Glossary of Archaeological/Anthropological Terms


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TACONITE __ A fine-grained sedimentary rock which occurs naturally in the Lake Superior region and which is a suitable material for the manufacture of stone tools.

TACTILE PADS __ The tips of the fingers and toes of primates; area richly endowed by tactile nerve endings sensitive to touch.

TAIGA __ The environmental zone dominated by coniferous tree species which lies immediately south of the tundra in the Old and New Worlds. In North America, this equates with the Boreal Forest.

TAPE MEASURE __ A tape measure is used to lay out a grid over an archaeological site, to measure each unit to make sure it is square, to measure the depth of each level, and to measure the distance of each feature from the corner of the unit. This tool is essential to archaeologists.

TAPHONOMY __ The study of the means by which organic materials become part of the archaeological (or fossil) record. A study of an object with an eye to determining hoe it has been preserved or why it has decomposed in the way it has can tell us something of the conditions prevalent at the time it was deposited.

TANG __ A long, narrow, pointed projection at the base of a tool or weapon to facilitate hafting.

TARSAL __ Pertaining to or constituting the bones of the human ankle and heel, or one of the corresponding bones of the hind leg of other animals.

TARQUINIA __ An ancient Etruscan city north of Rome.

TASK GROUPS __ Behavioral components composed of sets of people (not households) that carry out the bulk of a society's activities.

TAXON __ A unit or group within a system of classification. (plural taxa).

TAXONOMY __ The classification of objects or organisms on the basis of their similarities.

TECHNO-FUNCTION __ The role of an artifact in a society's technology.

TECHNOLOGICAL TYPES __ Artifact types designed on the basis of techniques and stages of manufacture.

TECHNOLOGY __ l. the knowledge and methods necessary to produce useable or consumable artifacts or products of similar materials by similar methods (eg. Paleo-Indian bone technology).

TECTONIC MOVEMENTS __ displacements in the plates that make up the earth's crust, often responsible for the occurrence of raised beaches and other changes in settlement locale.

TELL __ In the Near East, a large mound built up from trash and the remains of mud-brick architecture.

TEMPER __ Solid particles such as sand, grit, crushed shell, plant fiber or crushed pottery (grog) which is mixed with the wet clay before the vessel is fired. Temper adds strength to pottery and makes it less likely to crack when drying or while being baked.

TEMPLE MOUND CULTURE __ A less frequently used term for the Mississippian.
TEMPORAL TYPES __ Artifact types designated on the time of manufacture.

TENT RING __ The circle of stones used to hold down the edges of a tent and which remains behind in a slightly disturbed form after the tent is removed.

TEPHRA __ Volcanic ash. In the Mediterranean, for example, deep-sea coring produced evidence for the ash fall from the eruption of Theta, and its stratigraphic position provided important information in the construction of a relative chronology. 

TERMITE STICK __ A tool made and used by chimpanzees for collecting termites for food. 

TERMS OF ADDRESS __ The terms people use when they address their kin directly. 

TERMS OF REFERENCE __ The terms by which people refer to their kin when they speak about them in the third person.

TERRACE __ The former banks of a river or shores of a body of water exposed due to a drop in water level. When terraces occur as a series of steps, the highest is taken to be the oldest as it would have been the first to be exposed.

TERRA COTTA __ Fired (baked) clay.

TERRA COTTA SOLDIERS __ The more than 7,000 terra-cotta figures that were found in the tomb of the Emperor Qin Shihuangdi, China's first emperor (221206 B.C.). The tomb is located central China's, Xi'an province.

TESSERAE __ Small cubes of stone, glass or ceramic used to create a mosaic.

TESTING __ The first stage of excavation, normally undertaken to investigate the way a site formed and sometimes to estimate the population parameters of artifacts.

TEST PIT __ A unit excavated to determine the presence or absence of an archaeological site, or the nature of the deposits.

TEXTILE __ A fabric produced from the weaving of fibers of animal or vegetal origin.

THEBAN TRIAD __ This consist of the gods Amun, his wife Mut, and their son Khons.

THEBES __ City in southern Egypt which was a major administrative center and location of Karnak temple.

THEISM __ Belief in one or more gods of extrahuman origin.

THEODOLITE __ A surveying instrument capable of measuring vertical and horizontal angles and consisting of a tripod-mounted telescope.

THEORY OF ACQUIRED CHARACTERISTICS __ The concept, popularized by Lamarck, that traits gained during a lifetime can then be passed on to the next generation by genetic means; considered invalid today.

THEORY OF EVOLUTION __ Charles Darwin's theory developed in A.D. 1859, in his book Origin of Species. Darwin theorized that humans evolved from a lower order of animals, such as primates.

THERMAL PROSPECTION __ A remote sensing method used in aerial reconnaissance. It is based on weak variations in temperature which can be found above buried structures whose thermal properties are different from those of their surroundings.

THERMOLUMINESCENCE __ A method of dating that measures the energy given off from the breakdown of radioactive elements. This energy is trapped in pottery and given off as light. Older objects give off more light.

THESEUS __ Legendary king of Athens who killed the Minotaur, the monster kept by King Minos on Crete.

THOMSEN, CHRISTIAN JURGEN __ Pioneering Nineteenth Century Danish archaeologist. Thomson organized his exhibitions at the National Museum in Copenhagen on the basis of three ages: the Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age. His scheme is still used today.

THRACE __ A region and ancient country in the southeast Balkan Peninsula north of the Aegean Sea. In the seventh century B.C.E., it was colonized by Greeks and later came under the control of Rome, Byzantium, and Ottoman Turkey. It is now divided between Greece and Turkey.

THREAT GESTURE __ A physical activity used by one animal to threaten another animal. Some threat gestures are staring, shaking a branch, and lunging toward another animal. 

THREE AGE SYSTEM __ A classification system devised by C.J. Thomsen for the sequence of technological periods (stone, bronze, and iron) in Old World prehistory. It established the principle that by classifying artifacts, one could produce a chronological ordering.

THRESHING __ Separating grain from the husks and straw by beating or rubbing.

THULE __ The Latin name which ancient geographers gave to the most northerly land in the inhabited world. More recently, the term has been applied to an archaeological culture which blanketed the North American arctic shortly after A.D. l000. The artifactual inventory of these coastally adapted people included rectangular winter houses, soapstone lamps and cooking vessels, trace buckles and swivels for dog harnesses, the ulu, bone and antler arrow and harpoon heads and carved ivory bird figurines. Judging from the time slope indicated by numerous radiocarbon dates, Thule culture emerged in Alaska and spread rapidly across the arctic as far as Greenland. Their relationship, if any, with the earlier Dorset peoples is unknown but there is general agreement that the Thule is directly ancestral to the modern Inuit.

THUNDERBIRD __ In mythology, large bird that produced thunder by flapping its wings. Belief in the thunderbird was formerly widespread among native North Americans and in Asia.

THYRSOS __ Staff made of pinecone topped fennel stock carried by followers of Dionysos.
TILL __ The unstratified deposits of a glacier, usually consisting of sand, gravel, clay, silt and boulders.

TIME-DEPTH __ The life span of a culture (sense l), language or family of languages. Thus a culture which is recognized in the archaeological record as beginning in 500 B.C. and terminating at A.D. 500 would have a time-depth of l000 years.

TIME SLOPE __ A series of dates which become progressively older in a given direction through space, thus pointing to the place of origin of the dated complex or trait.

TIPI RING __ l. the circular arrangement of stones used to hold down the edges of a tipi in those areas where wood for stakes was unavailable. When camp was broken and the tipis disassembled, the stones would simply be rolled off and left behind thus maintaining the roughly circular arrangements. 2. a circular arrangement of tipis within a camp.

TOGA __ Woolen mantle worn by Roman men as a sign of their citizenship.

TOLTEC __ Native Americans from the city of Tollan.

TOOL-KIT __ As used by archaeologists, the full range of artifacts of a single complex.

TOPOGRAPHY __ The study or description of the surface configuration of a region; the surface configuration itself.

TORAH __ The five books of Moses in the Hebrew scriptures. The term also refers to the study of the Jewish tradition.

TOTEM __ A plant or animal whose name is adopted by a clan and that holds a special significance for its members, usually related to their mythical ancestry.
TRACES __ All the physical characteristics of an artifact.

TRADITION __ A style, technology or lifeway which persists for a long period of time within a given region.

TRAIT __ An artifact type used to establish relationships between archaeological cultures.

TRAJAN __ Emperor of Rome from CE 98-117

TRANSIT __ A surveying (sense 2) instrument capable of measuring vertical and horizontal angles and consisting of a tripod-mounted telescope. The transit is similar to the theodolite in many respects, but differs in that it has a longer telescope, exposed vernier scales and an integral compass.
TRANSHUMANCE __ Seasonal movement of livestock between upland and lowland pastures. 

TRANSIT __ A sophisticated optical surveying instrument similar to an alidade, except that it is mounted directly on a tripod, rather than resting on a plane 

TRAVELERS __ Hunter-gatherers who follow a regular yearly round, occupying a series of campsites for brief periods when a valued resource is available in the vicinity of each site (a logistical pattern).

TRAVOIS __ Two long, parallel poles which serve as frame to which baggage or supplies may be attached while in transit. One end of the poles is fastened on either side of a draft animal while the opposite ends drag behind. There is some evidence to suggest that the dog-drawn travois was a Middle Prehistoric Period innovation.

TRENCH __ An excavation recovery unit, in the shape of an elongated rectangle, often used to expose the layering of deposits at a site

TRIANGULATION __ A method of surveying (sense 2) in which an area is sub-divided into triangles of which two angles and the length of one side are known. The lengths of the other two sides are calculated using trigonometric functions.

TRIASSIC PERIOD __ Between 248 and 206 million years ago. Period characterized by the appearance of the first dinosaurs and mammals on earth.

TRIBE __ The second state in the 'stage model', representing village farmers and herders.

TRIBE __ In popular usage, any non-literate society. For anthropologists, however, the term usually takes on a more specific meaning. Like a band, a tribe is a fairly small, non-literate society, but it makes use of institutions (clubs, age grades, secret societies) to hold it together in addition to kinship networks. Many tribal societies subsist through horticulture or the raising of livestock rather than hunting and gathering.

TRICLINIUM __ Dining room of Roman house.

TRIM BIT __ A piece that is trimmed or pared off during manufacture.

TROWEL __ A small hand tool consisting of a metal blade (sense l) attached to a handle. The mason's trowel, having a flat blade.

TROY __ City in western Turkey and site of the war between the Greeks and the Trojans.
TRUNCATE __ To shorten or blunt by cutting off an end or through breakage.

TUFF __ Deposits of volcanic ash that have formed a crust-like layer over the underlying land.

TUMULUS __ A mound of earth or loose stones covering a burial.

TUNDRA __ The vast treeless regions of North America, Europe and Asia which lies between the polar ice cap and the northern edge of the coniferous forests. The subsoil here is permanently frozen, but the surface soil may support mosses and lichens.

THE TWO LANDS __ Egypt i.e. Upper Egypt (south) and Lower Egypt (north).

TYPE SITE __ An archaeological site which has produced the artifacts which are considered to be typical of a particular complex. Very often, the site at which a complex was first discovered or defined is considered the type site.

TYPOLOGY __ The classification of artifacts into groups (types) on the basis of method of manufacture, form, decoration, etc.


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