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Glossary for archaeological terms
This page is a glossary of archaeology, the study of the human past from material remains.
The age of an object with reference to a fixed and specific time scale, as determined by some method of absolute dating, e.g. 10,000 BP or 1.9 mya.
A person interested in the collection, curation and/or study of antiquities, particularly in reference to the intellectual tradition that developed in Europe in the 16th-17th centuries and is considered a precursor to modern archaeology.
Two or more excavated objects that are thought to be related are said to be in association, e.g. artefacts discovered in close proximity within the same context, or architectural features thought to have been standing at the same time.
1. To re-fill a trench once an excavation has been completed.
2. Material used for backfilling, usually spoil from the original excavation.
A wall of earth left in place between excavated areas in order to maintain the structural integrity of the trench and/or expose a section to aid in interpretation.
A series of side-by-side graphs, produced by archaeobotanists and palynologists, showing the frequency of different types (species) of pollen in a soil sample by depth. Usually presented vertically, with the shallowest samples at the top and the deepest at the bottom, to represent a pollen core or other stratified deposit. The depth of the sample corresponds roughly to how old it is, and therefore the vertical axis may also contain an estimate of its absolute age. Used to visualise the environmental history of the place where the sample was taken.
absolute dating technique used to determine the age of organic materials less than 50,000 years old. Age is determined by examining the loss of the unstable carbon-14 isotope, which is absorbed by all living organisms during their lifespan. The rate of decay of this unstable isotope after the organism has died is assumed to be constant, and is measured in half-lives of 5730 + 40 years, meaning that the amount of carbon-14 is reduced to half the amount after about 5730 years. Dates generated by radiocarbon dating have to be calibrated using dates derived from other absolute dating methods, such as dendrochronology and ice cores.
A formal programme of observation and investigation conducted during any operation carried out for non-archaeological reasons.
The use of flowing water to force excavated sediment through a screen or mesh and recover small artefacts. It is more effective than dry sieving in heavier soils and, as part of the process of flotation, can be used to recover very small organic remains.