Common Terms used in Archaeology

The term Archaeology refers to the study of cultures through processing and interpreting remains left behind. Through interpreting and understanding the past, we are able to more clearly understand the behaviors of individual people groups. Because the earliest societies did not leave written records, Archaeology is vital in interpreting the history of these groups.

Archeaology begins with surveyance which refers to the process of identifying specifics sites (an area to be examined more closely). Some sites may be found unexpectedly as when a crew is preparing the ground to build and an important site is discovered. The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered by a couple of shepherds who heard glass break in a cave when he threw a pebble into it. Historical records may be used to identify the locations of long deserted areas. Modern technology may also be utilized such as remote sensing and aerial views which may indicate the likelihood of remains from the differences in topography. “Excavation” refers to the process of digging and processing a specific site. Excavations are commonly referred to as “digs”.

After the location has been identified, a “test pit” may be conducted. This refers to a small sample dug to determine the likelihood of finding an appropriate site. After the site is verified, it is carefully divided into “grids” which are uniform squares designed to preserve the specific area excavated. Often the site may have differing levels or “strata” which indicate the use of the site by people groups in differing time periods. These levels are numbered beginning with the top layer.

“Artifacts” refer to objects found at the site that indicate the presence of people. Artifacts can be articles made by people such as weapons and pottery, or they can refer to objects modified by people such as arrowheads. “Pot sherd” refers to a piece of broken pottery. The term “lithic” is used to describe an item made of stone. When an artifact is found, the “context” of the discovery (the location of the artifact and its proximity to other artifacts) is carefully recorded for future study. The context is extremely important in interpreting the artifacts at a future date. “Assemblage” refers to artifacts found at the same site in the same level that are assumed to have been used for similar purposes. “Midden” refers to an area used to dump refuse. “Material remains” are items that indicate the presence of human activity such as ashes or the remains of plants or animals.

Archaeology is considered a science because of its extensive use of science to locate, identify, and classify ancient locations. It can also be classified as one of the humanities because of its emphasis on interpreting the societies and norms of ancient cultures. The work can be both exhilerating with important and historic finds which illuminate the rise of humanity and tedious with repetitious and physically demanding tasks.