terms and definitions
Terms and definitions
A horizon: The upper part of a soil, where active organic and mechanical decomposition of geological and organic material occurs.
Absolute date: A date expressed in specific units of scientific measurement, such as days, years, centuries, or millennia; absolute determinations attempting to pinpoint a discrete, known interval in time.
Accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS): A method of radiocarbon dating that counts the proportion of carbon isotopes directly (rather than using the indirect Geiger counter method), thereby dramatically reducing the quantity of datable material required.
Achieved status: Rights, duties, and obligations that accrue to individuals by virtue of what they have accomplished in their life.
Adaptive perspective: A research perspective that emphasizes technology, ecology, demography, and economics as the key factors in defining human behavior.
aDNA: Ancient DNA recovered from organic materials in archaeological sites.
Affinal: Relatives by marriage rather than by blood.
Alluvial sediments: Sediments transported by flowing water.
Analogy: Noting similarities between two entities and inferring from that similarity that an additional attribute of one (the ethnographic case) is also true of the other (the archaeological case).
Ancestor worship: A religion in which one’s deceased ancestors serve as important intermediaries between the natural and supernatural.
Androcentric: A perspective that focuses on what men do in a society, to the exclusion of women.
Anthropology: The study of all aspects of humankind—biological, cultural, and linguistic; extant and extinct— employing a holistic, comparative approach and the concept of culture.
Antiquarian: Originally, someone who studied antiquities (that is, ancient objects) largely for the sake of the objects themselves, not to understand the people or culture that produced them.
Antiquities Act: Passed in 1906, this act (1) required federal permits before excavating or collecting artifacts on federal land, (2) established a permitting process, and (3) gave the president the authority to create national monuments.
Appendicular skeleton: All parts of an animal excluding the axial skeleton.
Applied science: Research to acquire the knowledge necessary to solve a specific, recognized problem.
Arbitrary level: The basic vertical subdivision of an excavation square; used only when easily recognizable “natural” strata are lacking or when natural strata are more than 10 centimeters thick.
Archaeological context: Once artifacts enter the ground, they become part of the archaeological context, where they can continue to be affected by human action but are also affected by natural processes.
Archaeological culture: A regional manifestation within a culture area marked by a particular set of material culture traits.
Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA): Passed in 1979, this act (1) prohibits the excavation or removal of artifacts from federal property without a permit, (2) prohibits the sale, exchange, or transport of artifacts acquired illegally from federal property, and (3) increased the penalties for violations of the act over those of the Antiquities Act.
Archaeological site: Any place where material evidence exists about the human past. Usually, “site” refers to a concentration of such evidence.
Archaeology: The study of the past through the systematic recovery and analysis of material remains.
Archaic state: A centralized political system found in complex societies, characterized by having a virtual monopoly on the power to coerce.
Area of potential effect (APE): The area that will be directly and indirectly affected by a construction project; in some cases it might encompass not only areas that are affected by construction but also areas seen from it.
Argilliturbation: A natural formation process in which wet/dry cycles in clay-rich soils push artifacts upward as the sediment swells and then moves them down as cracks form during dry cycles.
Argon-argon dating: A high-precision method for estimating the relative quantities of argon-39 and argon-40 gas; used to date volcanic ashes that are between 500,000 and several million years old.
Artifact: Any movable object that has been used, modified, or manufactured by humans; artifacts include stone, bone, and metal tools; beads and other ornaments; pottery; artwork; religious and sacred items.
Ascribed status: Rights, duties, and obligations that accrue to individuals by virtue of their parentage; ascribed status is inherited.
Assemblage: A collection of artifacts of one or several classes of materials (stone tools, ceramics, bones) that comes from a defined context, such as a site, feature, or stratum.
Attribute: An individual characteristic that distinguishes one artifact from another on the basis of its size, surface texture, form, material, method of manufacture, or design pattern.
Axial skeleton: The head, mandibles, vertebrae, ribs, sacrum, and tail of an animal skeleton.
B horizon: A layer found below the A horizon, where clays accumulate that are transported downward by water.
Band: A residential group composed of a few nuclear families, but whose membership is neither permanent nor binding.
Bilateral descent: A kinship system in which relatives are traced equally on both the mother’s and father’s side.
Bilocal residence: A cultural practice in which a newly married couple may live in either the village of the groom or the village of the bride.
Bioarchaeology: The study of the human biological component evident in the archaeological record.
Biological anthropology: A subdiscipline of anthropology that views humans as biological organisms; also known as physical anthropology.
Bone collagen: The organic component of bone.
Bonebed: Archaeological and paleontological sites consisting of the remains of a large number of animals, often of the same species, and often representing a single moment in time—a mass kill or mass death.
Bundle burial: Burial of a person’s bones, bundled together, after the flesh has been removed or allowed to decay off the bones.
Burial population: A set of human burials that come from a limited region and a limited time period. The more limited the region and the time period, the more accurate will be inferences drawn from analysis of the burials.
C horizon: A layer found below the B horizon that consists of the unaltered or slightly altered parent material; below the C horizon is bedrock.
Cairn: An artificial mound of stones; often constructed as an aid to navigation, as a memorial, or to mark the location of a grave.
Carrying capacity: The number of people that a unit of land can support under a particular technology.
Channel flake: The longitudinal flake removed from the faces of Folsom and Clovis projectile points to create the flute.
Charnel house: A structure used by eastern North Americans to lay out the dead where the body would decompose. The bones would later be gathered and buried or cremated.
Chiefdom: A regional polity in which two or more local groups are organized under a single chief (who is the head of a ranked social hierarchy). Unlike autonomous bands and villages, chiefdoms consist of several more or less permanently aligned communities or settlements.
Civilization: A complex urban society with a high level of cultural achievement in the arts and sciences, craft specialization, a surplus of food and/or labor, and a hierarchically stratified social organization.
Clans: A group of matri- or patrilineages who see themselves as descended from a (sometimes mythical) common ancestor.
Clovis: The earliest well-established Native American culture, distributed throughout much of North America and dating 10,900 to 11,200 bc.
Coevolution: An evolutionary theory that argues that changes in social systems are best understood as mutual natural selection among components rather than as a linear cause-and-effect sequence.
Cognitive archaeology: The study of all those aspects of ancient culture that are the product of the human mind: the perception, description, and classification of the universe; the nature of the supernatural; the principles, philosophies, ethics, and values by which human societies are governed; and the ways in which aspects of the world, the supernatural, or human values are conveyed in art.
Colluvial sediments: Sediments deposited primarily through the action of gravity on geological material lying on hillsides.
Comparative collection: A skeletal collection of modern fauna of both sexes and different ages used to make identifications of archaeofaunas.
Comparative method in Enlightenment Philosophy: the idea that the world’s existing peoples reflect different stages of human cultural evolution.
Component: An archaeological construct consisting of a stratum or set of strata that are presumed to be culturally homogeneous. A set of components from various sites in a region will make up a phase.
Context: The relationship of an artifact, ecofact, or feature to other artifacts, ecofacts, features, and geologic strata in a site.
Coprolite: Desiccated feces, often containing macrobotanical remains, pollen, and the remains of small animals.
Core: A piece of stone that is worked (“knapped”). Cores sometimes serve merely as sources for raw materials; they also can serve as functional tools.
Cribra orbitalia: A symptom of iron deficiency anemia in which the bone of the upper eye sockets takes on a spongy appearance.
Critical theory: A critique of the modern social order that emphasizes exploitative class interests; it aims to change and not simply to understand society.
Cryoturbation: A natural formation process in which freeze/thaw activity in a soil selectively pushes larger artifacts to the surface of a site.
Cultural affiliation: In NAGPRA, “a relationship of shared group identity which can be reasonably traced historically or prehistorically between a present day Indian tribe or Native Hawaiian organization and an identifiable earlier group.”
Cultural anthropology: A subdiscipline of anthropology that emphasizes nonbiological aspects: the learned social, linguistic, technological, and familial behaviors of humans.
Cultural depositional processes: Human behaviors by which artifacts enter the archaeological record, including discard, loss, caching, and ritual interment.
Cultural disturbance processes: Human behaviors that modify artifacts in their archaeological context, as in the digging of pits, hearths, canals, and houses.
Cultural resource management (CRM): A professional field that conducts activities, including archaeology, related to compliance with legislation aimed at conserving cultural resources.
Cultural resources: Physical features, both natural and artificial, associated with human activity, including sites, structures, and objects possessing significance in history, architecture, or human development. Cultural properties are unique and nonrenewable resources.
Culture: An integrated system of beliefs, traditions, and customs that govern or influence a person’s behavior. Culture is learned, shared by members of a group, and based on the ability to think in terms of symbols.
Culture history: The kind of archaeology practiced mainly in the early to mid-twentieth century; it “explains” differences or changes over time in artifact frequencies by positing the diffusion of ideas between neighboring cultures or the migration of a people who had different mental templates for artifact styles.
Data: Relevant observations made on objects that then serve as the basis for study and discussion.
Datum point: The zero point, a fixed reference used to keep control over the locations of artifacts, features, etc., on a dig; usually controls both the vertical and horizontal dimensions of provenience.
Deconstruction: Efforts to expose the assumptions behind the alleged objective and systematic search for knowledge. A primary tool of postmodernism.
Deductive reasoning: Reasoning from theory to predict specific observational or experimental results.
Deflation: A geologic process whereby fine sediment is blown away by the wind and larger items—including artifacts— are lowered onto a common surface and thus become recognizable as a site.
Density-equilibrium model: Proposed by Binford, it attributes the origins of agriculture to population pressure in favorable environments that resulted in emigration to marginal lands, where agriculture was needed to increase productivity.
Direct acquisition: A form of trade in which a person/group goes to the source area of an item to procure the raw material directly or to trade for it or for finished products.
Dosimeter: A device to measure the amount of gamma radiation emitted by sediments. Often a short length of pure copper tubing filled with calcium sulfate, it is normally buried in a stratum for a year to record the annual dose of radiation.
Down-the-line trade: An exchange system in which goods are traded outward from a source area from group to group, resulting in a steady decline in the item’s abundance in archaeological sites farther from the source.
Eburnation: A sign of osteoarthritis in which the epiphyses of long bones are worn smooth, causing them to take on a varnish-like appearance.
Ecofact: Plant or animal remains found at an archaeological site.
Egalitarian societies: Social systems that contain roughly as many valued positions as there are persons capable of filling them; in egalitarian societies, all people have nearly equal access to the critical resources needed to live.
Electron spin resonance: A trapped charge technique used to date tooth enamel and burned stone tools; it can date teeth that are beyond the range of radiocarbon dating.
Element: In faunal analysis, a specific skeletal part of the body—for example, humerus or sternum.
Enamel hypoplasias: Horizontal linear defects in tooth enamel indicating episodes of physiological stress.
Energy dispersive x-ray fluorescence (XRF): An analytical technique that uses obsidian’s trace elements to “fingerprint” an artifact and trace it to its geologic source.
Eolian sediments: Materials transported and accumulated by wind (for example, dunes).
Epiphyses: The ends of bones that fuse to the main shaft or portion of bone at various ages; most bones are fused by age 25. This fact can be used to age skeletons of younger individuals.
Ethnoarchaeology: The study of contemporary peoples to determine how human behavior is translated into the archaeological record.
Ethnocentrism: The attitude or belief that one’s own cultural ways are superior to any other.
Exotics: Material culture that was not produced locally and/ or whose raw material is not found locally.
Experimental archaeology: Experiments designed to determine the archaeological correlates of ancient behavior; may overlap with both ethnoarchaeology and taphonomy.
Faunal: In archaeology, animal bones in archaeological sites.
Faunal analysis: Identification and interpretation of animal remains from an archaeological site.
Faunal assemblage: The animal remains recovered from an archaeological site.
Faunalturbation: A natural formation process in which animals, from large game to earthworms, affect the distribution of material within an archaeological site.
Feature: Nonportable archaeological evidence such as fire hearths, architectural elements, artifact clusters, garbage pits, and soil stains.
Flake: A thin, sharp sliver of stone removed from a core during the knapping process.
Floralturbation: A natural formation process in which trees and other plants affect the distribution of artifacts within an archaeological site.
Flotation: The use of fluid suspension to recover tiny burned plant remains and bone fragments from archaeological sites.
Flute: Distinctive channel on the faces of Folsom and Clovis projectile points formed by removal of one or more flakes from the point’s base.
Forensic archaeology: The application of archaeological and bioarchaeological knowledge for legal purposes.
Formal analogies: Analogies justified by similarities in the formal attributes of archaeological and ethnographic objects and features.
Formation processes: The ways in which human behaviors and natural actions operate to produce the archaeological record.
Functional type: A class of artifacts that performed the same function; these may or may not be temporal and/or morphological types.
Gender ideology: The culturally prescribed values assigned to the task and status of men and women; values can vary from society to society.
Gender role: The culturally prescribed behavior associated with men and women; roles can vary from society to society.
Gene: A unit of the chromosomes that controls inheritance of particular traits.
General systems theory: An effort to describe the properties by which all systems, including human societies, allegedly operate. Popular in processual archaeology of the late 1960s and 1970s.
Geoarchaeology: The field of study that applies the concepts and methods of the geosciences to archaeological research.
Geographic information system (GIS): A computer program for storing, retrieving, analyzing, and displaying cartographic data.
Geomorphology: The geological study of landforms and landscapes, including soils, rivers, hills, sand dunes, deltas, glacial deposits, and marshes.
Georeferenced: Data that are input to a GIS database using a common mapping reference—for example, the UTM grid—so that all data can be spatially analyzed.
Global positioning system (GPS): Handheld devices that use triangulation from radio waves received from satellites to determine your current position in terms of either the UTM grid or latitude and longitude.
Graviturbation: A natural formation process in which artifacts are moved downslope by gravity, sometimes assisted by precipitation runoff.
Ground-penetrating radar (GPR): A remote sensing technique in which radar pulses directed into the ground reflect back to the surface when they strike features or interfaces within the ground, showing the presence and depth of possible buried features.
Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict: An international agreement that provides rules for the protection of antiquities in wartime.
Half-life: The time required for half of the carbon-14 available in an organic sample to decay; originally set at 5568 years, it was later changed to 5730 years.
Haplogroup: Genetic lineages defined by similar genes at a locus on a chromosome.
Harris lines: Horizontal lines near the ends of long bones indicating episodes of physiological stress.
Heat treatment: A process whereby the flintknapping properties of stone tool raw material are improved by subjecting the material to heat.
High-level theory: Theory that seeks to answer large “why” questions.
Historical archaeology: The study of human behavior through material remains, in which written history in some way affects its interpretation.
Historical particularism: The view that each culture is the product of a unique sequence of developments in which chance plays a major role in bringing about change.
Holocene: The post-Pleistocene geological epoch that began about 10,000 radiocarbon years ago and continues today.
Horticulture: Cultivation, using hand tools only, in which plots of land are used for a few years and then allowed to lie fallow.
Hypothesis: A proposition proposed as an explanation of some phenomenon.
Ideational perspective: A research perspective that focuses on ideas, symbols, and mental structures as driving forces in shaping human behavior.
Ideology: A set of beliefs—often political, religious, or cosmological in nature—that rationalizes exploitive relations between classes or social groups.
In situ: From Latin, meaning “in position”; the place where an artifact, ecofact, or feature was found during survey or excavation.
Index fossil concept: The idea that strata containing similar fossil assemblages are of similar age. This concept enables archaeologists to characterize and date strata within sites using distinctive artifact forms that research shows to be diagnostic of a particular period of time.
Inductive reasoning: Working from specific observations to more general hypotheses.
Instrumental neutron activation analysis (INAA): An analytical technique that determines the trace element composition of the clay used to make a pot to identify the clay’s geologic source.
Intensive agriculture: Cultivation using draft animals, machinery, or hand tools in which plots are used annually; often entails irrigation, land reclamation, and fertilizers.
Kill sites: Places where animals were killed in the past.
Kinship: Socially recognized network of relationships through which individuals are related to one another by ties of descent (real or imagined) and marriage.
Krotovina: A filled-in animal burrow.
Landscape archaeology: The study of ancient human modification of the environment.
Law of superposition: The geological principle that in any pile of sedimentary rocks that have not been disturbed by folding or overturning, each bed is older than the layers above and younger than the layers below; also known as Steno’s law.
Linguistic anthropology: A subdiscipline of anthropology that focuses on human language: its diversity in grammar, syntax, and lexicon; its historical development; and its relation to a culture’s perception of the world.
Lipids: Organic substances—including fats, oils, and waxes—that resist mixing with water; found in both plant and animal tissues.
Living floor: A distinct buried surface on which people lived.
Long bone cross sections: Cross sections of the body’s long bones (arms and legs) used to analyze bone shape and reconstruct the mechanical stresses placed on that bone—and hence activity patterns.
Low-level theory: The observations and interpretations that emerge from hands-on archaeological field and lab work.
Macrobotanical remains: Nonmicroscopic plant remains recovered from an archaeological site.
Mano: A fist-sized, round, flat, handheld stone used with a metate for grinding foods.
Marker bed: An easily identified geologic layer whose age has been independently confirmed at numerous locations and whose presence can therefore be used to date archaeological and geological sediments.
Matrilineage: Individuals who share a line of matrilineal descent.
Matrilineal descent: A unilineal descent system in which ancestry is traced through the female line.
Matrilocal residence: A cultural practice in which a newly married couple live in the bride’s village of origin; it is often associated with matrilineal descent.
Matrix-sorting: The hand sorting of processed bulk soil samples for minute artifacts and ecofacts.
Mean ceramic date: A statistical technique for combining the median age of manufacture for temporally significant pottery types to estimate the average age of a feature or site.
Medieval mind-set: The culture of the early (pre–ad 1660) British colonies that emphasized the group rather than the individual and in which the line between culture and nature was blurred; people were seen as conforming to nature.
Metate: A large, flat stone used as a stationary surface upon which seeds, tubers, and nuts are ground with a mano.
Microwear: Minute, often microscopic, evidence of use damage on the surface and working edge of a flake or artifact; can include striations, pitting, microflaking, and polish.
Midden: Refuse deposit resulting from human activities, generally consisting of sediment; food remains such as charred seeds, animal bone, and shell; and discarded artifacts.
Middle-level theory: Hypothesis that links archaeological observations with the human behavior or natural processes that produced them.
Minimum number of individuals (MNI): The smallest number of individuals necessary to account for all identified bones.
Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA): Genetic material found in the mitochondria of cells; it is inherited only from the mother and appears to mutate at a rate of 2–4 percent per 1 million years.
Moieties: Two groups of clans that perform reciprocal ceremonial obligations for one another; moieties often intermarry.
Molecular archaeology: The use of genetic information in ancient human remains to reconstruct the past.
Molecular clock: Calculations of the time since divergence of two related populations using the presumed rate of mutation in mtDNA and the genetic differences between the two populations.
Morphological type: A descriptive and abstract grouping of individual artifacts whose focus is on overall similarity rather than function or chronological significance.
Mortality profiles: Charts that depict the various ages at death of a burial population.
National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA): Passed in 1966, this act created (1) the National Register of Historic Places, (2) the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and (3) State Historic Preservation Offices, as well as (4) a process to mitigate the impact of development; it also requires that government agencies provide good stewardship of their cultural resources.
National Register of Historic Places: A list of significant historic and prehistoric properties, including districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects.
Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA): Passed in 1990, this act (1) protects Indian graves on federal and tribal lands, (2) recognizes tribal authority over the treatment of unmarked graves, (3) prohibits the commercial selling of native dead bodies, (4) requires an inventory and repatriation of human remains held by the federal government and institutions that receive federal funding, (5) requires these same institutions to return inappropriately acquired sacred objects and other important communally owned property to native owners, and (6) sets up a process to determine ownership of human remains found on federal and tribal property after November 16, 1990.
Natural level: A vertical subdivision of an excavation square that is based on natural breaks in the sediments (in terms of color, grain size, texture, hardness, or other characteristics).
Natural selection: The process through which some individuals survive and reproduce at higher rates than others because of their genetic heritage; leads to the perpetuation of certain genetic qualities at the expense of others.
Neolithic: The ancient period during which people began using ground stone tools, manufacturing ceramics, and relying on domesticated plants and animals—literally, the “New Stone Age”—coined by Sir John Lubbock (in 1865).
New archaeology: An approach to archaeology that arose in the 1960s, emphasizing the understanding of underlying cultural processes and the use of the scientific method; today’s version of the “new archaeology” is sometimes called processual archaeology.
Non-site archaeology: Analysis of archaeological patterns manifested on a scale of kilometers or hectares, rather than of patterns within a single site.
Nuclear DNA: Genetic material found in a cell’s nucleus; this material is primarily responsible for an individual’s inherited traits.
Number of identified specimens (NISP): The raw number of identified bones (specimens) per species.
Optically stimulated luminescence: A trapped charge dating technique used to date sediments; the age is the time elapsed between the last time a few moments’ exposure to sunlight reset the clock to zero and the present.
Optimal foraging theory: The idea that foragers select foods that maximize the overall return rate.
Osteoarthritis: A disorder in which the cartilage between joints wears away, often because of overuse of the joint, resulting in osteophytes and eburnation.
Osteology: The study of bone.
Osteophyte: A sign of osteoarthritis in which bones develop a distinct “lipping” of bone at the point of articulation.
Paleodemography: The study of ancient demographic patterns and trends.
Paleoethnobotanist: An archaeologist who analyzes and interprets plant remains from archaeological sites in order to understand past interactions between human populations and plants.
Paleopathology: The study of ancient patterns of disease, disorders, and trauma.
Palynology: The study of fossil pollen grains and spores to reconstruct past climates and human behavior.
Paradigm: The overarching framework, often unstated, for understanding a research problem. It is a researcher’s “culture.”
Participant observation: The primary strategy of cultural anthropology, in which data are gathered by questioning and observing people while the observer lives in their society.
Patrilineage: Individuals who share a line of patrilineal descent.
Patrilineal descent: A unilineal descent system in which ancestry is traced through the male line.
Patrilocal residence: A cultural practice in which a newly married couple live in the groom’s village of origin; it is often associated with patrilineal descent.
Period: A length of time distinguished by particular items of material culture, such as house form, pottery, or subsistence.
Petrographic analysis: An analytical technique that identifies the mineral composition of a pot’s temper and clay through microscopic observation of thin sections.
Phase: An archaeological construct possessing traits sufficiently characteristic to distinguish it from other units similarly conceived; spatially limited to roughly a locality or region and chronologically limited to the briefest interval of time possible.
Photosynthetic pathways: The specific chemical process through which plants metabolize carbon. The three major pathways discriminate against carbon-13 in different ways; therefore, similarly aged plants that use different pathways can produce different radiocarbon ages.
Phytoliths: Tiny silica particles contained in plants. Sometimes these fragments can be recovered from archaeological sites even after the plants themselves have decayed.
Pleistocene: A geologic period from 1.8 million to 10,000 years ago, which was characterized by multiple periods of extensive glaciation.
Plow zone: The upper portion of a soil profile that has been disturbed by repeated plowing or other agricultural activity.
Political organization: A society’s formal and informal institutions that regulate a population’s collective acts.
Pollen diagram: A chart showing the changing frequencies of different identified pollens through time from samples taken from archaeological or other sites.
Population pressure: The result of a population’s reaching carrying capacity.
Porotic hyperostosis: A symptom of iron deficiency anemia in which the skull takes on a porous appearance.
Postprocessual paradigm: A paradigm that focuses on humanistic approaches and rejects scientific objectivity. It sees archaeology as inherently political and is more concerned with interpreting the past than with testing hypotheses. It sees change as arising largely from interactions between individuals operating within a symbolic and/or competitive system.
Potsherd: Fragment of pottery.
Principle of uniformitarianism: The principle asserting that the processes now operating to modify the earth’s surface are the same processes that operated long ago in the geological past.
Processual paradigm: The paradigm that explains social, economic, and cultural change as primarily the result of adaptation to material conditions. External conditions (for example, the environment) are assumed to take causal priority over ideational factors in explaining change.
Projectile points: Arrowheads, dart points, or spear points.
Proton precession magnetometer: A remote sensing technique that measures the strength of magnetism between the earth’s magnetic core and a sensor controlled by the archaeologist. Magnetic anomalies can indicate the presence of buried walls or features.
Provenience: An artifact’s location relative to a system of spatial data collection.
Pubic symphysis: Where the two halves of the pelvis meet in the groin area; the appearance of its articulating surface can be used to age skeletons.
Pure (basic) science: Systematic research directed toward acquisition of knowledge for its own sake.
Random sample: A sample drawn from a statistical population such that every member of the population has an equal chance of being included in the sample.
Ranked societies: Social systems in which a hierarchy of social status has been established, with a restricted number of valued positions available; in ranked societies, not everyone has the same access to the critical resources of life.
Reclamation processes: Human behaviors that result in moving artifacts from the archaeological context back to the systemic context, as in scavenging beams from an abandoned structure to use them in a new one.
Relational analogies: Analogies justified on the basis of close cultural continuity between the archaeological and ethnographic cases or similarity in general cultural form.
Relative dates: Dates expressed relative to one another (for instance, earlier, later, more recent) instead of in absolute terms.
Religion: A social institution containing a set of beliefs about supernatural beings and forces and one’s relation to them.
Remote sensing: The use of some form of electromagnetic energy to detect and measure characteristics of an archaeological target.
Reservoir effect: Samples from organisms that took in carbon from a source that was depleted of or enriched in carbon-14 relative to the atmosphere may return ages that are considerably older or younger than they actually are.
Return rate: The amount of energy acquired by a forager per unit of harvesting/processing time.
Reuse processes: Human behaviors that recycle and reuse artifacts before they enter an archaeological context.
Reverse stratigraphy: The result when sediment is unearthed by human or natural actions and moved elsewhere in such a way that the latest material is deposited on the bottom of the new sediment and progressively earlier material is deposited higher and higher in the stratigraphy.
Ritual: A succession of discrete behaviors that must be performed in a particular order under particular circumstances.
Rockshelter: A common type of archaeological site, consisting of a rock overhang that is deep enough to provide shelter but not deep enough to be called a cave (technically speaking, a cave must have an area of perpetual darkness).
Sample fraction: The percentage of the sample universe that is surveyed. Areas with a lot of variability in archaeological remains require larger sample fractions than do areas of low variability.
Sample units: Survey units of a standard size and shape, determined by the research question and practical considerations, used to obtain the sample.
Sample universe: The region that contains the statistical population and that will be sampled. Its size and shape are determined by the research question and practical considerations.
Sciatic notch: The angled edge of both halves of the posterior (rear) side of the pelvis; measurement of this angle is used to determine sex in human skeletons. Although its width varies among populations, narrow notches indicate a male and wider notches indicate a female.
Science: The search for answers through a process that is objective, systematic, logical, predictive, self-critical, and public.
Scientific method: Accepted principles and procedures for the systematic pursuit of secure knowledge. Established scientific procedures involve the following steps: (1) define a relevant problem; (2) establish one or more hypotheses; (3) determine the empirical implications of the hypotheses; (4) collect appropriate data through observation and/or experimentation; (5) compare these data with the expected implications; and (6) revise and/or retest hypotheses as necessary.
Seasonal round: Hunter-gatherers’ pattern of movement between different places on the landscape, timed to the seasonal availability of food and other resources.
Seasonality: An estimate of what part of the year a particular archaeological site was occupied.
Sedimentary rock: Rock formed when the weathered products of preexisting rocks have been transported by and deposited in water and are turned once again to stone.
Seriation: A relative dating method that orders artifacts based on the assumption that one cultural style slowly replaces an earlier style over time; with a master seriation diagram, sites can be dated based on their frequency of several artifact (for instance, ceramic) styles.
Settlement pattern: The distribution of archaeological sites across a region.
Settlement system: The movements and activities reconstructed from a settlement pattern.
Shaman: One who has the power to contact the spirit world through trance, possession, or visions. On the basis of this ability, the shaman invokes, manipulates, or coerces the power of the spirits for socially recognized ends—both good and ill.
Shell midden: The remnants of shellfish collecting; some shellfish middens can become many meters thick.
Shovel testing: A sample survey method used in regions where rapid soil buildup obscures buried archaeological remains; it entails digging shallow, systematic pits across the survey unit.
Site formation: The human and natural actions that work together to create an archaeological site.
Size classes: A categorization of faunal remains, not to taxon, but to one of five categories based on body size.
Slash-and-burn: A horticultural method used frequently in the tropics wherein a section of forest is cut, dried, and then burned, thus returning nutrients to the ground. This permits a plot of land to be farmed for a limited number of years.
Social Darwinism: The extension of the principles of Darwinian evolution to social phenomena; it implies that conflict between societies and between classes of the same society benefits humanity in the long run by removing “unfit” individuals and social forms. Social Darwinism assumed that unfettered economic competition and warfare were primary ways to determine which societies were “fittest.”
Social organization: The rules and structures that govern relations within a group of interacting people. Societies are divided into social units (groups) within which are recognized social positions (statuses), with appropriate behavior patterns prescribed for these positions (roles).
Soil: Sediments that have undergone in situ chemical and mechanical alteration.
Soil resistivity survey: A remote sensing technique that monitors the electrical resistance of soils in a restricted volume near the surface of an archaeological site; changes in the amount of resistance registered by the resistivity meter can indicate buried walls or features.
Space-time systematics: The delineation of patterns in material culture through time and space. These patterns are what the archaeologist will eventually try to explain or account for.
Statistical population: A set of counts, measurements, or characteristics about which relevant inquiries are to be made. Scientists use the term “statistical population” in a specialized way (quite different from “population” in the ordinary sense).
Status: The rights, duties, privileges, powers, liabilities, and immunities that accrue to a recognized and named social position.
Strata (singular stratum): More or less homogeneous or gradational material, visually separable from other levels by a discrete change in the character of the material—texture, compactness, color, rock, organic content—and/or by a sharp break in the nature of deposition.
Stratified random sample: A survey universe divided into several sub-universes that are then sampled at potentially different sample fractions.
Stratigraphy: A site’s physical structure produced by the deposition of geological and/or cultural sediments into layers, or strata.
Structuralism: A paradigm holding that human culture is the expression of unconscious modes of thought and reasoning, notably binary oppositions. Structuralism is most closely associated with the work of the French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss.
Symbol: An object or act (verbal or nonverbal) that, by cultural convention, stands for something else with which it has no necessary connection.
Sympathetic magic: Rituals in which doing something to an image of an object produces the desired effect in the real object.
Systematic regional survey: A set of strategies for arriving at accurate descriptions of the range of archaeological material across a landscape.
Systemic context: A living behavioral system in which artifacts are part of an ongoing system of manufacture, use, reuse, and discard.
Taphonomy: The study of how organisms become part of the fossil record; in archaeology, it primarily refers to the study of how natural processes produce patterning in archaeological data.
Taxon: In faunal analysis, the classification of a skeletal element to a taxonomic category—species, genus, family, or order.
Temper: Material added to clay to give a ceramic item strength.
Temporal type: A morphological type that has temporal significance; also known as a time-marker or index fossil.
Terminus post quem (TPQ): The date after which a stratum or feature must have been deposited or created.
Test excavation: A small initial excavation to determine a site’s potential for answering a research question.
Testability: The degree to which one’s observations and experiments can be reproduced.
Theory: An explanation for observed, empirical phenomena. It seeks to explain the relationships between variables; it is an answer to a “why” question.
Thermal infrared multispectral scanning (TIMS): A remote sensing technique that uses equipment mounted on aircraft or satellites to measure infrared thermal radiation given off by the ground. Sensitive to differences as small las 0.1° centigrade, it can locate subsurface structures by tracking how they affect surface thermal radiation.
Thermoluminescence: A trapped charge dating technique used on ceramics and burned stone artifacts—anything mineral that has been heated to more than 500° C.
Time-markers: Similar to index fossils in geology; artifact forms that research shows to be diagnostic of a particular period of time.
Total station: A device that uses a beam of light bounced off a prism to determine an artifact’s provenience; it is accurate to millimeters.
Totem: A natural object, often an animal, from which a lineage or clan believes itself to be descended and/or with which lineage or clan members have special relations.
Trade language: A language that develops among speakers of different languages to permit economic exchanges.
Trapped charge dating: Forms of dating that rely on the fact that electrons become trapped in minerals’ crystal lattices as a function of background radiation. The age of the specimen is the total radiation received divided by the annual dose of radiation.
Tree-ring dating (dendrochronology): The use of annual growth rings in trees to assign calendar ages to ancient wood samples.
Tribal societies: A wide range of social formations that lie between egalitarian foragers and ranked societies (such as chiefdoms). Tribal societies are normally horticultural and sedentary, with a higher level of competition than seen among nomadic hunter-gatherers.
Type: A class of archaeological artifacts defined by a consistent clustering of attributes.
Typology: The systematic arrangement of material culture into types.
UNESCO Convention of 1970: Requires that signers create legislation and the administrative structure to (1) regulate the import and export of cultural objects, (2) forbid their nations’ museums from acquiring illegally exported cultural objects, (3) establish ways to inform other nations when illegally exported objects are found within a country’s borders, (4) return or otherwise provide restitution of cultural objects stolen from public institutions, and (5) establish a register of art dealers and require them to register.
Unilineal cultural evolution: The belief that human societies have evolved culturally along a single developmental trajectory. Typically, such schemes depict Western civilization as the most advanced evolutionary stage; anthropology rejects this idea.
Upper Paleolithic: The last major division of the Old World Paleolithic, beginning about 40,000 years ago and lasting until the end of the Pleistocene (ca. 10,000 years ago).
UTM: Universal Transverse Mercator, a grid system in which north and east coordinates provide a location anywhere in the world, precise to 1 meter.
Vision quest: A ritual in which an individual seeks visions through starvation, dehydration, and exposure; considered in some cultures to be a way to communicate with the supernatural world.
Warfare and circumscription hypothesis: Proposed by Robert Carneiro, it attributes the origin of the state to the administrative burden of warfare conducted for conquest as a response to geographic limits on arable land in the face of a rising population.
Water-screening: A sieving process in which deposit is placed on a screen and the matrix washed away with hoses; essential where artifacts are expected to be small and/or difficult to find without washing.
Wood rats (pack rats): Rodents that build nests of organic materials and thus preserve a record, often for thousands of years, of changing plant species within the local area of the nest.
Younger Dryas: A climatic interval, 13,000 to 11,600 bp, characterized by a rapid return to cooler and drier, but highly variable, climatic conditions.
Zooarchaeologist: An archaeologist who specializes in the study of the animal remains recovered from archaeological sites.
Kelly, Robert L. and David H. Thomas
2013 Archaeology. 6th ed. Wadsworth/Cengage Learning, Belmont, California.
The Maine Archaeological Society
P.O. Box 982
Augusta, Maine 04332-0982