Glossary of Archaeological/Anthropological Terms


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MACAW __ Large, brightly colored, tropical American birds closely resembling and related to parrots.

MACEDONIA __ Area of ancient Greece north of Mt. Olympus and home of Alexander the Great.

MAENADS __ Female followers of the god Dionysos.

MAGIC __ The supposed art which attempts to influence people or the course of events by supernatural means. The latter may include the use of incantations ("prayers" or songs), graphic representations, or symbols, and the manipulation of objects. Magical beliefs are difficult to infer from the archaeological record, although such items as sucking tubes and medicine bags and other ethnographically known items are occasionally recovered. Some interpret certain examples of rock art, particularly depictions of large game animals, as forms of hunting magic. Painting or engraving the likeness of a prey species on rock may have served to placate the spirit who controlled that species. Alternately, if the animal was represented with arrows in it, the intent may have been to bring about an event by imitating it (imitative magic).

MAGNETIC DATING __ A method of dating that compares the magnetism in an object with changes in the earth's magnetic field over time. This method is used on baked clay and mud.

MAGNETISM REMNANT __ The magnetism acquired by substances containing magnetic compounds after being heated beyond the Curie Point (670 C) and then being allowed to cool. The heating brings about the loss of whatever magnetism the substance may have contained. As it cools, however, the metallic particles align themselves in accordance with the orientation of the magnetic field of the earth. (see magnetometer).

MAGNETOMETER __ A device capable of detecting fluctuations in the strength of the earth's magnetic field at pin point locations. As these variations (or "anomalies") are in part the product of various subsurface features, a magnetometric survey can assist the archaeologist in locating and determining the size and nature of an archaeological site prior to excavation.

MAIZE __ (Indian) corn, zea mays. Maize is one of the oldest and certainly one of the most important of the Native American domesticated plants.

MAMMOTH __ Any of the now-extinct Pleistocene elephants of the genus Mammuthus (or Elaphus). These grassland-adapted animals, the preferred prey species of the Clovis people, became extinct in the ninth millennium B.C.

MANO __ A hand-held stone used as the upper stone (pestle) in milling.

MANUPORT __ An object, usually a cobble, which has been moved from one place to another by humans. Manuports need exhibit no other evidence of cultural modification to warrant classification as artifacts.

MANZANITA __ Also called bearberry. Manzanita is a low- growing evergreen shrub that is found at elevations of 3500 to 8000 feet. The plant is characterized by its red bark and oval-shaped leaves.

MARS __ Roman god of war. Called Ares by the Greeks.

MARY LEAKEY __ Along with her husband, Louis, and son, Richard, Mary Leakey devoted her life to the recovery and interpretation of the bones and tools of early humans in East Africa.

MASS PRODUCTION __ The manufacture of an artifact by a task group that uses division of labour, standardization of parts, and simplification of activities.

MASTABA __ The Arabic word meaning; "bench". Used to describe the private tombs of the Early Egyptian Dynastic Period and Old Kingdom. Rectangular in shape with slightly battened sides; the basic form resembled a bench.
MASTODON __ Any of the now-extinct Pliocene and Pleistocene elephant-like creatures of the genus Mammut (or Mastodon). These browsers (unlike the grazing mammoths) subsisted on twigs and leaves and for that reason their remains are found in what would have been forested regions.

MATERIAL CULTURE __ Those tangible aspects of a culture (such as artifacts, features, architecture, etc.) as opposed to non-material traits (beliefs, attitudes, etc.).

MATRILINEAL __ Pertaining to the tracing of descent or the transmission of wealth or authority primarily through females.

MATRILOCAL __ Pertaining to the custom of a newlywed couple's taking up residence in the home, village or territory of the bride's family.

MATRIX __ The rock or soil material in which fossils or artifacts are found or embedded.

MAUL __ A heavy stone implement with blunted or rounded edges used for pounding and/or crushing. The maul may be grooved to facilitate holding or hafting, and may be classified according to the extent to which the groove travels the circumference of the tool (for example, three-quarter grooved maul, full-grooved maul, etc.).

MAUSOLEUM __ A stately and magnificent tomb, such as the mausoleum of King Mausolos (ruler of Caria, c. 350 A.D.) at Halicarnassus in Asia Minor, and the mausoleum of Augustus (d. 14 A.D.) in Rome.

MAYA __ The Maya originated around 2600 B.C. and rose to prominence around A.D. 250 in present-day Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador. Inheriting the inventions and ideas of earlier civilizations, the Maya developed astronomy, calendrical systems, hieroglyphic writing, ceremonial architecture, and masonry without metal tools. Maya civilization started to decline around A.D. 900, although some peripheral centers continued to thrive until the Spanish conquest in the early sixteenth century.
MAYA AREA __ The Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico and the countries of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

MAYAN __ The language group of the Maya peoples, composed of 31 mutually unintelligible languages.

MEDICINE SOCIETY __ A secret society of Native groups of the central Canadian forests and northern plains. Meetings were held from time to time in specially constructed secret lodges. The ceremonies, conducted by individuals imbued with magical power, centered upon the initiation of new members, healing, and the renewal of the group's contact with the supernatural.

MEDICINE WHEEL __ A circular arrangement of stones with one or more spokes either enclosed by the circle or radiating from it, and occasionally cairns centrally and/or peripherally located. These features, scattered across the northern plains from Wyoming to Manitoba probably served some ceremonial function(s).

MEGALITH __ An arrangement or structure of extremely large stones.

MELEAGER __ Mythical hero who led the hunt for the Calydonian Boar and who died in his youth.

MEMNON __ King of Ethiopia killed by Achilles in the Trojan War.

MERCURY __ Roman name for the Greek god Hermes, messenger of the gods.

MESIC __ Pertaining to or flourishing in conditions of medium dampness.

MESOAMERICA __ The area between northern Mexico and Costa Rica.

MESOCEPHALIC __ Pertaining to a head of medium width in relation to its length; having a cephalic index between 75 and 79.9.

MESOLITHIC __ The period following the Paleolithic during which adaptation involved intensive foraging and experimentation with new food resources.

MESOPHYTE __ A plant which thrives under conditions of average moisture.

MESOPOTAMIA __ Considered to be the birthplace of the first civilizations, Mesopotamia is located in the valley between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers (present-day Iraq).

MESOZOIC __ The so-called Age of the Reptiles. The period between 248 and 65 million years ago, when dinosaurs and the first mammals developed. Characterized by a warmer climate, mild seasons, and higher sea levels.

MESQUITE __ A thorny plant that ranges from shrub to tree size. It grows at elevations below 5000 feet from southern Kansas to southwestern California and northern Mexico.

METALLURGY __ l. the art and/or science of the extraction of metals from their ores and the working of metals including the use of such techniques as the application of heat. 2. the science concerned with the study of metals.

METAMORPHIC __ Pertaining to a rock which has been modified from its original structure by exposure to heat and pressure.

METATE __ The lower, stationary stone used in conjunction with the mano for grinding grain.

MICROBLADE __ A minute parallel-sided blade (sense 4) generally produced by pressure flaking from a specially prepared core.

MICROLITH __ Small tools which may be any of a variety of shapes, and which have been produced from microblades. Too small to have been used without hafting, some were set edge-to-edge in a groove in a bone or wood shaft and so served as cutting tools, while others would have been functional as barbs

MIDDEN __ A heap or stratum of refuse generally located near a habitation site

MIDDLE EAST __ The area (sometimes called the Near East) from Afghanistan to Egypt.

MIDDLE KINGDOM __ Egyptian chronological term for dynasties 11-13.

MIGRATION __ l. the regular movement of animals back and forth between their summer and winter ranges. 2. the movement of a large group of people to a new, permanent residence. 

MINARET __ A tall slender tower on or near a mosque, from which a muezzin summons the people to prayer.

MINERALIZATION __ The process of the replacement of organic material (as in the case of the fats and gelatin in bone) by minerals. The end product is an inorganic object (which may therefore survive for immense periods of time in the archaeological record) in the shape of the original.

MINERVA __ Roman goddess of wisdom. Called Athena by the Greeks.

MINGQI (Chinese) __ Tomb figures or models

MINOANS __ A civilization of ancient Greece located on the island of Crete and named after the legendary King Minos. The most famous Minoan site is the Palace at Knossos.

MINOTAUR __ Mythical half man half bull kept by King Minos in the labyrinth on Crete.

MISSISSIPPIAN __ The general name given to the cultural climax of the eastern United States between A.D. 600 and l600. The core traits include small triangular arrowheads, shell-tempered pottery, and flat-topped earthen pyramids. Some of the latter achieved impressive size; the largest at Cahokia in Missouri stands 30 m high, measures 2l5m by 330m and covers l6 acres. Thatched temples were constructed on top of the mounds which together with other encircled a plaza. Beyond these lay a palisaded earthen embankment and beyond that, a moat. These mound clusters likely served as administrative-ceremonial centers for wide areas. Most people lived in "rural" areas, practised maize, bean and squash horticulture, and by their efforts supported the divine rule, the artisans and the governing elite. Sites are located in major valleys of the Mississippi and its tributaries where flooding would regularly refertilize the farmlands. Mississippian craftsmanship in ceramics, stone, copper and shell was superb and in some cases, art styles bespeak influence from or contact with the high cultures of Mexico. Among the most spectacular aspects of the Mississippian are the artifacts and depictions surrounding the Southern Cult which seems to have concerned itself almost exclusively with death and human sacrifice.

MIXED SITE __ A (generally) multi-component site in which the artifacts from the various occupations cannot be distinguished on stratigraphic grounds. Although they may be rich in terms of artifact yield, they may provide little information of significance to the archaeologist due to lack of provenience data.

MIXTEC __ The Native American people populating the region in the modern Mexican state of Oaxaca.

MOAI __ Giant statues of human figures found on the Polynesian island called Easter Island or Rapa Nui. 

MODE __ l. a way of doing or being. 2. in ceramic analysis, a combination of decorative elements which commonly occur together.

MOGOLLON __ The prehistoric cultural groups who lived in an area which includes southern New Mexico, southeastern and central Arizona, the El Paso area in Texas, and northwestern Chihuahua Mexico. The Mogollon lifeway began about the same time the Hohokam entered southern Arizona. Although they grew crops, the Mogollon continued to make extensive use of native food resources. Around A.D. 1000, they became influenced by the Anasazi, another southwestern group. The Mogollon culture died out around A.D. 1450, and the people abandoned the Mogollon region, some perhaps merging with the Zuni.

MOHAVE BASIN (sometimes "Mojave") __ The geographic area encompassing the Mohave Desert in California, north of the Imperial Valley and south of Death Valley.

MOH SCALE __ A method for describing the hardness of solids on a l0-point scale ranging from the hardness of talc (0) to that of diamond (l0).

MONOLITHIC __ Something which is characterized as a single, often rigid, uniform whole.

MONSTROUS VISUAL SIGNAL __ Large constructions that serve as foci of community integration, such as temples, palaces and sports arenas.

MORAINE __ A bank or ridge of earth, clay, sand, gravel and boulders transported and deposited by a glacier. terminal moraine (end moraine). a ridge formed as above but which marks the maximum extent of the glacial advance.

MORPHOLOGY __ The form, structure or shape of an object or organism.
MORTER __ A (generally) bowl-shaped vessel of some hard material in which objects are crushed, ground and/or mixed with a pestle

MORTUARY CULT __ People who provided funerary offerings for nourishment of the deceased.

MORTUARY VESSEL __ A vessel specifically manufactured for inclusion with the dead.

MOSAIC __ An art form in which small pieces of colored stone or glass (called tesserae) are cemented onto a surface to create a picture or design. The ancient Greeks often decorated their floors with such pieces of art; later the Romans decorated both their floors and walls with mosaics. The practice was also adopted by Christians in the A.D. 500s and used to decorate churches.

MOSQUE __ Arabic for "place of prostration"; a Muslim temple of worship.

MOTIF __ A recurring feature or shape within a design or pattern.

MOUND BUILDERS __ Any of the prehistoric cultures of eastern North America that erected mounds (see Hopewell, Mississippian).

MOUNT VESUVIUS __ An active volcano located about 6 miles north of the city of Pompeii in what is today Italy. The enormous eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in A.D. 79 destroyed the city of Pompeii and many of the surrounding towns and villas.

MOUSTERIAN __ The Middle Paleolithic period in the Old World from 100,000 to 40,000 B.P.

MUGHAL __ The Muslim dynasty that ruled India from 1526-1857. One of the most impressive achievements of this time is the building of the Taj Mahal monument in 1648.
MULLER __ A non-stationary grinding stone such as a mano or pestle.

MULTI-COMPONENT SITE __ An archaeological site which contains the remains of more than one culture. If two or more complexes occur in a stratified site, there is a possibility that the artifacts of each component may be distinguished thus providing an excellent opportunity for the study of cultural change over time. If on the other hand, a number of components co-occur in a mixed site, the information to be gathered is little more than that from a surface collection.

MUMMIFICATION __ Artificial process of preserving a corpse through dehydration.

MUMMY __ From the Persian word; "moumiya". A preserved corpse by either natural or artificial means.

MUNSELL SCALE __ A standardized system using colored chips for accurately describing a color in terms of its hue, value and chroma.

MYCENAE __ Fortified city and palace which gave its name to a Bronze Age culture.

MYTHS AND LEGENDS __ Stories passed down through generations, usually about heroic individuals, spectacular events, or powerful gods. Myths represent a culture's beliefs and explain its customs; some are fictional while others may be based on real people and events.


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