Glossary of Archaeological/Anthropological Terms


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FABRIC (1) __ A material woven of plant or animal fibers.

FABRIC (2) __ The orientation of sedimentary particles. 

FACTOR ANALYSIS __ A multivariate statistical technique which assesses the degree of variation between artifact types, and is based on a matrix of correlation coefficients which measure the relative association between any two variables.

FAIENCE __ Quartz sand heated in crucible with soda until the quartz melts then solidifies into glaze. Many colors were done, but most popular was green or turquoise made by added copper filings before heating. An art found mostly in ancient Egypt.  

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). 

FALSE DOOR __ A carved or painted door in an Egyptian tomb which was an entry and exit point for the soul of the deceased.

FAMILY __ A major division of an order, consisting of closely related genera.

FAMILY HOUSEHOLD __ A household formed on the basis of kinship and marriage. 

FAMILY UNIT __ Among chimpanzees, a small group consisting of a mother with some or all of her offspring.

FAUCES __ Entrance passage of a Roman house.

FAUNA __ A Latin term which refers to animals remains, as opposed to flora which refers to plant remains.

FAUNAL ANALYSIS __ In archaeology, the scientific study of animal remains. As different species are adapted to different environments, the kinds of animal bone found in an archaeological site can reveal information about local conditions. For example, the dominance of bison in the faunal record might indicate proximity to grasslands at the time that the site was occupied. Because many species bear young only in a certain season, and since an expert can accurately determine an animal's age at the time of death, faunal analysis can also yield information of the time of year in which a site was occupied. The presence of seasonally migratory species may lend additional support to such conclusions. Finally, because most faunal material in sites are the remains of feasts, analysis can reveal information on the diet of the site's occupants and allow estimates of the number of people who may have resided there.

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 __ The (usually) hard tissues of birds, fish and animals which survive in the archaeological record.

FEATURE (1) __ Something distinctive encountered on the ground surface or during the course of excavations which is not artifactual in the usual sense. Its significance may lie not in the object or objects which constitute the feature, but rather in the relationship of the objects to each other. Thus while a cobble, fleck of ash or fragment of burned bone would mean little if found in isolation, a concentration of bone and ash surrounded by a circle of cobbles would suggest a cooking area, and this patterning would constitute the feature. Other examples of features could include post moulds, storage pits, a garbage dump, a cache of tools, a flint knapping area, a collapsed dwelling or a burial.

FEATURE (2) __ A type of material remain that cannot be removed from a site such as roasting pits, fire hearths, house floors or post molds.

FELDSPAR __ A group of rock-forming minerals all of which consist of aluminum silicates and which may contain potassium, sodium, calcium or barium. Feldspars are the chief elements of igneous rock.

FERTILE CRESCENT __ A region of the Middle East arching across the northern part of the Syrian Desert and extending from the Nile Valley to the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The ancient civilizations of Egypt, Phoenicia, Assyria, and Babylonia developed in this area, which was also the site of numerous migrations and invasions.
FICTIVE KIN __ Persons such as godparents, and old family friends whom children call "aunt" and "uncle". 

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. 

FIELD DEPENDENCE __ The tendency to see the field of vision as a single unit, with separate objects existing only as part of the whole. 

FIELD INDEPENDENCE __ The tendency to see the objects in one's field of vision as discrete units, distinct from the field as a whole.

FIELD NOTES __ Archaeologists keep a notebook with them when they are digging so they can note when they change levels and what kinds of things they find. They need to keep another record in case the profile or floor plan they drew wasn't very clear. Later, in the lab, archaeologists might question the context of an object. If they have notes to go back and look at, it makes it easier to figure out what was going on.

FIELDWORK __ The firsthand observation of human societies. 

FILIGREE __ Fine open metalwork using wires and soldering, first developed in the Near East.

FILL __ Sand, earth or other material which is contained within a feature or overlying a site.

FINDSPOT __ The location in which an artifact is found.

FIRE-BROKEN ROCK __ Stone which has been fractured by exposure to heat. Generally, a fire fracture is difficult to distinguish from other forms of breakage such as that due to freezing. For that reason other evidence (such as scorching) is required to identify the cause of fracturing.

FIRED __ Hardened (as in ceramics) by exposure to intense heat.

FIRE DRILL __ A fire-making device consisting of a wooden shaft, the tip of which is twirled against another piece of wood until the friction creates a spark.

FIRE SPALL __ A flake detached by exposure to intense heat.
FISHING CAMP __ A site used primarily for the acquisition of fish and possibly the taking of other aquatic species.

FISSION-FUSION SOCIETY __ A constantly changing form of social organization whereby large groups undergo fission into smaller units and small units fuse into larger units in response to the activity of the group and the season of the year.

FISSION TRACK DATING __ A method of dating an object that counts the number of tracks made by the breakdown of radiocarbon elements. The older an object is the more tracks it leaves. This method is used mostly on rocks, pottery, and glass.

FITNESS __ The measure of how well an individual or population is adapted to a specific ecological niche. 

FLAGGING __ Brightly colored plastic ribbon used to mark features, sites, surveyed stakes etc., to aid in their relocation.

FLAKE __ A thin chip of stone detached from either a larger flake or a core by the application of pressure or a blow (Percussion). see flaking, pressure; flaking, percussion. Characteristically, manufactured flakes have a bulb of percussion, a bulbar scar and compression rings radiating outward from the point of impact on the ventral face, and the remnant of the striking platform. channel flake. a long, thin flake detached in such a way as to produce a "groove" on the finished artifact. Such artifacts are said to be fluted. decortification flake. a flake which serves to remove part of the weathered outer surface (cortex) of a core. lamellar flake. a flake with parallel edges; see prismatic flake. prismatic flake. a parallel-sided flake, either triangular or quadrilateral in cross-section, produced from a specially prepared core. Prismatic flakes are also known as blades (sense 4). waste flake. one which is produced as a by-product of the manufacture of something else; a discarded unused flake.

FLAKER __ An implement of bone, antler, stone or other material, used to remove flakes from a core or preform.

FLAKING __ Knapping; chipping; the act of removing flakes from a core or preform. alternate flaking. the process of removing flakes from alternate faces along the edge of a tool, thus producing a wavy or sinuous edge. collateral flaking. a kind of flaking produced by removal of flakes from the face of a blade which begin at either edge and terminate at the midline. This kind of flaking commonly produces a diamond-shaped cross-section. horizontal flaking. a kind of flaking in which the flake scars are at right angles to the long axis of the blade. oblique flaking. a kind of flaking in which the flake scars are at an angle to the long axis of the blade. parallel flaking. a kind of flaking in which the flake scars are parallel to one another. percussion flaking. the removal of flakes by striking. pressure flaking. the removal of flakes by the application of pressure. retouch flaking. a form of secondary flaking, always accomplished by pressure, which is used to sharpen or straighten an edge. ripple flaking. a fine form of parallel flaking which gives a surface the appearance of ripples. secondary flaking. a fine form of flaking intended to remove surface irregularities, or to sharpen or straighten an edge. transverse flaking. a kind of flaking in which the flake scars run across the full width of the blade.

FLEXED BURIAL __ A human interment where the body is placed in a semi-fetal Position with the knees drawn up against the chest and hands near the chin.

FLINT (1) __ A hard but brittle microcrystalline form of quartz found in sedimentary limestone or in chalk deposits. True flint occurs only in the Old World.

FLINT (2) __ Any kind of stone which can be flaked.

FLINT KNAPPING __ The flaking of stone for the purpose of manufacturing tools regardless of whether the stone is in fact flint.

FLOODWATER FARMING __ The practice of planting crops in areas that are flooded every year in the rainy season, the floodwaters thus providing natural irrigation.

FLOOR PLAN __ Archaeologists draw a floor plan of the unit they are digging in at the bottom of every level, or when they find a feature such as a fire pit. A floor plan shows how something looks from above.

FLORA __ The plant life of a certain place and/or time.

FLORAL REMAINS __ Pollen, seeds, wood charcoal and other plant parts which may be preserved in the archaeological record. Analysis of these can provide information on past environments and subsistence patterns.

FLOTATION __ A method of obtaining seeds and other organic materials from soil by using liquids.

FLUORINE TEST __ A dating method that measures the amount of fluorine, nitrogen, and uranium in bones. Older bones have more fluorine and uranium and less nitrogen. But because decomposition happens at different speeds in different places, it's not possible to compare bones from different sites. 

FLUTE __ A long, narrow flake removed from a spear point to aid in the binding of the point to the spear shaft.

FLUVIUM __ Any river-deposited sediment.

FOLK TAXONOMY __ The classification of phenomena on the basis of cultural tradition. 

FOLKTALES __ Traditional stories found in a culture (generally transmitted orally) that may or may not be based on fact.

FOLSOM __ A town in New Mexico which has given its name to a distinctive fluted projectile point and to the Palaeo-Indian Complex or culture of which it is a part. The Folsom site is of particular significance to the history of American archaeology because it was here that the discoveries were made (l926-28) that conclusively demonstrated the contemporaneity of man with now-extinct species of animals in the New World. The projectile points of the Folsom Complex are among the finest examples of the flint knapper's art found anywhere in the world. Ranging in length from 2 to 7.5 cm, Folsom points are either lanceolate or paralle-sided in outline, and are deeply concave at the base which may give the basal edges an "eared" appearance. Occasionally a small "nipple" or projection may be present at the center of the base. This is a remnant of the striking platform created to enable the removal of the channel flakes which often extend the full length of each face. Associated artifacts include a variety of scraping tools, gravers, knives, grinding stones, hammerstones and gaming pieces. Where preservation is good the predominant faunal association is bison, thus marking a change from the earlier Clovis peoples' focus upon the mammoth. Folsom points occur over a fairly broad area, but excavated sites cluster between Montana and Texas. Folsom points are nearly as rare in Manitoba as Clovis and for much the same reason; Lake Agassiz covered much of the province and the southwestern corner of the province which was available for occupation did not support the kind of vegetation suitable for the animals which Clovis and Folsom peoples hunted. Folsom radiocarbon dates range from approximately 8000 to 9000 B.C.

FOOD CHAIN __ A sequence of sources of energy in which each source is dependent on another source. 

FORAGING __ Collecting wild plants and hunting wild animals for subsistence.

FORAMEN MAGNUM __ The large opening at the base of the skull through which the spinal cord passes.

FORENSIC ANTHROPOLOGY __ The application of the techniques of osteology and skeletal identification to legal problems.

FORESHAFT __ In a compound dart or spear, a shaft to which is attached the projectile point and which in turn fastens to the main or backshaft. The latter falls away after the foreshaft penetrates the prey and thus may be retrieved.

FORGE __ l. a place used for working metal by heating and hammering; a furnace or hearth used for heating metal. 2. to shape metal by heating and hammering.

FORMAL DIMENSION __ The physical properties of artifacts.

FORMAL INTERVIEW __ An interview that consists of questions designed to elicit specific facts, attitudes, and opinions. 
FORMAL ORGANIZATION __ A group that restricts membership and makes use of officially designated positions and roles, formal rules and regulations, and a bureaucratic structure. 

FORMALISM __ A school of economic anthropology which argues that if the concepts of formal economic theory are broadened, they can serve as analytic tools for the study of any economic system. 

FORMATION PROCESS __ Those processes affecting the way in which archaeological materials came to be buried, and their subsequent history afterwards. Cultural formation processes include the deliberate or accidental activities of humans; natural formation processes refer to natural or environmental events which govern the burial and survival of the archaeological record.

FOSSIL __ A remnant or impression of plant or animal life which is preserved. In strictest terms, fossilization refers only to the loss of fats and gelatin from bone and not necessarily the subsequent replacement of these by minerals (mineralization). In its most general (and most incorrect) usage, a fossil may be anything dug from the ground.

FOSSIL BEACH __ A lake or ocean beach developed when the water-level was significantly different from that of the present. Most commonly these will be "raised beaches", or old strandline features and sediments found above the modern shoreline.

FOSSIL CUTICLES __ The outermost protective layer of the skin of leaves or blades of grass, made of cutin, a very resistant material that survives in the archaeological record often in feces. Cuticular analysis is a useful adjunct to palynology in environmental reconstruction. 

FOSSIL ICE WEDGES __ Soil features caused when the ground freezes and contracts, opening up fissures in the permafrost that fill with wedges of ice. The fossil wedges are proof of past cooling of climate and of the depth of permafrost. 

FOUNDER PRINCIPLE __ The situation in which a founding population does not represent a random sample of the original population; a form of sampling error. 

FRATERNAL POLYANDRY __ Marriage of one woman with a set of brothers. 

FREEHOLD __ Private ownership of property.

FREQUENCY DIMENSION __ The number of occurrences of an artifact type.
FRESCO __ A type of wall painting. Paint was applied to freshly spread plaster before it dried. This method locked in the colors, creating vivid and beautiful art.

FRIABLE __ Easily crumbled, as in the case of rock or pottery.

FRIEZE __ Ornamental band.

FROST ACTION __ The process by which objects buried in the ground are moved about by the freezing and expansion of water.

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.

FUNERARY CONES __ Clay cones inserted above an Egyptian tombs entrance with the name and title of the deceased.


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