The Process of Archaeology The Process of Archaeology
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FAQ's Native Technology Glossary Home
Glossary

Abrader
a tool made of a coarse material such a sandstone that is used to smooth materials such as bone, antler or wood.
Image of abraders

Absolute Dating
Determining age on a specific time scale, such as a years B.C. or A.D. Radiocarbon dating provides an absolute date.

Acquisitioning Artifacts
Assigning a unique number to each provenience and to each artifact within that provenience, so that the artifacts can be identified and tabulated.

Adze
a woodworking tool.
Image of an adze or chopper

Anthropologist
a person who studies people and how they live (both past and present people).

Anthropology
The study of humans through their past remains, culture, biology, and language.

Aquatic
growing or living in or around water.

Arbitrary Level
A pre-determined depth for digging that is established at the beginning of an excavation. For example, an arbitrary level may be set at 5 cm per level.

Archaeologist
a person who studies past people and how they lived.

Archaeology
A method for studying past human cultures and analyzing material evidence (artifacts and sites). NOT the study of fossils, dinosaurs, or paleontology!

Artifact
any object made, modified or used by humans.
Image of a several people holding artifacts.

Atlatl
spear-thrower, used with a spear to make the spear travel farther and with more force.
Image of a man holding an atlatl.

View a video clip describing how to throw an atlatl. You will need a player to view the MOV files. Download a free version of RealPlayer..

Awl
a tool with a sharp tip used for making holes.
Image of a copper awl.

Bannerstone
a weight placed on an atlatl.
Image of a bannerstone.

Basalt
A fine-grained, heavy igneous rock. Usually a greenish black color, but sometimes dull brown or black. Basalt is often used to make axes and other groundstone tools.
Image of basalt.

Biface
A stone tool that has been flaked on both sides (faces).
Image of a biface stone.   Image of a biface stone (side view).

Bioturbation
Disturbances of sediments related to the archaeological records by animals such as moles and gophers.
Image of bioturbation.

See also rodent run.

Blank
A roughly shaped flake or piece of raw material. Oftentimes, hunters would carry prepared blanks with them and make them into projectile points as needed.
Image of a blank

Catlinite / Pipestone
fine-grained red rock that can be carved.
Image of catlinite.

Also see Catlinite entry in Native Technologies.

Chert (flint)
A microcrystalline metamorphic stone commonly used to make stone tools. Sometimes used as a synonym for flint.
Image of chert.

Context
the relationship between artifacts and/or where they are found.

Contract Archaeology
Archaeological research conducted in order to fulfill legal requirements or private demand, usually in advance of development.

Cord Impressed
A technique used in making pottery, when cordage is pressed into the clay surface as decoration or to strengthen the vessel.
Image of cord impressed.

Cordage
Several strands of fiber twisted together; string or rope.
Image of cordage.

Core
The parent stone material from which flakes are struck.
Image of a core.

Cortex
The weathered exterior of a stone; sometimes also called the rind.
Image of cortex.

Cultural Resource Management (CRM)
The conservation and selective investigation of prehistoric and historic remains; includes laws and practices designed to protect past and present cultural resources.

Culture
a common way of life of a group of people.

Datum
A specific spot assigned as the basis for measurement when doing an archaeological excavation.
Image of a datum.

Daub
Unfired clay, usually not mixed with temper, that was often used for the construction of wattle-and-daub structures.
Image of daub.

Debitage
Waste flakes resulting from flaked stone tool production.
Image of debitage.

Diagnostic Artifact
An item that is indicative of a particular time and/or cultural group; a computer would be a diagnostic artifact of the modern age.
Image of pottery.   Image of a projectile point.

Disturbance
Something which may cause artifacts to appear at the "wrong" levels when excavating a site, such as evidence of moles or gophers or an underground sewer pipe.
Image of a disturbance.

See also bioturbation and rodent run.

Drill
A stone tool specifically shaped to function as a "drill"; a stone tool used to bore a hole into something.
Image of a drill.

Earspool
object placed in a hole in a person's earlobes.
Image of an Earspool from Nicholls Mound.

Ecofacts
Natural biological objects recovered from archaeological sites usually modified or used by human behavior such as the remains of plant and animal foods.
Image of ecofacts.

Ethnoarchaeology
The study of living or ethnohistorically known peoples for the purposes of generating archaeologically useful data.

Excavation
Systematic uncovering and recording of archaeological sites.
Image of an excavation.

Experimental Archaeology
Scientific studies designed to discover processes that produced and/or modified artifacts and structures that are found in archaeological sites. Examples include making pottery, projectile points, structures, and gardens.
Image of experimental archaeology.

Fauna
In archaeology, the remains of animals that are found at a site and used to study diet, seasonal activities, and climate.
Image of fauna.

Feature
A combination of artifacts and/or ecofacts that create a single definable entity, such as a fireplace, burial, or garbage pit. Unlike artifacts, features are part of the landscape and cannot be removed from the site without losing the overall value of the whole.
Image of a feature.

Fire Cracked Rock (FCR)
Rock placed around a hearth that shows evidence of being heated. In Wisconsin, the raw material was usually limestone or sandstone.
Image of Fire Cracked Rock.

Flakes
The pieces of stone struck off a rock in the reduction sequence (flintknapping), each usually having a striking platform, bulb of percussion, and similar identifying features.
Diagram of a flake.

There are three main types of flakes:

  1. Primary: A flake that has substantial amounts of cortex on it and that was one of the first flakes removed from the core when the stone was initially broken open.
    Image of a primary flake.

  2. Secondary: A flake that may have some cortex on its surface and that was removed during the rough shaping of a stone tool.
    Image of a secondary flake.

  3. Tertiary: A flake that has no cortex on it and that was removed during the final shaping of a stone tool.
    Image of a tertiary flake.

Flint
Sometimes used as a synonym for chert.

Flintknapping
the process of making stone tools through percussion, one rock hit against another in a specific and controlled way.
Image of people flintknapping.

Also see Making Stone Tools entry in Native Technologies.

Flora
In archaeology, the remains of plants that are found at a site and used to study diet, seasonal activities, and climate.
Image of a bean.   Image of flora.

The image on the left is a close-up of a charred corn kernel and the image on the right is of a small charred corncob.

Flotation
The process of soaking and screening matrix samples in water in order to collect very small artifacts and the organic material that floats to the top, such as seeds and charcoal.
Image of flotation.

Flute
long thin flake removed from the base of a projectile point.
Image of a Flute.

Graver
a triangular shaped tool used for engraving or incising.
Image of a graver.

Ground Stone Tools
Tools that are produced by pecking and grinding stones into desired shapes.
Image of ground stone tools.

Habitation Site
A site at which prehistoric people lived or camped.

Hammerstone
a stone used for battering or pecking or for making stone tools.
Image of a core and hammerstone.
A stone used for battering or pecking or for making stone tools, as seen in this photo showing a hammerstone on the left and a core on the right.

Heat Treated
Refers to the process of placing a rock or other raw material into the fire in order to produce a more stable/sturdy/attractive product.
Image of two rocks.
The heat treated artifact is on the right.

Hierarchical Society
a culture whose people are organized into ranks.

Historian
a person who studies the past through researching and creating written documents.

Historic
In North American archaeology this term refers to the time period after European influence and the beginning of written records. Native Americans did not have a written history. In Wisconsin, this would be around 1650 and later. Historic artifacts may consist of old bottles, buttons, coins, etc.
Image of historic artifacts.

Holocene
The period of time since the last glaciation, about 10,000 years ago. We are still in the Holocene today.

Hunter-gatherers
A term applied to people whose diet is based on hunting, fishing, and gathering, as opposed to domesticating animals or plants.

Hypothesis
A proposed explanation accounting for a set of facts that can be tested by further investigation.

In Situ
In place; an undisturbed artifact is in situ.
Image of an In Situ.

Inference
A determination arrived at by reasoning; using facts to arrive at a broader conclusion.

Kill Site
A site at which prehistoric people killed or butchered an animal.

Levels
Specific layers of soil removed during excavation and processed for cultural materials.

Lifeway
a way of living shared by a group of people.

Limestone
A sedimentary rock, comprised of the mineral precipitate calcium carbonate. In Wisconsin, it was sometimes used to make tools, but was most often used to surround hearths.
Image of limestone.   Image of a limestone pipe bowl.

Lithics
The full range of stone material related to or resulting from human activity, for example, projectile points, drills, cores, hammerstones, etc.
Image of prehistoric artifacts.

Lotting
the process of assigning a number to artifacts in the field in order to keep track of all finds.

See also acquisitioning artifacts.

Maize
Another name for corn.
Image of maize.

Mano
a hand sized rock used with a metate for grinding food.

Marine
from the ocean, not freshwater lakes or rivers.

Matrix
A general term applied to the sediments and other material, such as boulders, gravel, or stone, in which archaeological materials are found. Soil samples are also removed for flotation.

Metate
a large flat rock used as a grinding surface with a mano.
Image of corn and grinding stone.

Midden
A surface used for trash disposal, often characterized by a dark stain or an accumulation of debris.
Image of shell midden.

Modified Flake
flake of stone that has been modified to be used as a tool.
Image of a Modified Flake.

Mottling
Displaying multiple colors or shades, often used to describe soil colors.
Image of mottling.

Munsell
A book of standardized colored ships used by archaeologists to describe soil.
Image of munsell.

NAGRPA (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act)
Law passed in 1990 which created new ethical and legal archaeological standards for the treatment of human remains. It calls for human remains and sacred objects held by federal museums and agencies to be repatriated to native groups who can be connected to the archaeological cultures.

Nettle (wood)
A plant that was used to make cordage, often found along riverbanks or in the woods.
Image of nettles.   Another image of nettles.

Observation
Recognizing or noting a fact or occurence.

Obsidian
Sometimes referred to as volcanic glass, this is a form of stone that has no internal blocky or crystalline structure. Consequently, it can be made to have an exceptionally sharp edge, though it is typically brittle.

Orthoquartzite
Also known as silicified sandstone, this is a form of quartzite found in Wisconsin.
Another image of othoquartzite.

Palisade
a high post fence or stockade.
Image of a palisade.

Paste
A mixture of clay and water, to which other materials are added as temper before being formed into a pottery vessel.

Percussion flaking
There are two forms:

  1. Direct Percussion: Striking a core directly with a hammer or billet in order to drive off a flake.
    Image of direct percussion.

  2. Indirect Percussion: The use of an intermediary punch to focus the power of a blow on a specific point of a core.
    Image of indirect percussion.

Petroglyph
A design chiseled or chipped out of a rock surface.
Image of a deer petroglyph.

Pictograph
A design painted on a rock surface.
Image of a pictograph.

Pit
A hole that was dug into the ground, often for storage, burials, or refuse. Also a slang word used to describe an area of excavation.
Image of a pit.

Platform Mound
a large mound of earth with a flat top.
Image of a platform mound.

Pleistocene
The Ice Age; the epoch of geologic time from 1.6 million years ago to 10,000 years ago, characterized in North America by periods of glacial advance and retreat.

Postmold
stain left in the soil where posts from a structure have decomposed.
Image of a Postmold.

Pot Sherd
A piece of broken pottery.

Pottery
All forms of human-made products constructed from clay.
Image of a piece of pottery.

Prehistoric Archaeology
Archaeology that deals with materials that date prior to written history within a region. In Wisconsin, this would be before A.D. 1650.
Image of prehistoric artifacts.  

Pressure Flaking
The controlled application of increasing pressure to a core in order to strike off a flake.
Image of pressure flaking.

Projectile Point
a man made pointed stone tool used as a tip on spears or arrows.
Image of projectile points.

Provenience
The location of an item (artifact, feature, or ecofact) in a site.
Image of mapping.

Punctation
Pressing nodes or other shapes into the surface of pottery, usually one shape at a time.
Image of punctuates.

Pythagorean Theorem
Formula used to determine the side or hypotenuse of a right triangle (a squared + b squared = c squared). Used to lay out excavation units.
Image of the pythagorean theorem equation.   Image of the pythagorean theorem in use.

Quarry Site
A site where stone was removed to be traded or made into tools.

Quartzite (Silicified Sandstone)
A hard, light colored rock with a flinty sheen; it is a metamorphosed sandstone.
Another image of othoquartzite.

See also orthoquartzite.

Radiocarbon Dating
A method of absolute dating which is based on the radioactive decay of carbon in organic materials.

Relative Dating
Determining age relative to other items or events, such as saying one point style is older than another. Artifact styles and stratigraphy are often used to give sites relative dates.

Rodent Run
Evidence of a mole, gopher, or other rodent in an archaeological site, demonstrated typically through the mottling of soil.
Image of bioturbation.

Sandstone
Any stone that is made of cemented grains of sand; sometimes used for groundstone tools and hearth rock.
Image of a sandstone pipe bowl.

Scapula
a triangular shaped bone in the shoulder of an animal.
Image of scapulas.

Scraper
a tool used for scraping items such as hides.
Image of scrapers.

Screening
The process of sifting soil to collect artifacts. A 1/4" screen is standard for an archaeological site.
Image of screening.

See also tool kit.

Settlement Pattern
The distribution of features and sites across the landscape.

Shatter
Small chunks of rock that are a result of the flintknapping process.
Image of shatter.

Shovel Testing
The process of systematic or random sampling of an archaeological site through the excavation of small holes, typically about 50 cm wide and up to 1 meter deep.
Image of a shovel test map.   Image of the shovel test in use.

Sinew
Animal tendon prepared to use as cord or thread.
Image of a sinew.

Site
A geographic place where there is evidence of past human activity.
Image of an archaeological site.

Site Datum
The master control point on an archaeological site into which all measurements are eventually tied.
Image of a site datum.

Skim Shoveling
The process of carefully shoveling soil within an archaeological unit; usually 1/2 cm - 1 cm at a time. The soil is tossed into a screen and then sifted.
Image of skim shoveling.

Stain
A specific area of discolored soil within a unit of excavation or within a feature.
Image of stains.

Stockade
enclosure of posts used for fortification or to control entry.
Image of a stockade.

Stratigraphy
The systematic study of layers of sediments, usually to determine the sequence in which past human activities took place.
Image of stratigraphy.

Style
Styles of artifacts, such as the decorations on pottery, the shape of projectile points, or the designs of cars, change through time. Archaeologists can trace these changes and use them to date sites. Style is used for relative dating.
Image of projectil point styles.

Survey
A systematic examination of the surface of the land for the purpose of locating and recording archaeological sites.
Image of people surveying land.

Temper
material (sand, small stones or ground up clamshell) which is added to clay to help prevent shrinkage and cracking when the clay is dried or fired.
Imag of temper.

Tool Kit
An archaeologist's tool kit is comprised of several tools, along with the larger tools needed for excavation.

Tools in the kit to the left include bags, tags, twisties, a film canister to hold fragile artifacts, pencil, marker, trowel, root cutter, wooden pick, two brushes, linelevel, string, nails to mark the unit border, rulers, tape measure, and files.
Image of a toolkit.

Unit (Excavation Unit)
A defined horizontal area that will be systematically excavated, such as a2 X 2 meter square.
Image of a unit.


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Examples of Catlinite
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