Excavation and Pottery Notebooks

Scope and Content

This series consists of the notebook records created and kept by archaeologists during the excavations and study seasons. This includes excavation notebooks, directors' daybooks, site albums, pottery sorting notebooks, pottery control and context books. Some notebooks have been reused for later digs or for a different purpose, particularly earlier notebooks.

Administrative / Biographical History

The volumes in this series comprise excavation notebooks, the daily notes kept mostly by trench supervisors during the excavations and study seasons; as well as pottery notebooks, records created by the excavators of the style and type of small finds coming from their excavation areas each season.

The excavation notebooks were compiled by individuals, or small groups of excavators, working on the same area. Many are indexed at the front and include sketches, plans, annotations of unit numbers (which are identified by a circle around them) for small finds and annotations of excavation numbers for small finds that were kept (which are identified by a square box around them). The layout and detail of the notebooks vary according to year and creator but are generally in chronological diary form, with sketches and additional notes on the verso page. Other forms of excavation notebooks include:

  • Directors’ daybooks: more diarised notebooks kept by the excavation director each season. These record daily events, such as arrivals and departures of workers, weather and illnesses, as well as general excavation notes for the whole site.
  • Specialist notebooks: kept by visiting specialists in a certain area.
  • Site albums: compiled by William Taylour, these typed accounts combine information from daybooks and excavation notebooks, along with annotated photographs of the excavations, to give full accounts of the 1960s dig seasons.

The pottery notebooks also may be compiled by an individual or group of excavators for a specific area. Most of the pottery notebooks are written in a standard format with information arranged in unit number order and then by type, starting with unpainted finds to more elaborate painted types, and conclude with a comment. These headings are mostly written in shorthand, for example ‘UP’ for ‘unpainted’. A glossary is available. Entries marked with an asterix are likely to have been kept, all else is likely to have been papsed (discarded). Papsing may be overtly stated in the entry or indicated by a P with a squiggle underneath.

Units are the groups of items generally found in one context/level from a trench, which were transferred to a zembilli (a bucket made out of tire) and recorded. The unit descriptions can be found in excavation notebooks as well as in phasing lists available in excel.

Also included in the notebooks series are control and context books. Control books list small finds and registered pots by year and area, thereafter the objects are listed in numerical order by their excavation number. Entries record the date of the find, an object description, the unit number, whether treatment has taken place, if the object was marked, recorded, registered, photographed or drawn. Some entries may have additional information such as dating or if the item was deregistered.

Context books list finds by unit, assigning an approximate date.

Helen Wace’s small find indexes or registers guides are proto-control books which she made in the 1950s and into the 1960s. Combining different sources of information, such as pottery notes and object cards, she recorded details such as measurements, unit number, object excavation number, Nauplia or Athens Museum accession numbers and photo reference numbers. These registers are arranged by year and excavation number.


The series is divided into three sub-series: Excavation Notebooks, Pottery Notebooks and Context, Control and Indexes. The early excavation notebooks are physically arranged by date, thereafter by author name. For the 1960s notebooks, when Citadel House formed the focus of excavation and multiple authors are common for a notebook, the notebooks are arranged by date and then by area number. For example:

  • 1966, Citadel House, Gamma 21
  • 1966, Citadel House, Gamma 22

Where notebooks have been reused, they are arranged by the earliest usage. Where excavation notebooks have been reused as pottery notebooks, they are grouped with excavation notebooks.

Access Information

Some notebooks are closed to researchers as they are too fragile to handle.

Acquisition Information

Dr Elizabeth French

Other Finding Aids

A detailed spreadsheet catalogue is available as well as a card index.

Additional resources are available, including a list of workers who took part in the excavations each year and a glossary of terms and acronyms used in the records.

Detailed spreadsheets are also available for:

  • Small finds: cataloguing object information such as excavation number, Museum accession number, description, find area, unit number, photo reference number, whether a sketch exists and any relevant publication
  • Phasing lists: by area and year

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

Many of the notebooks are fragile with loose pages and many have insert pages. Three notebooks are currently closed pending conservation for past mould damage. The notebooks have been recorded in pen and pencil, some handwriting is hard to decipher.

Appraisal Information

All records have been retained.

Custodial History

Notebooks and other records from the excavations remained largely and informally with the excavation directors or with someone working on specific material until the late 1970s. From the 1980s, with the beginning of the Mycenae Project, they have been kept together for research use.


13 further notebooks are expected to be deposited in 2017.

Related Material

The archive of the British School at Athens has four excavation and pottery notebooks, by Winifred Lamb and W.A. Heurtley, from the 1920s excavations.