--- SEARCH ---
Learning Chinese
Learn to Cook Chinese Dishes
Exchange Rates
Hotel Service
China Calendar

Hot Links
China Development Gateway
Chinese Embassies

Archaeological Glossary

These are some archaeological terms. Here, you can find the meanings to words read in our articles and other sources.


To jump to a specific letter, select one of the following:


A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z



absolute dating:
the determination of age with reference to a specific time scale, such as a fixed calendrical system; also referred to as chronometric dating.

aerial reconnaissance: an important survey technique in the discovery and recording of archaeological sites (see also reconnaissance survey).

altithermal: a postulated climatic period characterized by warmer and/or drier conditions approximately 4,000-8,000 years ago.

amino-acid racemization: a method used in the dating of both human and animal bone. Its special significance is that with a small sample (10g) it can be applied to material up to 100,000 years old, i.e. beyond the time range of radiocarbon dating.

analogy: a process of reasoning whereby two entities that share some similarities are assumed to share many others.

ancillary sample: any non-artifactual materials collected by archaeologists to aid in dating, paleoenvironmental reconstruction, or other interpretations - e.g. carbon samples, soil samples, palynological samples etc.

anthropology: the study of humanity - our physical characteristics as animals, and our unique non-biological characteristics we call culture. The subject is generally broken down into three subdisciplines: biological (physical) anthropology, cultural (social) anthropology, and archaeology.

anthropomorphic: "man-like." Used to describe artifacts or art work decorated with human features or with a man-like appearance.

arbitrary level: an excavation level defined by factors of convenience, with no necessary relationship to site-stratigraphy or cultural components.

archaeological culture: a constantly recurring assemblage of artifacts assumed to be representative of a particular set of behavioral activities carried out at a particular time and place (cf. culture).

archaeomagnetic dating: sometimes referred to as paleomagnetic dating. it is based on the fact that changes in the earth's magnetic field over time can be recorded as remnant magnetism in materials such as baked clay structure (ovens, kilns, and hearths).

archaeozoology: sometimes referred to as zooarchaeology, this involves the identification and analysis of faunal species from archaeological sites, as an aid to the reconstruction of human diets and to an understanding of the contemporary environment at the time of deposition.

articulated: two or more bones left in their anatomical position after tissue decay.

artifact: any manually portable product of human workmanship (see feature). In its broadest sense includes tools, weapons, ceremonial items, art objects, all industrial waste, and all floral and faunal remains modified by human activity.

assemblage: a group of artifacts recurring together at a particular time and place, and representing the sum of human activities.

association: the co-occurrence of an artifact with other archaeological remains, usually in the same matrix.

atomic absorption spectrometry (AAS): a method of analyzing artifact composition similar to optical emission spectrometry (OES) in that it measures energy in the form of visible light waves. It is capable of measuring up to 40 different elements with an accuracy of c. 1 percent.

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.

attritional age profile: a mortality pattern based on bone or tooth wear which is characterized by an overrepresentation of young and old animals in relation to their numbers in live populations. It suggests either scavenging of attritional mortality victims (i.e. those dying from natural causes or from non-human predation) or the hunting by humans or other predators of the most vulnerable individuals.

augering: a subsurface detection method using either a hand or machine-powered drill to determine the depth and character of archaeological deposits.

azimuth: a magnetic bearing sighted from your position to a known landmark. Used in navigation and in determining site locations.


"Before Present." the notation commonly used on radiocarbon dates, e.g. 1,000 B.P. = 1,000 years before 1950 A.D., or approximately 1,000 A.D.

back-dirt: the excavated matrix or fill of a site, Presumed to be of little or no further archaeological significance.

back-filling: the process of refilling a completed excavation.

basalt: a fine-grained volcanic rock used for the manufacture of chipped stone artifacts. Color black to gray, texture granular to glass-like.

base-line: an arbitrary line established by stakes and string, or by surveying instrument, from which measurements are taken to produce a site-map, or to provide an initial axis for an excavation grid.

baulks: unexcavated "walls" which may be left between pits to provide stratigraphic control.

biface: a stone artifact flaked on both faces.

bipoint: a bone or stone artifact pointed at both ends.

bone industry: all the bone artifacts from a particular site.

bosing (or bowsing): a subsurface detection method performed by striking the ground with a heavy wooden mallet or a lead-filled container on a long handle.

brain endocasts: these are made by pouring latex rubber into a skull, 50 as to produce an accurate image of the inner surface of the cranium. This method gives an estimate of cranial capacity and has been used on early hominid skulls.

break-in-slope: any abrupt change in the gradient of a topographic surface, such as the edge of a cliff, terrace scarp, etc.

breaking chain: the process of obtaining horizontal distances over sloping terrain with a surveyor's chain by measuring stepped level intervals up the slope.

brunton compass: a sophisticated magnetic compass used as a basic surveying instrument. Also known as the "Brunton Pocket Transit".


calcined bone:
burned bone reduced to white or blue mineral constituents.

calendrical system: a system of measuring time that is based on natural recurring units of time, such as revolutions of the earth around the sun. Time is determined by the number of such units that have preceded or elapsed with reference to a specific point in time.

carbon sample: a quantity of organic material, usually charcoal, collected for radiocarbon dating.
catalogue number: a number assigned all items recovered by archaeological research to cross-index them to the catalogue.

catalogue: the systematic list recording artifacts and other finds, recovered by archaeological research, including their description and Provenience.

cation-ratio dating: this method aspires to the direct dating of rock carvings and engravings, and is also potentially applicable to Paleolithic artifacts with a strong patina caused by exposure to desert dust. It depends on the principle that cations of certain elements are more soluble than others; they leach out of rock varnish more rapidly than the less soluble elements, and their concentration decreases with time.

chronometric dating: a dating system that refers to a specific point or range of time. Chronometric dates are not necessarily exact dates, and they are often expressed as a range.

cluster analysis: a multivariate statistical technique which assesses the similarities between units or assemblages, based on the occurrence or non-occurrence of specific artifact types or other components within them.

cognitive archaeology: the study of past ways of thought and symbolic structures from material remains.

cognitive map: an interpretive framework of the world which, it is argued, exists in the human mind and affects actions and decisions as well as knowledge structures.

composite tool: a tool formed of two or more joined parts, e.g. "composite toggling harpoon head".

concentration: a notable accumulation of archaeological materials in a small area, such as a "concentration of flakes" etc.

contour line: a line on a map connecting points of equal elevation.

contoured level: an excavation level with a floor parallel to the slope of the ground surface.

cultural anthropology: a subdiscipline of anthropology concerned with the non-biological, behavioral aspects of society; i.e. the social, linguistic, and technological components underlying human behavior. Two important branches of cultural anthropology are ethnography (the study of living cultures) and ethnology (which attempts to compare cultures using ethnographic evidence). In Europe, it is referred to as social anthropology.

cultural deposit: sediments and materials laid down by, or heavily modified by, human activity.

cultural ecology: a term devised by Julian Steward to account for the dynamic relationship between human society and its environment, in which culture is viewed as the primary adaptive mechanism.

cultural group: a complex of regularly occurring associated artifacts, features, burial types, and house forms comprising a distinct identity.

cultural materialism: the theory, espoused by Marvin Harris, that ideas, values, and religious beliefs are the means or products of adaptation to environmental conditions ("material constraints").

cultural relativism: the ability to view the beliefs and customs of other peoples within the context of their culture rather than one's own.

cultural resource management (CRM): the safeguarding of the archaeological heritage through the protection of sites and through salvage archaeology (rescue archaeology), generally within the framework of legislation designed to safeguard the past.

culture-historical approach: an approach to archaeological interpretation which uses the procedure of the traditional historian (including emphasis on specific circumstances elaborated with rich detail, and processes of inductive reasoning).


a fixed reference point on an archaeological site from which measurements are taken.

deductive nomological (D-N) explanation: a formal method of explanation based on the testing of hypotheses derived from general laws.

deep-sea cores: cores drilled from the sea bed that provide the most coherent record of climate changes on a worldwide scale. The cores contain shells of microscopic marine organisms (foraminifera) laid down on the ocean floor through the continuous process of sedimentation. Variations in the ratio of two oxygen isotopes in the calcium carbonate of these shells give a sensitive indicator of sea temperature at the time the organisms were alive.

diachronic: referring to phenomena as they change over time; i.e. employing a chronological perspective (cf. synchronic).

diatom analysis: a method of environmental reconstruction based on plant microfossils. Diatoms are unicellular algae, whose silica cell walls survive after the algae die, and they accumulate in large numbers at the bottom of rivers and lakes. Their assemblages directly reflect the floristic composition of the water's extinct communities, as well as the water's salinity, alkalinity, and nutrient status.

diffusion: when elements of one culture spread to another without wholesale dislocation or migration.

domestication: the process by which people try to control the reproductive rates of animals and plants by ordering the environment in such a way as to favor certain species.


early man:
in the New World this term refers to the oldest known human occupants - i.e. prior to ca. 8,000 B.P.

ecological determinism: a form of explanation in which it is implicit that changes in the environment determine changes in human society.

electrical resistivity: see soil resistivity. A standard cleaning process in archaeological conservation. Artifacts are placed in a chemical solution, and by passing a weak current between them and a surrounding metal grill, the corrosive salts move from the cathode (object) to the anode (grill), removing any accumulated deposit and leaving the artifact clean.

electron probe microanalysis: used in the analysis of artifact composition, this technique is similar to XRF (X-ray fluorescence spectrometry), and is useful for studying small changes in composition within the body of an artifact.

electron spin resonance (ESR): a chronometric dating technique based upon the behavior of electrons in crystals exposed to naturally occurring radioactivity; used to date limestone, coral, shell, teeth, and other materials. Enables trapped electrons within bone and shell to be measured without the heating that thermoluminescence requires.

emulation: one of the most frequent features accompanying competition, where customs, buildings, and artifacts in one society may be adopted by neighboring ones through a process of imitation which is often competitive in nature.

environmental archaeology: a field in which inter-disciplinary research, involving archaeologists and natural scientists, is directed at the reconstruction of human use of plants and animals, and how past societies adapted to changing environmental conditions.

eolian deposits: sediments transported by wind (e.g. sand-dunes, loess, etc.).

ethnoarchaeology: the study of contemporary cultures with a view to understanding the behavioral relationships which underlie the production of material culture.

ethnographic analogy: interpretation of archaeological remains by comparison to historical cultures.

ethnography: that aspect of cultural anthropology concerned with the descriptive documentation of living cultures.

ethnohistory: the study of ethnographic cultures through historical records.

ethnology: a subset of cultural anthropology concerned with the comparative study of contemporary cultures, with a view to deriving general principles about human society.

excavation grid: a system of rectangular coordinates, established on the ground surface by stakes and string, which divides a site into excavation units.

experimental archaeology: the study of past behavioral processes through experimental reconstruction under carefully controlled scientific conditions.


fall-off analysis:
the study of regularities in the way in which quantities of traded items found in the archaeological record decline as the distance from the source increases. This may be plotted as a falloff curve, with the quantities of material (y-axis) plotted against distance from source (X-axis).

faunal dating: a method of relative dating based on observing the evolutionary changes in particular species of mammals, so as to form a rough chronological sequence.

faunal remains: bones and other animal parts found in archaeological sites. Important in the reconstruction of past ecosystems and cultural subsistence patterns.

field data forms: printed forms used to record archaeological survey or excavation information. Special forms are frequently used to record artifact proveniences; features and burials; site locations and descriptions; and level-notes.

fission-track dating: a dating method based on the operation of a radioactive clock, the spontaneous fission of an isotope of uranium present in a wide range of rocks and minerals. As with potassium-argon dating, with whose time range it overlaps, the method gives useful dates from rocks adjacent to archaeological material.

flake: a fragment removed from a core or nucleus of cryptocrystalline or fine-grained rock by percussion or pressure. May be used as a tool with no further deliberate modification, may be retouched, or may serve as a preform for further reduction.

floral remains: remnants of past vegetation found in archaeological sites (see microfloral remains). Useful in the reconstruction of past environments.

fluvial deposits: sediments laid down by running water.

frequency seriation: a relative dating method which relies principally on measuring changes in the proportional abundance, or frequency, observed among finds (e.g. counts of tool types, or of ceramic fabrics).

functionalism: the theory that all elements of a culture are functional in that they serve to satisfy culturally defined needs of the people in that society or requirements of the society as a whole.


geochemical analysis:
the investigatory technique which involves taking soil samples at regular intervals from the surface of a site, and measuring their phosphate content and other chemical properties.

grave goods (also: "grave inclusions", "mortuary goods", etc.): tools, weapons, food, or ceremonial objects placed with a burial.

graver: a small pointed or chisel-like stone tool used for incising or engraving.

grid-system: a system of rectangular excavation or sampling units laid over a site by strings and stakes.

ground reconnaissance: a collective name for a wide variety of methods for identifying individual archaeolog ical sites, including consultation of documentary sources, place-name evidence, local folklore, and legend, but primarily actual fieldwork.

ground stone: stone artifacts shaped by sawing, grinding, and/or polishing with abrasive materials (e.g. "ground slate knives", "polished soapstone pendants" etc.).


a small, simple, hand-held surveying instrument for establishing horizontal lines-of-sight over short distances.

historical archaeology: the archaeological study of historically documented cultures. In North America, research is directed at colonial and post-colonial settlement, analogous to the study of medieval and post-medieval archaeology in Europe.

historical particularism: a detailed descriptive approach to anthropology associated with Franz Boas and his students, and designed as an alternative to the broad generalizing approach favored by anthropologists such as Morgan and Tylor.

historiographic approach: a form of explanation based primarily on traditional descriptive historical frameworks.

hoards: deliberately buried groups of valuables or prized possessions, often in times of conflict or war, and which, for one reason or another, have not been reclaimed. Metal hoards are a primary source of evidence for the European Bronze Age.

holocene: the post-glacial period, beginning about 10,000 B.P.

horizontal datum: a base measuring point ("0.0 point") used as the origin of rectangular coordinate systems for mapping or for maintaining excavation provenience.

horizontal provenience: the location of an object on a two-dimensional plane surface.

house-pit: an aboriginally excavated house floor.

hypothetico-deductive explanation: a form of explanation based on the formulation of hypotheses and the establishment from them by deduction of consequences which can then be tested against the archaeological data.


an important component of cognitive archaeology, this involves the study of artistic representations which usually have an overt religious or ceremonial significance; e.g. individual deities may be distinguished, each with a special characteristic, such as corn with the corn god, or the sun with a sun goddess etc.

idealist explanation: a form of explanation that lays great stress on the search for insights into the historical circumstances leading up to the event under study in terms primarily of the ideas and motives of the individuals involved.

in situ: archaeological items are said to be "in situ " when they are found in the location where they were last deposited.

industry: all the artifacts in a site that are made from the same material, such as the bone industry.

Iron Age: a cultural stage characterized by the use of iron as the main metal.

isotopic analysis: an important source of information on the reconstruction of prehistoric diets, this technique analyzes the ratios of the principal isotopes preserved in human bone; in effect the method reads the chemical signatures left in the body by different foods. Isotopic analysis is also used in characterization studies.


a type of special activity site where large game animals were killed and butchered.


landscape archaeology:
the study of individual features including settlements.

level bag: a bag containing excavated materials from a single level of a single excavation unit.

lexicostatistics: the study of linguistic divergence between two languages, based on changes in a list of common vocabulary terms and the sharing of common root words (see also glottochronology).

lichenometry: the study of lichen growth as an aid to dating surface rock features and rock art.
life expectancy: the length of time that a person can, on the average, expect to live.

light-table: a glass-topped table illuminated from underneath, used in the laboratory photography of archaeological specimens.

lineage: a unilineal descent group composed of people who trace their genealogies through specified links to a common ancestor.

linguistic anthropology: a subdivision of anthropology that is concerned primarily with unwritten languages (both prehistoric and modern), with variation within languages, and with the social uses of language; traditionally divided into three branches: descriptive linguistics, the systematic study of the way language is constructed and used; historical linguistics, the study of the origin of language in general and of the evolution of the languages people speak today; and sociolinguistics, the study of the relationship between language and social relations.

lithic technology: the process of manufacturing tools etc. from stone. Most frequently refers to stone flaking.

lithology: the identification and study of rocks.

living floor: the horizontal layer of an archaeological site that was once the surface occupied by a prehistoric group. It is identified both by the fact that it is hard-packed and also by the artifacts located on its surface.

locality: a very large site or site-area composed of 2 or more concentrations or clusterings of cultural remains.


an electronic device for detecting small anomalies in the earth's magnetic field. Can be used to explore certain subsurface characteristics of an archaeological site prior to excavation.

material culture: the buildings, tools, and other artifacts that include any material item that has had cultural meaning ascribed to it, past and present.

Mesolithic: an Old World chronological period beginning around 10,000 years ago, situated between the Paleolithic and the Neolithic, and associated with the rise to dominance of microliths.

microfaunal remains: very small animal remains, such as rodent bones, tiny bone fragments, insects, small mollusks, foraminifera, etc., discovered in an archaeological site.

microfloral remains: very small plant materials such as seeds, pollen, spores, phytoliths etc. discovered in an archaeological site. Microfauna and microflora are extremely important in paleoenvironmental re-construction.

midden: the accumulation of debris and domestic waste products resulting from human use. The long-term disposal of refuse can result in stratified deposits, which are useful for relative dating.

mobiliary art: a term used for the portable art of the Ice Age, comprising engravings and carvings on small objects of stone, antler, bone, and ivory.

mold: a cavity left in firm sediment by the decayed body of an organism.

monocausal explanation: the attribution of one cause to the existence of a phenomenon.

mosaic evolution: the concept that major evolutionary changes tend to take place in stages, not all at once. Human evolution shows a mosaic pattern in the fact that small canine teeth, large brains, and tool use did not all evolve at the same time.

multi-component: a site is said to be multi-component when it shows evidence of 2 or more distinctive cultural occupations.

multicausal explanation: the attribution of more than one cause to the existence of a phenomenon.

multilineal evolutionism: an anthropological approach that focuses on the development of individual cultures or populations without insisting that all follow the same evolutionary pattern.

multiplier effect: a term used in systems thinking to describe the process by which changes in one field of human activity (subsystem) sometimes act to promote changes in other fields (subsystems) and in turn act on the original subsystem itself. An instance of positive feedback, it is thought by some to be one of the primary mechanisms of societal change.

multivariate explanation: explanation of culture change, e.g. the origin of the state, which, in contrast to monocausal approaches, stresses the interaction of several factors operating simultaneously.


Neolithic Revolution:
a term coined by V.G. Childe in 1941 to describe the origin and consequences of farming (i.e. the development of stock raising and agriculture), allowing the widespread development of settled village life.

neutron scattering: a remote sensing technique involving the placing of a probe into the soil in order to measure the relative rates of neutron flows through the soil. Since stone produces a lower count rate than soil. buried features can often be detected.

non-probabilistic sampling: a non-statistical sampling strategy (in contrast to probabilistic sampling) which concentrates on sampling areas on the basis of intuition, historical documentation, or long field experience in the area.


off-site data:
evidence from a range of -information, including scatters of artifacts and features such as plowmarks and field boundaries, that provides important evidence about human exploitation of the environment.

open-area excavation: the opening up of large horizontal areas for excavation, used especially where single period deposits lie close to the surface as, for example, with the remains of American Indian or European Neolithic long houses.

osteodontokeratic culture: an archaeological culture based upon tools made of bone, teeth, and hoary.

osteology: the study of bones.

ostracum: fragments (as of pottery) containing inscriptions. The singular is "ostraca."

outwash channel: a stream valley formed by glacial melt-water.

outwash deposit: fluvial sediments laid down by glacial melt-water.


the study of the fossil record and archaeology.

paleoecology: the study of the relationship of extinct organisms or groups of organisms to their environments.

paleoentomology: the study of insects from archaeological contexts. The survival of insect exoskeletons, which are quite resistant to decomposition, is an important source of evidence in the reconstruction of paleo-environments.

paleoethnobotany (archaeobotany): the recovery and identification of plant remains from archaeological contexts, important in the reconstruction of past environments and economies.

paleoindian: a term most frequently applied to early projectile point "cultures" of North America (e.g. Clovis, Folsom, Cody, etc.).

Paleolithic: the archaeological period before c.10,000 BC, characterized by the earliest known stone tool manufacture.

paleontologists: experts on animal life of the distant past.

paleontology: that specialized branch of physical anthropology that analyzes the emergence and subsequent evolution of human physiology.

palynology: the analysis of fossil pollen as an aid to the reconstruction of past vegetation and climates.

parietal art: a term used to designate art on the walls of caves and shelters, or on huge blocks.

pedestal: a raised area isolated around important excavated materials to facilitate their study.

petroglyph: pictures, symbols, or other art work pecked, carved or incised on natural rock surfaces.

physical anthropology: the scientific study of the physical characteristics, variability, and evolution of the human organism.

physical environment: the complex of inanimate elements that surround an organism.

pictograph: aboriginally painted designs on natural rock surfaces. Red ochre is the most frequently used pigment and natural or abstract motifs may be represented.

pithouse: a semi-subterranean "earth-lodge" dwelling. Usually consisted of an earth-covered log framework roof over a circular to rectangular excavation.

Pleistocene: the latest major geological epoch, colloquially known as the "Ice Age" due to the multiple expansion and retreat of glaciers. Ca. 3.000,000-10,000 years B.P.

pot-hunter: an "amateur archaeologist" who vandalizes and destroys sites to add to his private collection, or for monetary gain.

pre-ceramic period: the period prior to the introduction of ceramic artifacts.

prehistory: the period of human history before the advent of writing.

preservation potential: the probability of a bone's being preserved after death.

probabilistic sampling: sampling method, employing probability theory, designed to draw reliable general conclusions about a site or region, based on small sample areas. Four types of sampling strategies are recognized: (1) simple random sampling; (2) stratified random sampling; (3) systematic sampling; (4) stratified systematic sampling.

processual archaeology: an approach that stresses the dynamic relationship between social and economic aspects of culture and the environment as the basis for understanding the processes of culture, change. Uses the scientific methodology of problem statement, hypothesis formulation, and subsequent testing. The earlier functional-processual archaeology has been contrasted with cognitive-processual archaeology, where the emphasis is on integrating ideological and symbolic aspects.

profile drawing: a precise scale drawing of the strata and horizons revealed in the walls of an excavation or other exposure. A section which has been drawn is said to have been "profiled".

profile: a section, or exposure of the ground, showing depositional or developmental strata or horizons.

protohistoric: a period prior to the beginning of written records in an area, but after that area has been initially mentioned in reports written elsewhere.


radioactive decay:
the regular process by which radioactive isotopes break down into their decay products with a half-life which is specific to the isotope in question (see also radiocarbon dating).

radiocarbon dating: an absolute dating method based on the radioactive decay of Carbon-14 contained in organic materials.

radioimmunoassay: a method of protein analysis whereby it is possible to identify protein molecules surviving in fossils which are thousands and even millions of years old.

ranked societies: societies in which there is unequal access to prestige and status e.g. chiefdoms and states.

reconnaissance survey: a broad range of techniques involved in the location of archaeological sites, e.g. the recording of surface artifacts and features, and the sampling of natural and mineral resources.

relativism: the concept that a cultural system can be viewed only in terms of the principles, background, frame of reference, and history that characterize it.

replication: the experimental reproduction or duplication of prehistoric artifacts in an attempt to better understand how they were made and used in the past.


salvage archaeology (also "rescue archaeology", or "crisis archaeology"):
archaeological research carried out to preserve or rescue sites, materials and data from areas threatened by man-made or natural disturbance. The most common type of archaeological fieldwork conducted in North America at the present time.

secondary deposit: a body of natural or cultural sediments which have been disturbed and re-transported since their original deposition.

sediment: material that was suspended in water and that settles at the bottom of a body of water.

sedimentation: the accumulation of geological or organic material deposited by air, water, or ice.

segmentary societies: relatively small and autonomous groups, usually of agriculturalists who regulate their own affairs; in some cases, they may join together with other comparable segmentary societies to form a larger ethnic unit.

seriation: a relative dating technique based on the chronological ordering of a group of artifacts or assemblages, where the most similar are placed adjacent to each other in the series. Two types of seriation can be recognized, frequency seriation and contextual seriation.

settlement pattern: the spatial distribution of cultural activities across a landscape at a given moment in time.

shell midden: a site formed of mainly concentrated shellfish remains.

sidescan sonar: a survey method used in underwater archaeology which provides the broadest view of the sea-floor. An acoustic emitter is towed behind a vessel and sends out sound waves in a fan-shaped beam. These pulses of sonic energy are reflected back to a transducer-- return time depending on distance traveled--and recorded on a rotating drum.

site catchment analysis (SCA): a type of off-site analysis which concentrates on the total area from which a site's contents have been derived; at its simplest, a site's catchment can be thought of as a full inventory of artifactual and non-artifactual remains and their sources.

sociobiology: the study of the biological control of social behavior.

sociocultural anthropology: a branch of anthropology that deals with variations in patterns of social interaction and differences in cultural behavior.

sociolinguistics: a branch of anthropological linguistics that studies how language and culture are related and how language is used in different social contexts.

step-trenching: an excavation method employed on very deep sites, such as Near Eastern tell sites, in which the excavation proceeds downwards in a series of gradually narrowing steps.

storage-pit (also called cache-pits): circular excavations usually less than 3 m in diameter assumed to have aboriginally functioned as storage "cellars".

stratified random sampling: a form of probabilistic sampling in which the region or site is divided into natural zones or strata such as cultivated land and forest; units ate then chosen by a random number procedure so as to give each zone a number of squares proportional to its area, thus overcoming the inherent bias in simple random sampling.

stratified society: a society in which extensive subpopulations are accorded differential treatment.

structuralist approaches: interpretations which stress that human actions are guided by beliefs and symbolic concepts, and that underlying these are structures of thought which find expression in various forms. The proper object of study is therefore to uncover the structures of thought and to study their influence in shaping the ideas in the minds of the human actors who created the archaeological record.

subsistence pattern: the basic means by which a human group extracted and utilized energy from its environment.

surface collection: archaeological materials obtained from the ground surface.

surface finish: in the study of ceramic artifacts, the mainly decorative outer elements of a vessel.

surface scatter: archaeological materials found distributed over the ground surface.

survey area: the region within which archaeological sites are to be located.

surveying: (1) in archaeology, the process of locating archaeological sites. (2) more generally, the process of mapping and measuring points on the ground surface (e.g. "legal" or topographic surveying").

systems thinking: a method of formal analysis in which the object of study is viewed as comprising distinct analytical sub-units. Thus in archaeology, it comprises a form of explanation in which a society or culture is seen through the interaction and interdependence of its component parts; these are referred to as system parameters, and may include such things as population size, settlement pattern, crop production, technology etc.


the study of processes which have affected organic materials such as bone after death; it also involves the microscopic analysis of tooth-marks or cut marks to assess the effects of butchery or scavenging activities.

temper: materials added to clay in the manufacture of ceramic artifacts, to prevent cracking during firing. Could include vegetal fibers, feathers, rock fragments, sand, or ground-up potsherds.

test pit (also "test excavation"): a small exploratory "dig" designed to determine a site's depth, and contents prior to major excavation.

thermal prospection: a remote sensing method used in aerial reconnaissance. It is based on weak variations in temperature which can be found above buried structures whose thermal properties are different from those of their surroundings.

thermoluminescence dating (TL): a chronometric dating method based on the fact that some materials, when heated, give off a flash of light. The intensity of the light is proportional to the amount of radiation the sample has been exposed to and the length of time since the sample was heated. It has much in common with electron spin resonance (ESR).

thin-section analysis: a technique whereby microscopic thin sections are cut from a stone object or potsherd and examined with a petrological microscope to determine the source of the material.

Three Age System: a classification system devised by C.J. Thomsen for the sequence of technological periods (stone, bronze, and iron) in Old World prehistory. It established the principle that by classifying artifacts, one could produce a chronological ordering.

till: sediments laid down directly by glacial ice. Commonly consists of unsorted angular rock fragments mixed with clay.

topographic map: a map which accurately depicts the physical features and relief of an area.

tree-ring dating: a chronometric dating method in which the age of a wood sample is determined by counting the number of annual growth rings.

tuff: geological formation composed of compressed volcanic ash.

typology: the systematic organization of artifacts into types on the basis of shared attributes.


uranium series dating:
a dating method based on the radioactive decay of isotopes of uranium. It has proved particularly useful for the period before 50,000 years ago, which lies outside the time range of radiocarbon dating.

utilized flake: a stone flake used for a tool without deliberate retouch, but exhibiting use-wear.

utilized material: pieces of stone that have been used without modification.


any property that may be displayed in different forms.

ventral: the front or bottom side of an animal or artifact.

vertical datum: a base measurement point from which all elevations are determined.


the natural chemical or physical alteration of an object or deposit through time.

world system: a term coined by the historian Wallerstein to designate an economic unit, articulated by trade networks extending far beyond the boundaries of individual political units (nation states), and linking them together in a larger functioning unit.


X-ray diffraction analysis:
a technique used in identifying minerals present in artifact raw materials; it can also be used in geomorphological contexts to identify particular clay minerals in sediments, and thus the specific source from which the sediment was derived.

X-ray fluorescence spectrometry (XRF): a method used in the analysis of artifact composition, in which the sample is irradiated with a beam of X-rays which excite electrons associated with atoms on the surface.


the study of faunal remains found in archaeological sites and their cultural significance.

zoomorphic: "animal-like". refers to art-work or decorated objects with an animal motif or appearance.

Print This Page | Email This Page
About Us SiteMap Feedback
Copyright © China Internet Information Center. All Rights Reserved
E-mail: webmaster@china.org.cn Tel: 86-10-68326688