Glossary

  • Survey-to find sites, an archaeologist performs surveys of the land. This is done in a methodical way with several people and a GPS walking over an area of land and marking sites they find on a map, using the coordinates from the GPS.
  • Site-places with evidence of past human activities investigated by archaeologists.
  • Field work-work an archaeologist does at a site.
  • Excavate-digging. Once an archaeologist finds a site, they divide the site off into smaller parts so they are able to work very carefully. They then begin to excavate at the site, recording the context for each artifact they find.
  • Artifact-objects made or used by humans. Artifacts are typically found because they were discarded, someone lost them, or they were broken.
  • Feature-an artifact that cannot be moved. An example includes pithouses, which are houses that are dug into the ground or midden.
  • Midden-a trash pit and a feature at a site, an example is an outhouse pit.
  • Shard-a piece of pottery found at an archaeological site.
  • Matrix-materials such as soil or rock around an artifact when it is found. It contributes to the context of the artifact, which is the purpose of excavating.
  • Context-the recording of the site location and where artifacts were found, within the site. Archaeologists record context to know where the artifacts were found. Once they return to their labs, they can use the information to relate the objects to each other. Context is the most important piece of information for an archaeologist to record when an artifact is found.
  • Field Notes-records kept by an archaeologist in the field about the sites they excavate. They use these notes to remind them where they found artifacts and any other pertinent information at the site once they are back in the lab.
  • Stratigraphy-the study of the different layers or sections of earth. The different layers are typically different colors.
  • Cuts- made into the ground by an archaeologist so they can see the feature that is hidden and see stratigraphy.
  • Classification-placing similar artifacts in groups so they can be compared, recorded, and closely examined.
  • Conservation-what an archaeologist does with the artifacts they find at sites so they can be used to educate others. Archaeologists send the artifacts they find to museums so they can be displayed and preserved. Once in the museums, curators document the state of the artifact and preserve it for future exhibits.
  • Seriation-a relative dating method archaeologists use to place artifacts in order from oldest to newest, or newest to oldest.
  • Looting-going to an archaeological site and excavating without a permit. This includes picking up or collecting artifacts with the intent of selling them. Looting is wrong because the context of artifacts and any information they could share is forever lost.
  • Archaeological ethics-ethics help archaeologists know what and how to study and ensure the artifacts and human remains are treated respectfully. Ethics also inform archaeologists how to share information they learn from sites and artifacts they excavate.
  • Cultural Resource Management (CRM)-work conducted within the environmental industry, outside of academic or museum institutions. When the federal government plans to expand a building, widen a highway, or build something new, they are required to hire archaeologists to survey if there are any archaeological sites that could be destroyed in the course of the project.

Back to Main Page