MDAH Historic Preservation

Archaeological Vocabulary

Archaeological site - A place where human activity occurred and material remains, such as artifacts and ecofacts, were left behind.

Archaeology - Archaeology is the scientific study of the past (historic and prehistoric) through material remains that people have left behind. Both "archaeology" and "archeology" are acceptable spellings of this term.

Artifact - Any object made, modified, or used by people (e.g. pottery, stone tools, bricks, nails, etc.).

Ceramics - Any object made of clay that has subsequently been heated in a process known as firing in order to make the item stronger and more moisture resistant (e.g. pottery, clay pipes, beads, and figurines).

Chipped stone - Stone tools including projectile points, knives, adzes, and scrapers that are made by a patterned removal of material (flakes) from the object. This process is referred to as flintknapping

Context - The relationship of artifacts and other cultural remains to each other and the situation in which they are found.

Ecofact - Natural objects found at an archaeological site (e.g. animal bones and plant seeds).

Ground stone - Tools and other objects including axes and pestles made by grinding and pecking the item into final form.

Law of Superposition - The law which maintains that objects at a lower level have generally been there longer than objects found higher up.

Lithics - Items made of stone ranging from large stone axes and grinding stones to "arrowheads" and the tiniest of drill bits. This category also includes the byproducts of stone tool production such as chips and flakes.

Non-renewable resource - A resource that, once used up, cannot be replaced. Archaeological sites are non-renewable resources.

Prehistoric - Prehistoric refers to that period before the beginning of written records. In the Americas it equates with the time prior to the appearance of the Europeans, beginning with the explorers of the late 15th and 16th centuries.

Projectile point - A shaped stone point used to tip a spear, dart or arrow and commonly referred to as "arrowheads".

Sherd - A fragment of a fired clay vessel.

Strata - The layers of soil deposits at an archaeological site.

Temper - Materials such as crushed stone, sand, plant fiber shell, and crushed pottery mixed with the wet clay to make ceramic vessels more resistant to cracking during drying and firing.

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