Glossary

(Terms in italics are defined elsewhere in the glossary.)

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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. (Chapter 4)

achieved status Social standing and prestige reflecting the ability of an individual to acquire an established position in society as a result of individual accomplishments (cf. ascribed status). (Chapter 5)

aerial reconnaissance An important survey technique in the discovery and recording of archaeological sites (see also reconnaissance survey). (Chapter 3)

alleles Different sequences of genetic material occupying the same locus on the DNA molecule; alleles of the same gene differ by mutation at one or more locations within the same length of DNA. (Chapter 11)

alloying Technique involving the mixing of two or more metals to create a new material, e.g. the fusion of copper and tin to make bronze. (Chapter 8)

ALS (Airborne Laser Scanning) See LIDAR.

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. (Chapter 4)

annealing In copper and bronze metallurgy, this refers to the repeated process of heating and hammering the material to produce the desired shape. (Chapter 8)

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. (Introduction)

archaeobotany See paleoethnobotany.

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). (Chapter 1)

archaeology A subdiscipline of anthropology involving the study of the human past through its material remains. (Introduction)

archaeology of cult The study of the material indications of patterned actions undertaken in response to religious beliefs. (Chapter 10)

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 remanent magnetism in materials such as baked clay structures (ovens, kilns, and hearths). (Chapter 4)

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. (Chapters 6 & 7)

artifact Any portable object used, modified, or made by humans; e.g. stone tools, pottery, and metal weapons. (Chapter 3)

ascribed status Social standing or prestige which is the result of inheritance or hereditary factors (cf. achieved status). (Chapter 5)

assemblage A group of artifacts recurring together at a particular time and place, and representing the sum of human activities. (Chapter 3)

association The co-occurrence of an artifact with other archaeological remains, usually in the same matrix. (Chapter 2)

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. (Chapters 8 & 9)

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. (Chapter 3)

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. (Chapter 7)

augering A subsurface detection method using either a hand- or machine-powered drill to determine the depth and character of archaeological deposits. (Chapter 3)

Australopithecus A collective name for the earliest known hominins emerging about 5 million years ago in East Africa. (Chapter 4)

band A term used to describe small-scale societies of hunters and gatherers, generally less than 100 people, who move seasonally to exploit wild (undomesticated) food resources. Kinship ties play an important part in social organization. (Chapter 5)

bifurcation See self-organization.

bioarchaeology The study of human remains (but in the Old World it is sometimes applied to other kinds of organic remains such as animal bones). (Chapter 11)

biological anthropology See physical anthropology.

bosing A subsurface detection method performed by striking the ground with a heavy wooden mallet or a lead-filled container on a long handle. (Chapter 3)

brain endocasts These are made by pouring latex rubber into a skull, so 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 hominin skulls. (Chapter 11)

catastrophe theory A branch of mathematical topology developed by René Thom which is concerned with the way in which nonlinear interactions within systems can produce sudden and dramatic effects; it is argued that there are only a limited number of ways in which such changes can take place, and these are defined as elementary catastrophes. (Chapter 12)

catastrophic age profile A mortality pattern based on bone or tooth wear analysis, and corresponding to a "natural" age distribution in which the older the age group, the fewer the individuals it has. This pattern is often found in contexts such as flash floods, epidemics, or volcanic eruptions. (Chapter 7)

cenote A ritual well, for example at the late Maya site of Chichen Itza, into which enormous quantities of symbolically rich goods had been deposited. (Chapter 10)

central place theory Developed by the geographer Christaller to explain the spacing and function of the settlement landscape. Under idealized conditions, he argued, central places of the same size and nature would be equidistant from each other, surrounded by secondary centers with their own smaller satellites. In spite of its limitations, central place theory has found useful applications in archaeology as a preliminary heuristic device. (Chapter 5)

chaîne opératoire Ordered chain of actions, gestures, and processes in a production sequence (e.g. of a stone tool or a pot) which led to the transformation of a given material toward the finished product. The concept, introduced by André Leroi-Gourhan, is significant in allowing the archaeologist to infer back from the finished artifact to the procedures, the intentionality in the production sequence, and ultimately to the conceptual template of the maker. (Chapter 8)

characterization (sourcing) The application of techniques of examination by which characteristic properties of the constituent material of traded goods can be identified, and thus their source of origin; e.g. petrographic thin-section analysis. (Chapter 9)

chiefdom A term used to describe a society that operates on the principle of ranking, i.e. differential social status. Different lineages are graded on a scale of prestige, calculated by how closely related one is to the chief. The chiefdom generally has a permanent ritual and ceremonial center, as well as being characterized by local specialization in crafts. (Chapter 5)

chinampas The areas of fertile reclaimed land, constructed by the Aztecs, and made of mud dredged from canals. (Chapter 6)

chronometric dating See absolute dating.

classification The ordering of phenomena into groups or other classificatory schemes on the basis of shared attributes (see also type and typology). (Chapters 1 & 4)

CLIMAP A project aimed at producing paleoclimatic maps showing sea-surface temperatures in different parts of the globe, at various periods. (Chapter 6)

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. (Chapter 5)

cognitive archaeology The study of past ways of thought and symbolic structures from material remains. (Chapter 10)

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. (Chapter 10)

cognitive-processual approach An alternative to the materialist orientation of the functional-processual approach, it is concerned with (1) the integration of the cognitive and symbolic with other aspects of early societies; (2) the role of ideology as an active organizational force. It employs the theoretical approach of methodological individualism. (Chapters 1 & 12)

computerized (computed) axial tomography (CAT or CT scanner) The method by which scanners allow detailed internal views of bodies such as mummies. The body is passed into the machine and images of cross-sectional "slices" through the body are produced. (Chapter 11)

conjoining See refitting.

conjunctive approach A methodological alternative to traditional normative archaeology, argued by Walter Taylor (1948), in which the full range of a culture system was to be taken into consideration in explanatory models. (Chapter 1)

context An artifact’s context usually consists of its immediate matrix (the material around it e.g. gravel, clay, or sand), its provenience (horizontal and vertical position in the matrix), and its association with other artifacts (with other archaeological remains, usually in the same matrix). (Chapter 2)

contextual seriation A method of relative dating pioneered by Flinders Petrie in the 19th century, in which artifacts are arranged according to the frequencies of their co-occurrence in specific contexts (usually burials). (Chapter 4)

contract archaeology Archaeological research conducted under the aegis of federal or state legislation, often in advance of highway construction or urban development, where the archaeologist is contracted to undertake the necessary research. (Chapter 14)

coprolites Fossilized feces; these contain food residues that can be used to reconstruct diet and subsistence activities. See also paleofecal matter. (Chapter 7)

core A lithic artifact used as a blank from which other tools or flakes are made. (Chapter 8)

Critical Theory A theoretical approach developed by the so-called "Frankfurt School" of German social thinkers, which stresses that all knowledge is historical, and in a sense biased communication; thus, all claims to "objective" knowledge are illusory. (Chapter 12)

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. (Introduction)

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. (Chapter 1)

cultural evolution The theory that societal change can be understood by analogy with processes underlying the biological evolution of species. (Chapter 1)

cultural group A complex of regularly occurring associated artifacts, features, burial types, and house forms comprising a distinct identity. (Chapter 5)

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. (Chapter 14)

culture A term used by anthropologists when referring to the non-biological characteristics unique to a particular society (cf. archaeological culture). (Chapter 1)

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). (Chapter 12)

deduction A process of reasoning by which more specific consequences are inferred by rigorous argument from more general propositions (cf. induction). (Chapter 12)

deductive nomological (D–N) explanation A formal method of explanation based on the testing of hypotheses derived from general laws. (Chapter 12)

deep-sea cores Cores drilled from the seabed 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. (Chapter 4)

demography The study of the processes which contribute to population structure and their temporal and spatial dynamics. (Chapter 11)

dendrochronology The study of tree-ring patterns; annual variations in climatic conditions which produce differential growth can be used both as a measure of environmental change, and as the basis for a chronology. (Chapter 4)

diachronic Referring to phenomena as they change over time; i.e. employing a chronological perspective (cf. synchronic). (Chapter 12)

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. Assemblages directly reflect the floristic composition of the water’s extinct communities, as well as the water’s salinity, alkalinity, and nutrient status. (Chapter 6)

diffusionist approach The theory popularized by V.G. Childe that all the attributes of civilization from architecture to metalworking had diffused from the Near East to Europe. (Chapter 1)

DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid) The material which carries the hereditary instructions (the "blueprint") which determine the formation of all living organisms. Genes, the organizers of inheritance, are composed of DNA. (Chapter 11)

dowsing The supposed location of subsurface features by employing a twig, copper rod, pendulum, or other instrument; discontinuous movements in these instruments are believed by some to record the existence of buried features. (Chapter 3)

earth resistance survey A method of subsurface detection which measures changes in conductivity by passing electrical current through ground soils. This is generally a consequence of moisture content, and in this way, buried features can be detected by differential retention of groundwater. (Chapter 3)

echo-sounding An acoustic underwater survey technique, used to trace the topography of submerged coastal plains and other buried land surfaces (see also seismic reflection profiler). (Chapter 6)

ecofacts Non-artifactual organic and environmental remains which have cultural relevance, e.g. faunal and floral material as well as soils and sediments. (Chapters 2 & 6)

ecological determinism A form of explanation in which it is implicit that changes in the environment determine changes in human society. (Chapter 12)

electrical resistivity See earth resistance survey.

electrolysis 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. (Chapter 2)

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. (Chapter 9)

electron spin resonance (ESR) Enables trapped electrons within bone and shell to be measured without the heating that thermoluminescence requires. As with TL, the number of trapped electrons indicates the age of the specimen. (Chapter 4)

empathetic method The use of personal intuition (in German Einfühlung) to seek to understand the inner lives of other people, using the assumption that there is a common structure to human experience. The assumption that the study of the inner experience of humans provides a handle for interpreting prehistory and history is made by idealist thinkers such as B. Croce, R.G. Collingwood and members of the postprocessual school of thought. (Chapter 12)

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. (Chapters 5 & 9)

environmental archaeology A field of inter-disciplinary research – archaeology and natural science – is directed at the reconstruction of human use of plants and animals, and how past societies adapted to changing environmental conditions. (Chapters 6 & 7)

environmental circumscription An explanation for the origins of the state propounded by Robert Carneiro that emphasizes the fundamental role exerted by environmental constraints and by territorial limitations. (Chapter 12)

eoliths Crude stone pebbles found in Lower Pleistocene contexts; once thought to be the work of human agency, but now generally regarded as natural products. (Chapter 8)

ethnicity The existence of ethnic groups, including tribal groups. Though these are difficult to recognize from the archaeological record, the study of language and linguistic boundaries shows that ethnic groups are often correlated with language areas (see ethnos). (Chapter 5)

ethnoarchaeology The study of contemporary cultures with a view to understanding the behavioral relationships which underlie the production of material culture. (Introduction & Chapter 8)

ethnography A subset of cultural anthropology concerned with the study of contemporary cultures through first-hand observation. (Introduction)

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

ethnos The ethnic group, defined as a firm aggregate of people, historically established on a given territory, possessing in common relatively stable peculiarities of language and culture, and also recognizing their unity and difference as expressed in a self-appointed name (ethnonym) (see ethnicity). (Chapter 5)

evolution The process of growth and development generally accompanied by increasing complexity. In biology, this change is tied to Darwin’s concept of natural selection as the basis of species survival. Darwin’s work laid the foundations for the study of artifact typology, pioneered by such scholars as Pitt-Rivers and Montelius. (Chapter 1)

evolutionary archaeology The idea that the processes responsible for biological evolution also drive culture change, i.e. the application of Darwinian evolutionary theory to the archaeological record. See also meme. (Chapter 12)

excavation The principal method of data acquisition in archaeology, involving the systematic uncovering of archaeological remains through the removal of the deposits of soil and the other material covering them and accompanying them. (Chapter 3)

experimental archaeology The study of past behavioral processes through experimental reconstruction under carefully controlled scientific conditions. (Chapters 2, 7, 8, & 14)