Feature System was developed by Professor Jesse D. Jennings, University of Utah, to systematize the complex process of archaeological excavation. It was and is a unique approach to excavation, and instills careful recording and puts considerable emphasis on the excavator "remaining in control" of site excavation, i.e. in control of destruction of the archaeological record. Every site excavated, every feature exposed and removed, constitutes destruction of a unique resource. The feature system strives to maintain accurate recording of that destruction, and aids in construction of accurate inferences and analytical decisions.

The ISU feature system carries Jennings' original concept over into computerized analyses, and extends a system intended for field excavation into the laboratory as the most effective means of documenting data analysis. Handwritten field forms are continued as handwritten lab forms, and the results encoded in data management software programs.

The essence of the feature system is that it is flexible, yet systematic, and capable of handling complex problems arising in the course of normal archaeological excavation.

Operating Principles
(1) FEATURE 1 is reserved for daily observations pertinent to documenting decisions made in the course of excavation and analysis. F1's are daily logs or site diaries. They discuss management and strategic decisions made by the site directors, site supervisors, and lab supervisors. These notes declare why things were done, who did them, and why tactics may have changed.

(2) Other Feature Numbers are used as needed. There is no limit to the number of features assigned. Remember, every thing observed should be assigned a feature number.

(3) Assigned feature numbers are never "Closed Out" until:

-(a) The feature has been completely removed through excavation.

-(b) The feature has been reassigned a New Feature Number or has been "Collapsed" into another feature number (e.g., F16 of F4 becomes F4 -- it really was not different than F4; e.g., F16 of F4 becomes F32 -- it really was part of this feature or association).

(4) This mutability of feature numbers is what allows such great flexibility in the Jennings feature system.

(5) Every feature number must be closed out in the field. You must never, ever wait to close out feature numbers in the lab or in the field camp.

(6) You only write feature notes when you are looking at the thing, feature or association. You never, ever make feature notes after the fact. You may use Feature 1 notes for this purpose.

(7) Print, do not write! Also, only use a ball point pen with indelible ink! No pencils! No soft-tip pens!

Feature numbers assigned in the laboratory are not continuations of feature numbers assigned in the field. Lab feature numbers are assigned separately regardless of provenience and refer specifically to lab procedures and analyses (e.g., a flotation sample from F17 of F4 will be assigned a new feature number when analyzed in the lab). Feature notes taken during laboratory analysis are constructed identically to field notes, describing procedures, things, and features.