Glossary of Archaeological/Anthropological Terms


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ABERRANT __ Deviation from the class to which an artifact or phenomenon belongs. 

ABORIGINAL. INDIGENOUS __ Pertaining to the original occupants of a given region.

ABRASIVE STONE __ Usually a sandstone slab used for grinding and polishing.

ABSOLUTE DATING __ A dating method that determines an object's exact age, as opposed to its relative age; includes such techniques as dendrochronology and radiocarbon dating.

ABU SIMBEL __ Two temples located close to the border between Sudan and Egypt. They were constructed in the 13th century B.C.E. during the reign of Pharaoh Ramesses II.

ACCLIMATORY ADJUSTMENTS __ Reversible physiological adjustments to stressful environments. 

ACCRETION __ Growth by virtue of an increase in inter-cellular materials.

ACCULTURATION __ The process by which a culture absorbs the traits or customs of another culture with which it is in direct contact.

ACEPHALOUS SOCIETY __ A society without a political head such as a president, chief, or king.

ACHEMENID EMPIRE __ Persian empire named after its founder Achemens. The empire lasted from about 550 to 330 BCE when it was conquered by Alexander the Great.

ACHIEVED STATUS __ Social standing and prestige reflecting the ability of an individual to acquire an established position in society as a result of individual accomplishments/

ACROPOLIS __ A highly fortified area that served as the defensive and ritual center of Greek cities such as Athens.

ACT __ The smallest unit of recurrent behavior involving an artifact.

ACTIVITY __ A set of related 'acts.'

ACTIVITY AREA __ that portion of an archaeological site which can be equated with a single activity such as flint knapping, butchering, or cooking.

ADAPTATION __ The process of change to better conform with environmental conditions or other external influences.

ADAPTIVE RADIATION __ The evolution of a single evolutionary stock into a number of different species. 

ADJUSTMENT __ The ability of humans to survive in stressful environments by nongenetic means. 

ADOLESCENT GROWTH SPURT __ A rapid increase in stature and other dimensions of the body that occurs during puberty. 

ADULT __ The period in an individual's life cycle after the eruption of the last permanent teeth.

ADZE __ An axe-like implement in which the blade is hafted such that the cutting edge lies perpendicular to the handle after the fashion of a hoe. Used primarily for woodworking. trihedral adze. an adze with a triangular cross-section.

AEOLIAN ( sometimes EOLIAN) __ Sand, clay, silt, or mixed deposits that have been carried by the wind. Loess and sand dunes are typical aeolian deposits.

AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHY __ Aerial photography. vertical and oblique photographic imagery of the earth's surface taken from any point of advantage. The use of specialized films can render visible features which could not otherwise be detected. Topographic relief can be emphasized by photographing in the morning or early evening when shadows are most pronounced.

AFFILIATIVE BEHAVIOR __ Close-proximity behavior that includes touching, grooming, and hugging.

AFFINAL KIN __ Persons related by marriage.

AGATE __ A banded or mottled chalcedony.

AGAVE __ Sometimes called a century plant. Several species of the plant were used by Indians in the Southwest and Mexico. The plants vary greatly in size, but are characterized by a cluster of leaves spreading out at ground level from a short central stem. The narrow leaves are long and thick and terminate in a spine. At maturity, each plant sends up one long flowering stalk and then dies. Agaves grow at elevations of 3000 to 8000 feet. Species of agave are used in the manufacture of pulque and tequila, alcoholic beverages popular in Mexico. Raw agave is poisonous.

AGE GRADE __ A group of people of the same sex and approximately the same age who share a set of duties and privileges.

AGGRADATION __ An accumulation of sediment resulting in the building up of a land surface. An example would be part of a river bank upon which sediments are regularly deposited during the spring flood.

AGING __ The uninterrupted process of normal development that leads to a progressive decline in physiological function and ultimately to death. 
AGONISTIC BEHAVIOR __ Behavior that involves fighting, threats, and fleeing.

AGRARIAN STATE __ The Fourth stage in the stage model , representing large regional systems or empires based primarily on non-mechanized agriculture and controlled by centralized and specialized bureaucracies.

AGRICULTURE __ A subsistence mode which involves the use of machinery or domesticated animals in the cultivation of plants.

A-HORIZON __ The uppermost, often dark-colored natural level in a soil profile characterized by roots, humus, and a lack of clay, iron, carbonates and soluble salts which have leached to lower levels. 

AIMA __ Australasian Institute of Maritime Archaeology

AIRLIFT __ Instrument like a giant vacuum cleaner used by underwater archaeologists to remove dirt and debris from underwater archaeological sites.

AKHENATEN __ Pharaoh of the 18th dynasty and primary figure in the Armana Period. Approximate dates of reign: 1352-1336 BCE.

AKHETATEN __ New capital city founded by Akhnaten and now called Tell el-Amarna.

ALABASTRON __ A traditional Egyptian oil jar made of alabaster. The Greeks made later versions of it out of clay.

ALBERTA __ A Plano projectile point style of the northwestern plains. Specimens are as much as 20 cm in length, parallel-sided with blunt tips, and stemmed.

ALBINISM __ A recessive abnormality that leads to little or no production of the skin pigment melanin. 

ALEXANDER THE GREAT __ King of Macedonia and conqueror.

ALIDADE __ An optical surveying instrument used in conjunction with a plane-table and stadia-rod to produce detailed large-scale topographic maps. 

ALIENATION __ The fragmentation of individuals' relations to their work, the things they produce, and the resources with which they produce them. 

ALL-MALE PARTY __ Among chimpanzees, a small group of adult or adolescent males.

ALLEN'S RULE __ A rule which states that among endotherms, populations of the same species living near the equator tend to have more protruding body parts and longer limbs than do populations farther away from the equator. 

ALLOGROOMING __ Grooming another animal.

ALLOMETRIC GROWTH __ The pattern of growth whereby different parts of the body grow at different rates with respect to each other. 

ALLOMORPHS __ Forms contained in morphemes that differ in sound but not in meaning. 

ALLOPATRIC SPECIES __ Species occupying mutually exclusive geographical areas.

ALLOPHONES __ Sounds that belong to the same phoneme. 

ALLOYING __ A technique involving the mixing of two or more metals to create an entirely new material, e.g. the fusion of copper and tin to make bronze.

ALLUVIAL DEPOSITS __ Sediments laid down by streams in their channels or on flood plains.

ALLUVIAL FAN __ A fan- or wedge-shaped accumulation of silt, sand, gravel and boulders deposited by rapidly-flowing streams when they reach flatter terrain.

ALLUVIUM __ A generally fine-grained mixture of sand, silt and mud deposited by flowing water.

ALTAMIRA __ Cave near the north coast of Spain discovered in 1868. The first site where Paleolithic Period cave paintings were found.

ALTIMETER __ A barometric device for determining elevations above sea-level.

ALTITHERMAL __ A postulated climatic period characterized by warmer and/or drier conditions approximately 4,000-8,000 years ago. 

ALTRUISTIC ACT __ A behavior characterized by self-sacrifice that benefits others.

AMARNA __ General term used to refer to the reign of Akhnaten and surrounding years. Also modern name of the Egyptian city founded by Akhenaten. (Tell el-Amarna)

AMARNA LETTERS __ A collection of clay tablets containing diplomatic correspondence of the Amarna Period.

AMAZONS - Legendary tribe of warrior women.

AMBILINEAL DESCENT __ A descent ideology based on ties traced through either the paternal or the maternal line. 

AMBILOCALITY __ Residence of a married couple with or near the kin of either husband or wife, as they choose.

AMPHIBIANS __ The earliest class of land vertebrates to evolve, yet have to keep their skin moist and lay eggs in water; includes modern frogs and salamanders.

AMPHORA __ Large round ceramic container used for transportation and storage of goods. Used from antiquity until the 16th century or so. Used for wine, oil, olives, grain, etc, etc. Amphoras in a shipwreck can often tell the age and nationality of the wreck.

AMUN __ Egyptian god associated with the state and the kingship during Egypt's New Kingdom.

ANALOGIES __ Structures that are superficially similar and serve similar functions, but have no common evolutionary relationship.

ANALOGY __ A process of reasoning whereby two entities that share some similarities are assumed to share many others.

ANALYSIS __ The process of studying and classifying artifacts, usually conducted in a laboratory after excavation has been completed.

ANASAZI __ One of the three desert cultures that shaped life in the American Southwest from 300 B.C. to A.D. 1300. Developed a new way of building pueblos and the technique of farming on top of mesas. Used both hand-formed adobe bricks and stones to build their homes.

ANATOLIA __ The large peninsular region of Turkey, bordered by the Black Sea to the north and the Mediterranean Sea to the south, and constituting the westernmost point of Asia; also known as Asia Minor.

ANCILLARY SAMPLE __ Any non-artifactual materials collected by archaeologists to aid in dating, paleoenvironmental reconstruction, or other interpretations - e.g. carbon samples, soil samples, palynological samples etc.

ANDESITE __ A fine-grained gray to green igneous rock composed primarily of minerals of the feldspar group -- in particular andesine, amphibole and pyroxene.

ANGKOR WAT __ A complex of religious buildings in Cambodia (in southeastern Asia) that is considered one of the world¹s archaeological and architectural treasures. The complex combines a temple dedicated to Vishnu (a Hindu god) and a mausoleum (a large and stately tomb). Angkor Wat was built by Suryavarman II, who ruled the Khmer Empire from A.D. 1113 to 1145.

ANGLO SAXONS __ A name used to describe the European warriors who invaded Britain around the 5th century A.D.; composed of two separate groups, the Angles and the Saxons.

ANGOSTURA __ A Plano projectile point style (previously termed "Long") named by R.P. Wheeler (in Wormington l957) after the Angostura Basin in South Dakota. Angostura points, sometimes termed "Lusk" points, are long and narrow, lanceolate in outline form, rhomboidal in cross section, and have concave or straight bases.

ANIMAL HUSBANDRY __ The breeding, care, and use of herd animals, such as sheep, goats, camels, cattle, and yaks.
ANIMATISM __ Belief in an impersonal supernatural force.

ANIMIST __ One who believes in animism, a belief that creatures, objects, and natural phenomena are inhabited by spirits.

ANNEALING __ In copper and bronze metallurgy, this refers to the process of heating and then cooling the material to remove stress from hammering. 

ANTHROPOCENTRICITY __ The belief that humans are the most important elements in the universe.

ANTHROPOID (1) __ A Greek word meaning; man-shaped. This term is used for coffins made in the shape of a human.

ANTHROPOID (2) __ A member of the suborder Anthropoidea; includes the New World monkeys, Old World monkeys, apes, and humans.

ANTHROPOIDEA __ Suborder of the order Primates that includes the New World monkeys, Old World monkeys, apes, and humans.

ANTHROPOLOGICAL LINGUISTICS __ The scientific study of human communication within its sociocultural context and the origin and evolution of language.

ANTHROPOLOGY __ The scientific and humanistic study of man's present and past biological, linguistic, social, and cultural variations. Major sub-fields include archaeology, physical anthropology, cultural anthropology, and linguistic anthropology.

ANTHROPOMETRY __ The study of measurements of the human body.

ANTHROPOMORPHIC __ "Man-like." Used to describe artifacts or art work decorated with human features or with a man-like appearance.

ANTINOUS __ Favorite companion of Emperor Hadrian.

ANTONINE WALL __ Built during the early 140s AD. Northernmost Roman wall in Great Britain marked the edge of the territory of Hadrian's successor, Antonius Pius.

ANVIL __ A block of stone or metal upon which other materials are shaped or worked through striking.

APE __ A common term that includes the lesser apes (the gibbons and siamang) and the great apes (the orangutan, common chimpanzee, bonobo, and gorilla). 

APHASIA __ A language disorder resulting from brain damage. 

APHRODITE __ Greek goddess of love and fertility. Known as Venus to the Romans.

APPLIED ANTHROPOLOGY __ The activity of professional anthropologists in programs that have as primary goals changes in human behavior believed to ameliorate contemporary social, economic, and technological problems.

ARABLE LAND __ Land fit for cultivation.

ARBITRARY LEVELS __ An archaeological excavation technique in which the thickness of the layers removed is chosen for convenience. This method is generally used when a site does not possess natural stratigraphy and cannot, therefore, be excavated stratum by stratum.

ARCHAEO-ASTRONOMY __ The systematic study of astronomical knowledge and lore of prehistoric peoples.

ARCHAEOLOGICAL CONTEXT __ The physical setting, location, and cultural association of artifacts and features within an archaeological site.

ARCHAEOLOGICAL RECOVERY __ Removal of artifacts from archaeological context with full recording of their four dimensions of variability.

ARCHAEOLOGICAL SEQUENCE __ Artifacts, behaviors, or phases (periods) ordered in time.

ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITE __ A place where human activity occurred and material remains were deposited.

ARCHAEOLOGICAL SURVEY __ On-ground inspection of a study area for artifacts and sites.

ARCHAEOLOGY - ARCHEOLOGY __ the scientific study of past human cultures by analyzing the material remains (sites and artifacts) that people left behind.

ARCHAEOLOGY - CULT __ The study of the material indications of patterned actions undertaken in response to religious beliefs.

ARCHAEOLOGIST __ Anyone with an interest in the aims and methods of archaeology. A professional archaeologist usually holds a degree in anthropology with a specialization in archaeology. 

ARCHAEOZOOLOGY __ Sometimes referred to as zooarchaeology, this involves the identification and analysis of faunal species from archaeological sites, as an aid to the reconstruction of human diets and to an understanding of the contemporary environment at the time of deposition.
ARCHAIC -- ancient; pertaining to a much earlier time period.

ARCHETYPE __ The divine plan or blueprint for a species or higher taxonomic category.

ARCHIVES __ l. a collection of primary historical documents such as journals, diaries, maps and personal and business correspondence. 2. the institutional repository within which such collections are housed.

ARCTIC SMALL TOOL TRADITION __ A grouping of archaeological complexes distributed across the North American Arctic from Alaska to Greenland which date between roughly 3000 B.C. to A.D. l000. The tradition is so named due to the extremely small, finely worked tools which these people manufactured.
ARES __ Greek god of war. Known to the Romans as Mars.

ARGILLITE __ A fine-grained, metamorphosed mud and claystone. The deep-red-colored argillite artifacts found at the Hardy Site may have come from the Mazatzal Mountains in central Arizona.

ARRANGED MARRIAGE __ Any marriage in which the selection of a spouse is outside the control of the bride and groom. art the process and products of applying skills to any activity that transforms matter, sound, or motion into forms considered aesthetically pleasing to people in a society.

ARROW __ A dart-like projectile propelled by a bow. Feathers may be attached to stabilize the arrow in flight, and a stone, bone or metal tip may be fitted to improve its capacity for penetration.

ARROW WEED __ A rank-smelling shrub that forms dense thickets in stream beds and moist saline soil. The plant occurs at elevations of 3000 feet or lower, from Texas to Southem California and from Utah to northern Mexico. In addition to its use as a wall-covering material, arrow weed stems were used for arrow shafts by Indians in the Southwest.

ARROWHEAD __ The pointed tip of an arrow. If the means of propulsion cannot with certainty be identified as a bow, the term projectile point is more properly used.

ART OBJECT __ Any artifact carrying, or consisting of, decorative or artistic elements.

ARTIFACT (1) __ Any object manufactured, used or modified by humans. 

ARTIFACT (2) __ Any physical remains of human activity.

ARTIFACT TYPE __ A category of artifacts whose attributes are similar: spoons, tables, and coffins, for example, are artifact types.

ASCLEPIUS __ Greek god of medicine and healing.

ASCRIBED STATUS __ Social standing or prestige which is the result of inheritance or hereditary factors.

ASIA MINOR __ The peninsula of western Asia bordered by the Black Sea to the north, the Mediterranean Sea to the south, and the Aegean Sea to the west; the Turkish region of Anatolia.

ASTROLABE __ Instrument used for celestial navigation.

ASSEMBLAGE __ A group of artifacts related to each other based upon recovery from a common archaeological context. Assemblage examples are artifacts from a site or feature.

ASSIMILATION __ The gradual process by which a minority group takes on the characteristics, including customs and attitudes, of the prevailing culture in which it lives.

ASSOCIATION __ Occurrence of two or more artifacts together.

ASSYRIA __ An ancient empire in Mesopotamia.

ASTARTE __ Goddess of love and fertility worshipped in various parts of the mideast. Her origin was Phoenician.

ATHENA __ Greek goddess of wisdom and warfare, patron of Athens. The Romans called her Minerva.

ATLANTIS __ Legendary civilization described by ancient writers like Plato.

ATLATL __ A wood or bone implement, held in one hand, and used to propel a spear. The tool acts as a lever, giving more powerful thrust and longer distance.

ATRIUM __ Room in a Roman house used for business or entertaining. The atrium was usually the focal point of the house and the largest room.

ATTIC __ From the area around Athens. (Attica)

ATTRIBUTE __ A characteristic or property of an object, such as weight, size, or color.
AUSTRALOPITHS __ Extinct early humans who evolved 4 to 5 million years ago in Africa.

AUTOCRACY __ A form of government in which a single person possesses unlimited political power; despotism.

AUTONOMY __ The right of a nation to govern itself; independence.

AUV __ Autonomous Underwater Vehicles are underwater robots that are not remote controlled and operate with artificial intelligence. Just like ROVs they are used instead of divers for difficult operations, e.g. on great depth.

AVEBURY __ Built around 2,500 B.C. Massive Late Neolithic stone circle in Wiltshire, UK.

AVOCATIONALS __ These are recreational scuba divers and amateur underwater archaeology groups who give invaluable help to underwater archaeologists. Examples are volunteer unpaid divers during investigations and diving clubs cooperating with archaeologists and maritime museums. The term may also be applied to volunteers in other archaeological disciplines.

AZTEC __ The civilization that ruled the region now called Mexico between A.D. 1000 and 1500. The capital of the Aztec Empire was called Tenochtitlan.


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