You are on page 1of 2

ARCHAEOLOGY TERMS

Archaeology

the scientific study of the physical evidence of past human societies recovered through collection, artifact analysis,
and excavation. Archaeologists not only attempt to discover and describe past cultures but also to formulate
explanations for the development of cultures. Conclusions drawn from study and analyses provide answers and
predictions about human behavior that add, complement, and sometimes correct the written accounts of history and
prehistory.
(also sometimes spelled Archeology) The scientific study of the physical evidence of past human societies recovered
through the excavation. Archaeology not only attempts to discover and describe past cultures, but also to formulate
explanations for the development of cultures.
the scientific study of past human cultures by analyzing the material remains (sites and artifacts) that people left
behind.

Attribute

a minimal characteristic of an artifact such that it cannot be further subdivided; attributes commonly studied include
aspects of form, style, decoration, color, and raw material.
a characteristic or property of an object, such as weight, size, or color.

Chronology

arrangement of past events in time.


The arrangement of events, or the materials which represent them, in the order of their occurrence in time.

Classification

the ordering of phenomena into groups or other classificatory schemes on the basis of shared attributes (see also
type and typology).
a systematic arrangement in groups or categories according to criteria.

Conservation
Decipher

the protection and care of archaeological resources.


Cracking the code; figuring out something's meaning, especially an ancient language (for example, Egyptian
hieroglyphics).

Dendrochronology

The scientific study of the annular growth of trees. Trees produce rings of various thickness annually in response to
rainfall. Tree-rings therefore, can be used to reconstruct fluctuations in rainfall in the past, reflecting past climatic
conditions.

Ecofact
Environment

An organic object which provides some kind of information on environment and plant and animal use.
The sum of the external conditions and influences which surround an object or organism -- particularly the ecological
and social settings in which people work and live.

Excavation

digging up and removing artifacts and features from an archaeological site in order to analyze and predict past human
behavior.
the systematic digging and recording of an archaeological site.

Feature

a non-portable product of human workmanship. Usually clusters of associated objects; structural remains; hearths,
etc. Evidence of human activities visible as disturbances in the soil. Such disturbances are produced by digging pits
for storage, setting posts for houses, or by constructing a hearth for cooking. These disturbances are often
distinguished by soil discolorations.
a type of material remain that cannot be removed from a site such as roasting pits, fire hearths, house floors or post
molds.
Something of human manufacture other than an easily excavated tool or other object, such as a wall, drain, well, or
hearth. If you will, the architecture of a site in the broadest sense of that term.

Field Note

Archaeologists keep a notebook with them when they are digging so they can note when they change levels and what
kinds of things they find. They need to keep another record in case the profile or floor plan they drew wasn't very clear.
Later, in the lab, archaeologists might question the context of an object. If they have notes to go back and look at, it
makes it easier to figure out what was going on.

Grid

a network of uniformly spaced squares that divides a site into units; used to measure and record an object's position
in space.

ARCHAEOLOGY TERMS
Level

the basic vertical subdivision of an excavation unit. May be natural. arbitrary or contoured.
an excavation layer, which may correspond to natural strata. Levels are numbered from the top to bottom of the
excavation unit, with the uppermost level being Level 1.

Magnetometer

instrument that detects changes in the earth's magnetic field. Used by archaeologists to detect and map historic
features and artifacts both in the ground and underwater.

Matrix
Observation
Pick

the material that archaeological artifacts are surrounded by before being excavated.
Looking at and critically noting the details of a site, an artifact, or cultural behavior.
An adze-like implement which is hafted and used for breaking hard ground or rocks.
Archaeologists use small picks to remove delicate items from archaeological units. For example, animal bones or
human bones are very fragile and should be removed by picking around them and then brushing them off with a light
paintbrush before removing. Old dental picks are very useful tools to archaeologists.

Preparator

Scientists who strip and clean the matrix or encased rock from fossils in order to prepare them for reconstruction.

Preserve

To keep safe and protect from injury, harm, or destruction; to keep alive, intact, or free from decay; to save from
decomposition.

Fission track dating

A method of dating an object that counts the number of tracks made by the breakdown of radiocarbon elements. The
older an object is the more tracks it leaves. This method is used mostly on rocks, pottery, and glass.

Replica
Restoration

A copy or reproduction of the original.


The process of cleaning and studying an artifact and attempting to return it to its original form (before it was buried).

Screen

A wire mesh mounted on a frame which is used to sift the soil from an archaeological excavation. The screen may be
used manually or shaken by means of a small motor and serves to catch the specimens which are too small for the
excavator to collect practically. The size of the mesh depends at least partially on the fineness of the deposits on the
site. In Manitoba, sizes from l/l6" to l/4" are the most common. Experiments have shown that different mesh sizes
produce dramatically different results in the relative frequencies of objects of different sizes.

Sherd/Shard
Site

The individual pieces of broken pottery vessels.


a distinct spatial clustering of artifacts, features, structures, and organic and environmental remains. as the residue of
human activity.
A location where human activities once took place and left some form of material evidence. A location which has
yielded artifacts and either is, has, or will undergo excavation or is being conserved for the future. Known sites should
not be disturbed by amateurs or surface hunted. Sites can be registered and can have a site number or code
associated with them.
a place where human activity occurred and material remains were deposited.
An location of extended ancient human activity -- a hunting blind, a quarry, a hamlet, or an entire city. Extended
because humans use large portions of the landscape around them. Here they place a village, around that a grove of
economically important oil trees, further away their swidden fields. Interspersed among these human features of the
landscape may be all other resources they use -- forest for game and botanical products, oxbow lakes for fish and
crustaceans, rock outcrops for lithic resources. Obviously, though we might find evidence of fishing in the form of a
droped net weight at an ancient oxbow lake or evidence of fields visible from the air using infra-red photography and
now covered by modern agricultural fields, these finds would generally not be considered sites.

Survey
Test pits

the systematic examination of the ground surface in search of archaeological sites.


(also "test excavation"): a small exploratory "dig" designed to determine a site's depth, and contents prior to major
excavation.
a small excavation unit dug to learn what the depth and character of the stratum might be, and to determine more
precisely which strata contain artifacts and other material remains.

Transit

a sophisticated optical surveying instrument similar to an alidade, except that it is mounted directly on a tripod, rather
than resting on a plane

Trowel

small hand tool consisting of a metal blade (sense l) attached to a handle. The mason's trowel, having a flat blade.

Unit

One of the squares excavated on an archaeological site; a pit.