Glossary of Archaeological/Anthropological Terms


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PACIFIC __ A central North American climatic episode dating from A.D. ll00 to approximately l550 which is believed to have been characterized by an increased frequency of droughts in the grasslands and adjacent regions.

PADDLE-AND-ANVIL __ A pottery manufacturing method. An object or the potter's hand (the "anvil") is held inside of the roughly formed vessel while the exterior surface is paddled, thus shaping the pot. Additionally, the paddling serves to obliterate seams in instances where the pot was formed by coiling The paddle may be wrapped with a cord or covered with a fabric to prevent it from sticking to the wet clay. This commonly produces a roughened surface.

PAINT STONE __ A nodule or fragment of ochre.

PALAEO or PALEO __ A prefix meaning "old".

PALAEOECOLOGY __ The scientific study of the ecology of a given region in ancient times.

PALAEOENVIRONMENT __ The environment of a given region in ancient times.

PALAEONTOLOGY __ The scientific study of the origin and development of organisms through fossils.

PALAEOSOL __ A soil formed under earlier environmental conditions which subsequently becomes buried by cultural or environmental processes.

PALAEOPATHOLOGY __ The study of the illnesses and injuries of past human populations.

PALEOANTHROPOLOGIST __ A type of anthropologist who studies early humans by excavating and looking at fossilized human skeletal remains.

PALEO-INDIAN TRADITION __ (also called Big Game Hunting Tradition)-a way of life practiced by many of the first human inhabitants of North America, who arrived here between 10,000 and 12,000 years ago. Paleo-lndian means the oldest or first Indians in North America. 

PALEO-INDIANS __ Hunter-gatherer peoples prevalent in the New World from 12,000 to 10,000 B.P.
PALEOLITHIC __ The period extending from 2 million to approx 12,000 B.P.

PALESTINE __ An ancient name for the area between Syria, Egypt, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Jordan River; now approximately the same area as that covered by the state of Israel. The state of Palestine was proclaimed in 1988, but in exile, with the land in question under Israeli occupation.

PALISADE __ A strong, high fence or wall made of logs or stakes and intended for defensive purposes. 

PALYNOLOGIST __ One who studies plant pollen and spores. Since pollen may be preserved thousands of years it can be used to reconstruct the plant ecology of the past.

PANTHEON __ Temple built in Rome by the emperor Hadrian to honor all the major gods.

PAPYRUS (1) __ plant (Cyprus papyrus L) which used to grow prolifically in Egypt, especially in Delta marshes. Oddly enough, the papyrus plant became extinct in Egypt but after being reintroduced in the 1960's, it is now an important link in the tourist trade. 

PAPYRUS (2) __ The main Egyptian writing material, and an important export. The earliest papyrus dates to the First Dynasty, the latest to the Islamic Period. Sheets were made by cutting the stem of the plant into strips. These strips were soaked in several baths to remove some of the sugar and starches. These strips were then laid in rows horizontally and vertically. Then it was beaten together, activating the plant's natural starches and forming a glue that bound the sheet together. Separate sheets were glued together to form a roll.

PARALLEL FLAKING __ A technique used in the production of stone tools that is often found on the earliest projectile points from North Central Texas. Long, consistent chipping scars run parallel on the flat sides of stone tools.

PARTHENON __ The Greek temple dedicated to the goddess Athena that was built on the Acropolis in Athens between 447 and 438 B.C.
PASTE __ The mixture of water, clay and temper from which pottery is made.
PATAYAN __ The prehistoric cultural groups that occupied the region west of the Hohokam culture area. The boundaries of the Patayan area are, on the west, the Colorado River Delta north to above Needles, and, on the east, from Gila bend to Prescott. The Patayan practiced a lifeway similar to the Hohokam, although hunting and gathering were more emphasized in the Patayan culture. The Patayan were probably ancestral to the Yuma tribes that occupied the area historically. The culture is first recognized at A.D. 700.

PATINA __ The discolored skin or rind of a stone resulting from exposure to air, sunlight and soil chemicals.

PATRILINEAL __ Pertaining to the tracing of descent or the transmission of wealth or authority primarily through males.

PATRILOCAL __ Pertaining to the pattern in which children are raised as part of their father's (as opposed to their mother's) band. Patrilocality is often a result of virilocality among band societies.

PATTERN __ In the Midwestern Taxonomic Method devised by McKern (l939) a pattern referred to a grouping of regional phases with a shared mode of adaptation and a generally similar technology. For example the Woodland cultures of the northeast or the Middle Prehistoric Period bison hunting cultures of the northern plains would constitute two distinct patterns.

PEBBLE __ A rounded stone, smaller in size than a cobble.

PECKING __ A method of shaping stone artifacts by hammering them, thus wearing away the surface. Pecking facets are readily discernible on mauls, axes and Celts unless they have been erased by subsequent polishing.

PEDESTRIAN TACTIC __ A method archaeological survey in which surveyors, spaced at regular intervals, systematically walk the area being investigated.

PEDOLOGY __ The study of the formation characteristics and weathering of soil. As various kinds of soil form under different conditions, an analysis of the soil at an archaeological site can yield clues as to the kinds of conditions which prevailed when the site was occupied.

PEDOLOG __ The science that deals with the study of soils.

PEMMICAN __ Dehydrated buffalo meat mixed with fat and occasionally berries.

PENDANT __ A personal ornament which has been perforated or grooved to allow it to hang from a chain or thong.

PERCUSSION FLAKING __ Removing flakes from a core by use of a hammer. (of stone, bone, antler or wood)

PERIKLES __ Ruler of Athens in the 5th century BCE during what is called the Athenian Golden Age.

PERIPHERY __ An outlying region; the outermost boundary. For example, Manitoba lies at the periphery of the North American Grasslands.

PERISTYLE __ Enclosed courtyard surrounded by columns.

PERMAFROST __ Permanently frozen ground.

PERSIA __Ancient kingdom in the area of present day Iran.

PERSIAN GULF __ An arm of the Arabian Sea between the Arabian peninsula and Iran. It has been an important trade route since ancient times and gained added strategic significance after the discovery of oil in the region in the 1930s.

PESTLE __ A club-shaped or cylindrical object used to crush and grind various materials in a mortar.

PETROFORM __ A geometrical or animal figure formed in outline by the placement of boulders or cobbles. These are particularly common in southeastern Manitoba where they are believed to be the work of Laurel (and perhaps later) peoples.

PETROGLYPHS __ Carvings in rock which express artistic or religious meaning.

PHALANX __ Warriors in close formation.

PHARAOH __ Wasn't used until 1400 BC but is now used generally for the kings of ancient Egypt.

PHAROS LIGHTHOUSE __ One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was built in Alexandria, Egypt, about 280 B.C., and served as a beacon for ships at sea. It was destroyed in an earthquake in A.D. 796.

PHASE __ An archaeological complex which is sufficiently distinctive so as to be distinguishable from adjacent contemporary complexes, and from those which precede and succeed it. A phase may be viewed as a complex which is bounded in time as well as space.

PHIDIAS __ Athenian sculpture who was responsible for the cult statues of Athena in the Parthenon and the statue of Zeus at Olympia.

PHOSPHATE TEST __ A chemical test performed on sediments from archaeological sites. The decomposition of organic material leaves a phosphate residue which is not readily removed by leaching. Thus determination of phosphate levels across a site can reveal which parts of a site were most heavily used. When used in conjunction with archaeological data, it can additional suggest what kinds of activities were pursued in different parts of the site.

PHYLUM __ A major taxonomic division. In linguistics a phylum is composed of a number of families, which in turn comprise various languages, each of which may have numerous regional dialects. In biology, phyla are even more all-encompassing. In descending order of inclusiveness the scheme is as follows: kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species, variety (or sub-species).

PHYSICAL ANTHROPOLOGY __ The branch of anthropology which concerns itself with the origins, evolution, structure and variation of human populations.

PHYSIOGRAPHY __ l. physical geography; the study of the earth's crust. 2. the earth's surface; terrain.

PICK (1) __ An adze-like implement which is hafted and used for breaking hard ground or rocks.

PICK (2) __ Archaeologists use small picks to remove delicate items from archaeological units. For example, animal bones or human bones are very fragile and should be removed by picking around them and then brushing them off with a light paintbrush before removing. Old dental picks are very useful tools to archaeologists.

PICTOGRAPHS __ Paintings on rock which express artistic or religious meaning.

PIGMENT __ Coloring agents derived from plants and minerals.

PIGWEED __ A common, coarse weed that grows in disturbed soil. It usually appears after summer rains at elevations below 5500 feet.

PILE DWELLINGS __ Prehistoric lake or riverside settlements where a substantial part of the buildings were built on poles, in or near the water. The remains of such settlements have been found underwater. It's often difficult to say whether the submersion is a result of raising sea level or the buildings actually were built standing in the water. Thus some pile dwellings may originally have been built on shore, later submerged, and today we find the remaining house poles underwater.

PINON PINE __ A pine tree that grows at elevations of 5000 to 7500 feet. The piñon bears large edible nuts.

PIT __ An excavation recovery unit.

PITHOUSE __ A wooden dwelling in which the lower portion is a pit.

PLATO __ Ancient Greek philosopher of the 5th and 4th century B.C., who wrote many works and taught about the ideal way of life for the ancient Greek citizen.

PLEISTOCENE __ A geologic period, usually thought of as the Ice Age, which began about 1.6 million years ago and ended with the melting of the large continental glaciers creating the modern climatic pattern about 11,500 years ago.

PLINY THE ELDER __ Roman writer who witnessed the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in A.D. 79. He died when he returned to Pompeii during the eruption in order to try to save some of the Roman navy, which was stationed in the harbor.

PLINY THE YOUNGER __ The nephew of Pliny the Elder who wrote about the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius and the destruction of the city of Pompeii in A.D. 79.

PLOW ZONE __ The layer of soil disturbed by plowing, usually the top 10 to 50 centimeters.

POMPEII __ The famous city in southern Italy destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in A.D. 79. The circumstances of destruction allowed the city to be remarkably well-preserved. Archaeologists have been excavating the site for about 250 years to uncover and learn about ancient Roman culture. 

PONDEROSA PINE __ Also called the yellow pine. This large tree grows at elevations of 5500 to 8500 feet.

POPOL VUH __ A book written in the Maya language of Quiche shortly after the Spanish Conquest in Spanish. However, it covers many stories of Maya mythology.

POPULATION __ In sampling, all the materials of interest; for example, all the sites in a region or all the artifacts in a site.

POPULATION PARAMETER __ A characteristic of a population.

POSEIDON __ Greek god of the sea. Called Neptune by the Romans.

POTASSIUM/ARGON DATING __ A chronometric technique for dating in which the proportion of radioactive potassium (K40) to that of its decay product, argon is calculated.

POTSHERD __ Any fragment of a ceramic vessel.

POTTERY __ Containers made out of a combination of clay and sand that can be hardened in the heat of an oven, called a kiln. Pottery is one of the most common ways that archaeologists date occupation levels of sites since pottery chronology is well-established at many sites. Archaeologists can date a piece of pottery from a site by comparing it to other pieces from the same site that have already been dated. They then use the piece of pottery to date the entire level of the site.

PRAXITELES __ Greek sculpture best known as the creator of the Aphrodite of Knidos.

PRECISION __ In sampling, the degree of correspondence among statistics obtained in repeated trials of the same sampling technique

PREDYNASTIC __ Period of Egyptian history that predates writing and unification of Egypt into one state. The prehistoric period before 3100 B.C.

PREHISTORIC HUNTER __ Gatherers-Humans who lived prior to written history and depended upon the hunting of wild animals and the gathering of natural plant foods for their livelihood

PREHISTORIC SITES __ Locations where people who were alive before modern written records existed once lived, hunted, camped, or were buried. Painted or carved rock outcrops are considered sites as well.

PREHISTORY __ The period before written records in a given area, or the study of that era.

PREPARATOR __ Scientists who strip and clean the matrix or encased rock from fossils in order to prepare them for reconstruction.

PRESERVE __ To keep safe and protect from injury, harm, or destruction; to keep alive, intact, or free from decay; to save from decomposition.

PRESSURE FLAKING __ Producing flakes by applying pressure to a core with a tool (often an antler)

PRICKLY PEAR __ Several species of cacti with flat stems and oval, flat, leaf-like pads. Prickly pears grow in semiarid and arid western North America. The fruits of the cactus are often referred to as "tunas."

PRIMARY REFUSE __ Trash discarded at the location of use.

PRIMATES/PRIMATOLOGIST __ Any of an order of mammals that includes humans, apes, monkeys, lemurs, and related forms. One who studies primates.

PRIME CAUSE __ A factor, such as population growth, used by itself to explain changes in social complexity.

PROBABILITY SAMPLING __ Sampling in which sample units are selected at random, as by flipping a coin or consulting a table of random numbers.

PROCUREMENT __ Obtaining or extracting resources from the environment.

PROFILE __ A profile is a picture of the layers of a unit. It's sort of like if you were to make a five-layer cake with each cake layer a different color. If you looked at it from the side you would see all the different levels. This is very useful to archaeologists because they can see changes in soil color or composition (for example, sand and then black soil and then rock). A profile of a unit helps archaeologists understand the levels that were excavated, as well as changes in human activity over time.
PROJECTILE POINT __ Artifacts such as arrowheads and spearheads, used mostly for hunting animals.

PROVENIENCE __ The three-dimensional location of an artifact or feature within an archaeological site, measured by two horizontal dimensions, and a vertical elevation.

PSORALEA SSP.: __ The prairie turnip, as it is commonly referred to, is actually several species of plants which grow underground tubers. Only one species was actually recorded as having been used by Plains Indians, and only recently has any archaeological evidence for the use of this plant been recovered.

PTOLEMY __ Greek general, who after the death of Alexander the Great became ruler of Egypt.

PUBLIC ARCHAEOLOGY __ A movement to increase public awareness and education about archaeology which advanced the legislative attempts to provide funding and protection for archaeological sites.

PUEBLO __ A type of village (common to the Southwest United States) composed of clusters of rectangular chambers of stone or adobe blocks roofed with logs.

PUMICE __ A type of rock formed by volcanic eruptions. Pumice is light in weight because it is full of holes--as lava surfaces and cools, water vapor is expelled at high temperatures, creating these holes.

PUNCTATES __ Impressions in the surface of ceramic vessels made by implements or by fingernails as a form of decoration.

PURPOSIVE SAMPLING __ Sampling in which sample unite are selected on the basis of specific criteria.

PYLON __ From the Greek word meaning "gate" It is a monumental entrance wall of a temple. Pylons are the largest and least essential parts of a temple that is usually built last. Some temples have more than one set, the temple at Karnak has 10 Pylons.

PYRAMIDION __ Pyramid-shaped tip of obelisk, or capstone of a pyramid.

PYRAMID TEXTS __ Spells and magical inscriptions found inside Egyptian pyramids from dynasty V to Dynasty Vl.

PYRAMIDS OF GIZA __ The pyramids located in Giza, Egypt, built by the pharaohs Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure.

PYXIS __ Storage container.


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