Parks Canada Archaeological Recording Manual: Excavations and Surveys

< Previous Page  | Table of Contents  | Next Page  >


The Field Notebook is normally the primary record of an excavation or survey and is often used in conjunction with a variety of forms and other media, such as remote sensing data, drawings and images. The Field Notebook comprises all the details and interpretations pertaining to an archaeological investigation, and provides a summary and reference of the key records generated in an archaeological investigation as a whole (forms, data files, drawings, images, notebook entries made by assistants, etc.)

Field notes must be recorded in a Field Notebook, and may be supplemented with forms, data and other media as required, examples of which are described in this section and elsewhere in the Manual. All notebook formats are acceptable (paper or electronic), though a paper copy, on neutral pH (“acid-free”) paper, must be generated on completion, according to jurisdictional Collections Management standards.


  1. Entries in the Field Notebook and/or Forms are made every working day.
  2. If other types of recording are used (e.g., forms) in addition to the Field Notebook, the latter will normally be the principal source of information.
  3. It will be possible, as needed, to reconstruct all other records of the excavation or survey (e.g., forms, digital data files) from the Field Notebook entries.


  • All paper notebooks containing original field data should be of the highest archival quality neutral pH paper, or at a minimum, copied onto neutral pH paper. For original handwriting, printing or copying, stable inks or pencil are highly recommended. For paper format, standard 8.5 x 11 inch (or metric equivalent size) grid paper is recommended.
  • As soon as practicable, original field notes (paper or digital) should be sent to the appropriate repository, normally the Parks Canada Service Centre that has jurisdiction over the project area. Copies must be sent to the appropriate provincial or territorial site administration office (e.g., Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre) if stipulated as a condition under archaeological permit (e.g., for non-gazetted National Parks of Canada).
  • All hand-written field notes and freehand drawings must be legible and fully comprehensible to others.
  • Besides legible handwriting, the most useful practice in using the Field Notebook is to include and isolate relevant headings and subheadings. A readable, well-organized Field Notebook will make all subsequent recording more efficient.
  • A table of contents should be included at the front of the Field Notebook (see Fig. 6). Ideally, an index should also be included for larger excavations or surveys.
  • Where possible, manual transcription of field notes and other data should be avoided. Rather, direct data transfer is recommended to ensure integrity of the data and eliminate transcription error.
  • All critical digital files should be backed up and stored in a secure location as soon as practicable.
  • An extra copy of completed records, especially digital field data files, should be stored off site where possible.
  • A cross-reference should be made of all records generated during an archaeological investigation, particularly when numerous digital data files and forms are used.
  • A Staff Field Number (Sect. 6.3) should be assigned to every project worker and a master list of code numbers and descriptions administered by an individual in each Service Centre designated by the CRM Manager.


Each person making records in the field or field lab should be assigned an identifying number from a Parks Canada Service Centre master list (e.g., 137Q = Jane Doe). This Staff Field Number is a unique reference that readily identifies the staff person, year and regional area where that person worked, and can be attached to any field record in addition to field notes. Using the Staff Field Number reduces the amount of required writing compared with a name written in full, and facilitates records management. It is also a key element in the catalogue number systems for drawings and other media.

6.3.1 Staff Field Number: Components

The Staff Field Number normally contains three parts. The first part is the year (four characters, yyyy) followed by a hyphen; the second part is a number from 1 to infinity; and finally the Worker Area Code letter (Table 6), which is combined with the Staff Field Number of the individual as assigned. As situations warrant, the year prefix may be omitted.

For example, the person from the Quebec Service Centre staff that was assigned number 137 in 2004 would use 2004-137Q as the identifying Staff Field Number on her notes and records. The master list at the Quebec Service Centre would indicate that 137Q is Jane Doe.

Note that, in previous years, the Staff Field Number was normally discarded and reassigned after each field season, and had to be a number between 1 and 99 (a master list was maintained for each field season). This is no longer mandatory. Rather, it is recommended to assign a permanent Staff Field Number to an individual (e.g., 137Q), and maintain a permanent record at a given Service Centre. The year prefix can be added to this number as required and as described below.

Parks Canada Service Centres have developed several Staff Field Number systems that vary somewhat from the system described in Parks Canada (1978). Though Service Centres may continue to use their respective systems, the following, based on the Parks Canada 1978 model, is recommended as a best practice. Worker Area Code Letter

Worker Area Code letters are used to identify individuals from a master list maintained by the Service Centre that administers the archaeological projects for a given province or territory, as shown in Table 6.

Table 6. Worker Area Code letters, with corresponding areas of the country.

Code W Regional Area of Canada Western Province or Territory Includes AB, BC
P Prairies and Northern Includes MB, SK, NT, NU, YK
H Ontario
Q Quebec
A Atlantic Includes NS, NB, PE, NL

As some lists may change from year to year, the four digits of the year (yyyy) are sometimes prefixed to the Worker Area Code letter/Staff Field Number when it is used.



6.3.2 Assignment

Staff Field Numbers are assigned by the person(s) charged with their administration at a given Parks Canada Service Centre, prior to the commencement of the field project. Before the project begins, ensure that all persons making records at the site know their assigned numbers.

Temporary field assistants (e.g., volunteers), who are not on staff or contract, may use the Staff Field Number of the Principal Investigator, or their full name, at the Principal Investigator’s discretion. In either situation, reference must be made in the Field Notebook describing the assignment of names and/or Staff Field Numbers.


There is no specific format for Field Notebook entries; formats for these notes are entirely at the discretion of the Principal Investigator. However, the following guidelines and procedures are recommended as a best practice.

6.4.1 Field Notebook: Guidelines

  • The Field Notebook begins by laying out the organizational elements of the project by outlining and making explicit the duties of each individual participant and recording their full names and/or Staff Field Numbers; identifying the person responsible for records maintenance (if applicable); listing the forms and types of records being used on the project; and identifying whether duplicate records are being kept and how they are being handled (e.g., quantity of copies, disposition, etc.).
  • The Field Notebook function provides a day-to-day record of the progress of an archaeological investigation. Each day's notes should begin with the names or Staff Field Numbers of the daily team and the proveniences or areas in which they are working. Every time a new Provenience Number is assigned, it should be recorded, and when crewmembers are moved from one job to another, it should be noted.
  • They must make explicit the procedures and the flow of records and archaeological objects in the field office or camp, and should be completed by the Principal Investigator or delegate. All written and digital file data for the project should be referenced in the Field Notebook.
  • The excavation or survey strategy employed by the archaeologist must be included, as should notes describing the progress of work. Changing interpretive hypotheses and their rationale should be recorded.
  • The Field Notebook should be used to record any externally generated record that serves as an integral part of the archaeological record (e.g., digital plan and GIS files, digital or analog video, multibeam bathymetry data).
  • The Field Notebook is the source for all checking and error-correcting processes, though everything referenced in this notebook need not be directly recorded there (e.g., Ground Penetrating Radar files, GPS data files, finished drawings can all be resident outside the Field Notebook).
  • The Field Notebook may also serve as a daily journal for the person who is maintaining it. For example, the Principal Investigator or delegate may combine all notes and references for the Field Notebook with daily journal entries.
  • A “master list” of all records, data files, Staff Field Numbers, etc. made during a given archaeological project should be incorporated into the Field Notebook. A single, designated individual should enter the data pertaining to the assemblage of records on the master list, which can be incorporated as a separate section of the Field Notebook. Normally the Principal Investigator will perform this function, but the latter may delegate another individual based on project requirements.

6.4.2 Page

At the top of every page in the Field Notebook are entered the page number and the date on which the entries on that page are made.

The page number is normally entered on the top right corner of the page, and comprises the Staff Field Number, including the year prefix, a hyphen, and the page number in sequence.


The thirty-third page of notes written by Staff Field Staff number 137Q (Jane Doe) from the Quebec Service Centre, Quebec in 2004 is “2004-137Q-33.”

6.4.3 Date

The complete date is entered numerically in the upper left-hand corner of each page, in the following format yyyy-mm-dd. The number should be complete (no abbreviations). This facilitates identifying at a glance each notebook page.


The thirty-first day of May, 2004 is written 2004-05-31.

6.4.4 Cross Reference to Other Staff Field Notebooks

Each day, the active page number(s) of each crewmember’s Field Notebook will be referenced in the Principal Investigator’s (or delegate’s) Field Notebook.

6.4.5 Provenience

Whenever a new Site Number is assigned, information must be entered in the Field Notebook or on a form referenced to the notebook that complies with jurisdictional standards for site recording. Whenever a new Operation Number is assigned, an entry is made in the Field Notebook to define it and provide the rationale for its assignment (see Section 4.0). When a new Suboperation or Lot is opened, an entry to that effect is made in the Field Notebook that includes a reference to any forms, cards, or other medium being created. All provenience records must be associated with the minimum data standards established in Section 4.12 of this Manual. Any notes on provenience must be comprehensive, regardless of medium (paper, digital, etc.)

6.4.6 Images

Whenever a still image (print, slide, or digital image) is taken, either a complete entry is made on the Image Catalogue Form and/or in the Field Notebook. Data standards and requirements for image recording, as well image cataloguing procedures are described in Section 7.0.

6.4.7 Drawings, Maps and Other Media

Drawings to illustrate any topic made in the Field Notebook will be found throughout the field notes. Each sketch must include a scale (e.g., 1:15) or the notation that the drawing is not to scale, a north arrow (indicating grid, true, or magnetic north) or some other indication of cardinal direction, and a legend to the symbols used in the drawing.

Whenever a field drawing (map, plan or section) is made outside the Field Notebook, an entry to that effect is made in the Field Notebook. The field drawing must, at a minimum, be labelled with the essential data elements described in Section 8.0.

Data standards and requirements for drawings, maps and other media, as well as drawing and other media cataloguing procedures, are described in Section 8.0. Additional requirements are outlined in the Parks Canada Archaeological Site Inventory Form Guide (Appendix A).

Some electronic tools (remote sensing devices, digital video cameras, etc.) carry their own, internal data recording formats. An entry must be made in the Field Notebook when such instruments are used. Any identification numbers assigned through that device should be identified in the Field Notebook and any digital files generated should be recorded. Metadata for the digital devices should be kept in the Field Notebook or on forms that are referenced in the Field Notebook.

6.4.8 Forms

Whenever a form is used outside the Field Notebook, it should be referenced therein according to the procedures outlined in Section 8.0. Form examples with associated Form Guides are provided in Appendices A to F and include the following:

  • Parks Canada Archaeological Site Inventory Form and Form Guide (Appendix A);
  • Image Catalogue Form and Form Guide (Appendix B);
  • Media Catalogue Form and Form Guide (Appendix C);
  • Suboperation Summary Form (Appendix D);
  • Lot Summary Form and Form Guide (Appendix E);
  • Stratigraphy Summary Form and Form Guide (Appendix F).

6.4.9 Samples

If a sample of soil, charcoal, building material or any other substance is removed, it is recorded in the Field Notebook.

6.4.10 Digital File Naming Conventions

File naming conventions are highly recommended for all digital files generated as a result of a field project, such as digital drawings, or even field notes. Such a procedure will facilitate searching and accessing of digital files, and improve records management and archiving.

Wherever possible, the catalogue numbers for media, drawings, or archaeological objects should be used. The three-letter filename extension will then complete the record and facilitate file retrieval and management (e.g., through filtering).



The same approach should be applied to electronic folders. Select a meaningful folder label or title that can be easily understood by others. Consult the appropriate Parks Canada Service Centre to determine whether local file and folder naming conventions have been adopted.


Unless summary forms are used, whenever a discrete part of the excavation or survey has been completed, a summary of the results should be recorded in the Field Notebook, drawing together and interpreting all the relevant data. Summaries of Lots, Suboperations and Operations, as well as structures, areas, stratigraphic layers and lot-stratigraphy correlations should also appear in the Field Notebook. General requirements for summaries are provided below. Details on mandatory provenience data and metadata elements are outlined in Section 4.12 Data and Metadata Standards for Provenience.

6.5.1 Operation Summary

Record the rationale for assigning the Operation Number, the extent and location of the area so defined in terms of coordinates, and the number of Suboperations assigned within it.

6.5.2 Suboperation Summary

Record the rationale for assigning the Suboperation Letter, the extent and location of the area so defined in terms of coordinates, the elevation of the original ground level in each of the corners and at the base of excavation, and the number of Lots assigned within it. A Suboperation Summary Form example is provided in Appendix D as an alternative to, or to supplement, the field notes.

6.5.3 Lot Summary

Record the rationale for assigning the Lot Number, and the depth below the surface and/or the

elevation in each of the corners and/or centre. A Lot Summary Form example is provided in Appendix E as an alternative to, or to supplement, the field notes.

6.5.4 Structure/Area Summary

Record the identification both of the structure/activity area, the shape and dimensions overall, and of any subdivisions therein. Also, describe all of the constituent structural elements or features to include relevant dimensions, materials and methods of construction, relationships of the structure to others in the site, and include any other interpretive statements that are possible at the completion of the excavation or survey.

6.5.5 Stratigraphy (Layer/Event) Summary

Record the identification of the stratigraphic element, including a detailed description of the soil (e.g., soil type, texture, colour, and inclusions). Also describe the extent of the stratum and its relationship to other strata and to structures. A Stratigraphy Summary Form example is provided in Appendix F as an alternative to, or to supplement, the field notes.


Once the Field Notebook has been completely filled, a Table of Contents should be created. The table should be organized by Provenience Number first and by subject second (e.g., feature, structure, area, layer, etc.), accompanied by the appropriate page number (Fig. 6). The Table of Contents should be inserted at the beginning of the Field Notebook, but does not need to be paginated. If an electronic notebook format is used (e.g., a word processor), a Table of Contents can be automatically generated. Another simple method is to create a table, as shown in Fig. 6. This allows one to space or cursor from one cell to another within the table. A similar table or approach can be adapted for hand-written entries in a paper notebook.

3K Table of Contents [Example]


3K12 Layout of Suboperations 2004-7P-3
3K12A1   4
3K12A2   5
3K12B1   6
3K12C1   7
3K12D1   8
3K12A3   9
3K12B2   10
3K12B3   11
3K12A Stratigraphy notes 12, 13
3K12 Elevation notes and coordinate data 14, 15
Well   16, 17
  18, 19
  20, 21
3K12C2   21 to 26
3K12B Stratigraphy notes 27, 28
Latrine   29, 30
  30, 31
3K12D Stratigraphy notes 33, 34
3K13 Layout of Suboperations 35
3KA1   36
3K13B1   37
3K13C1   38 to 40
3K12C Stratigraphy notes 41, 42
3K13A2   43
3K13B2   44
3K13B3   45
3K13A3   46
3K12 Photography notes 47, 48
3K13C Stratigraphy notes 49

Figure 6. Example of Field Notebook Table of Contents.

< Previous Page  | Table of Contents  | Next Page  >