Home > Starting Points > Glossary of Archaeology Terms

Glossary of Archaeology Terms

By: Grahame Johnston - Updated: 14 Feb 2019 | comments*Discuss
 
Glossary Of Archaeology Terms

Archaeological Jargon

Archaeology like any scientific discipline has developed its own unique jargon words - a lexicon, if you like. In order to fully appreciate the measure of archaeological thought it is helpful to have definitions of some of those terms. Here is an introductory list of some of the common jargon and expressions likely to be heard on the archaeology digging site or in published journals, along with definitions of their meaning.

A.D.: The initials A.D. (when with year numbers) is an abbreviation for the Latin Anno Domini, which translated means the Year of Our Lord, referring to years after the birth of Jesus Christ.

Archaeology: Archaeology is defined as the science of discovering how societies in the past thought, felt and acted, organised their way of life and interacted with others and their environment, and in meeting their needs politically, economically and spiritually by re-discovering and interpreting the material remains of their civilisations.

Area: Area is jargon for the smallest contained digging space in the shape of a square usually about 5m x 5m. Archaeologists will often refer to their Area as a 'square'.

Artefact: Any object made, modified, or used by humans.

B.C or B.C.E.: The initials B.C. stand for Before Christ. Some cultures and academics choose to use B.C.E. meaning Before the Common Era.

Baulk: A one metre unexcavated walkway between Areas.

C.E.: The initials C.E. (when with year numbers) is an abbreviation for Common Era and is jargon used to substitute the letters A.D. by cultures who do not accept Jesus Christ.

Cuneiform: A style of wedge-shaped writing common in the Middle East which pre-dated letters by 1500 years. Writing was scribed into soft clay using a specially shaped tool.

Descriptive Evidence: In archaeology terms, this is a written report about the contents of each excavated layer.

Feature: Feature is jargon for any material remains that cannot be removed from a site such as pits, house floors, fire hearths, or large stone altars.

Field: A group of adjoining excavation Areas.

Hieroglyphic: An ancient Egyptian system of writing, a full lexicon usually taught by the priests, using symbols and pictures to convey ideas and language.

Identification: Everything found at the archaeology site is given a special identification number. No two items have the same number. Each number corresponds to the Field, Area and item number. A letter followed by a number then a decimal point and three more numbers. e.g. Artefact No. B4.006 would be the sixth item found at Area 4 in Field B.

In Situ: In its original place.

Layers (locus): Layers is jargon for the sequence of different levels in the Area being excavated. They are sequentially numbered with the highest level being number one.

Midden: A rubbish heap or pit containing quantities of organic remains.

Potsherds: The definition of potsherds is broken pieces of ceramic or pottery artefacts including storage and cooking vessels, building material such as adobe brick and occasionally tools and furniture. They are common to nearly every digging site.

Shards: Shards are broken fragments of glass artefacts including perfume jars, jugs and serving or storage vessels. Very common throughout the Roman period.

Site: Site is archaeology jargon that is contained within the perimeter of all of the Fields at an archaeology excavation.

Spatial Evidence: Plans and pictures of the physical dimensions of each layer.

Stratigraphy: The archaeology definition of spatial evidence is the cultural remains and natural deposits form layers over time. Stratigraphic excavation is the digging out of an Area by completely clearing each strata layer before going any deeper.

Tel: A tel is a conglomerate of rocks, soils and ancient building materials which, over many years have formed a mound.

Translating: The process of rendering the sense of another language. Changing one language into another.

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
Why not be the first to leave a comment for discussion, ask for advice or share your story...

If you'd like to ask a question one of our experts (workload permitting) or a helpful reader hopefully can help you... We also love comments and interesting stories

Title:
(never shown)
Firstname:
(never shown)
Surname:
(never shown)
Email:
(never shown)
Nickname:
(shown)
Comment:
Validate:
Enter word:
Topics
Latest Comments
  • MAJA
    Re: Geophysical Surveys
    Hello, I am condering a dramatic career change. I've always been fascinated by Mediterranean history, and I think it would be interesting…
    16 December 2019
  • Gemma
    Re: Be a Volunteer Archaeologist
    Hi. I am planning on going to university to study archaeology and would love to go on a volunteer dig. Any advice from anyone i…
    15 December 2019
  • Rog
    Re: Stone Tool Experts
    In an non-excavated site at Bandelier National Monument I found (and left) a worked stone with the following characteristics: Made from fine…
    7 December 2019
  • Dean Mcgrath
    Re: Finding Archaeology Sites
    Does anyone know how I can volunteer at Pompeii while I'm on holiday there?
    25 November 2019
  • Awaiso
    Re: Palynology
    Kindly someone inform me what is geological application of palynology, in this page like archaeology application of palynology
    11 November 2019
  • Bea
    Re: Being Aware of Fake Archaeological Artefacts
    I have what seems to be a maya relic I found it in a storage that a Travelin Soldier left behind. Im…
    5 November 2019
  • Red
    Re: Pottery Experts
    I have what looks to be a very old all black clay pottery liquid container/pitcher of some kind it has small slash markings around where the liquid…
    31 October 2019
  • Hitesh
    Re: Stone Tool Experts
    I have found a stone, it's triangular shape, but Something ring inside the stone.
    26 October 2019
  • Suri
    Re: Be a Volunteer Archaeologist
    I am a prof. in a college in Bangalore India, I would like to participate in your explorations,
    22 October 2019
  • Tweener
    Re: Dating Techniques In Archaeology
    Hy everyone I really like this platform, because is very interesting and educative in archaeological matters
    22 October 2019