Documents like historic maps give us some idea of the developmental history of an urban lot like that at 810 Royal. Likewise, when we have previous archaeological investigations like those at Madame John’s or at St. Anthony’s Garden, we have a better idea of what to expect beneath the ground. However, even though there are a number of sophisticated remote sensing tools available these days, there’ s still only one way to figure out what has been preserved beneath the ground: going out and testing it, typically through a technique called shovel testing. Digging a shovel test involves excavating a small test pit, usually no more than 30 to 50 cm in diameter, and systematically collecting the artifacts found in each layer within it. These tests are then used to inform decisions about the research potential of a site, by providing data on what time periods and occupations are best-represented.
We knew, for instance, that the 810 Royal lot had been continuously occupied for almost 300 years; however, only through testing could we determine, for example, that materials from the 1730s were better preserved than ones from the 1750s. Once we extend these tests across the site, we can get a sense of how the strata –layers of soil and debris—are arranged, and we can then target the areas with the best-preserved or most unique historic remains.