Home > Areas of Specialisation > Classification

Classification

By: Grahame Johnston - Updated: 3 Mar 2018 | comments*Discuss
 
Archaeological Classification Ceramics

Archaeological classification incorporates the processing of field acquired data collection and collation of ceramics, organic remains, lithic relics, and any other artefact used or changed by humans and recovered from the archaeological record.

Why Classify Artefacts?

Classification of archaeological relics makes identification and recognition easier to understand. Washing and labelling items is the first step in the classification of artefacts. Less recognised is the enormous amount of time that classification technicians require to perform this task. Due to the lengthy time proportions allocated to classification procedures, archaeology students or amateur and professional volunteers usually undertake this work.

Raw Materials

Every scientific discipline must adopt one or more systems of classification to order itself and form solid foundations to assist study and research. In archaeology the classification of artefacts must remain free from modern external bias. The most useful method of artefact classification is assessment of raw materials such as stone, clay, metal or glass. This category of classification forms the basis of archaeological coding.

Morphology

Next in importance is artefact morphology. This will include the shape, size, form and design. Also included within the morphology category is style. Although sometimes overlapping with design elements, style is usually applied to the decoration and aesthetic additions to what would otherwise be a purely utilitarian object.

Multiple Categories

Archaeologists also want to separate technological and functional aspects of the object from its stylistic attributes. Many tools and utensils firstly appear to be simply utilitarian in use but closer examination will often reveal a social or even an ideological function. Hence, classification systems must be able to overlay different categories onto the same artefact without complicating the process.

Technical Complications

Difficulties arise when an object’s function is ambiguous, or worse, totally unknown. Items that have baffled archaeologists as to where to fit them in classification categories have included the pot that was on the head of a buried person and piles of cast bronze figurines that provide no context to their placement or purpose.

Artefact Assemblage

Classifiers will record all of the artefacts from one site. This grouping of all artefacts is called an assemblage. Sub-assemblages are more refined and patterned sets of groupings that represent the human behaviour at that site.

Therefore, there could be a papyri assemblage, a metal assemblage, a pottery assemblage, and so on from the one site.

Time Periods verses Culture

Another common classification system is to type artefacts according to age. Artefacts that are readily recognisable can usually be positioned in a particular time period, such as classical Greek, or they may be categorised according to location or cultural characterisation like Inca, Indian or Trojan.

Manufacturing Techniques

Ancient craftsmen used various methods to create their tools, utensils, weapons and decorative items. Archaeological classification can divide artefacts by their manufacturing methodology. For example, there are many ways to chip a stone to create a knife. Three near identical flint knives could be classified into differing categories if one was made by direct percussion – striking the flint with a hammer to dislodge sharp flakes - or indirect percussion – punching the flakes off by an intermediate tool - or pressure flaking – pressing off the flint flakes without hitting the stone.

Every museum or collector of ancient antiquities will have arranged their collection to conform to a classification system. Classifying these relics helps us to understand the process of their manufacture, their purpose to the society that used them, and the importance that the artefact played in their daily lives. Cleaning it up is the easy part, deciding what to write on the label is the more difficult task of the qualified archaeological classification technician.

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
[Add a Comment]
How can pottery be used for group identity?
Kb - 3-Mar-18 @ 7:07 AM
Archaeological sites are classified into different types based on their function.Discuss
PIONEER - 14-Feb-18 @ 12:53 PM
This is very interesting. I would like to find out how best an archaeologist will prevent the loss of archaeological knowledge. And in some cases how do stone evidence help to study the behaviour of early hominids. THANKS
mishemishi - 27-Mar-17 @ 2:05 PM
Four types of archaeological sites.
Hsu Toe - 21-Jun-15 @ 4:02 PM
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice...
Title:
(never shown)
Firstname:
(never shown)
Surname:
(never shown)
Email:
(never shown)
Nickname:
(shown)
Comment:
Validate:
Enter word:
Topics
Latest Comments
  • Madhu
    Re: Academic Qualifications to Be An Archaeologist
    I done B.of Architecture.want to become archeologist.what to do. Plz help.
    10 December 2018
  • Nosaj
    Re: Conservators of Underwater Archaeology
    Hi I found a object which I believe is an old tobacco pipe and I was just wondering if you can help me please
    9 December 2018
  • Nosaj
    Re: Types of Archaeology
    Hi I found this piece on a beach and was just wondering if you can help me find out if it is what I think it is Can you help me please I…
    9 December 2018
  • Nico
    Re: What is Archaeology?
    "The term archaeology, was not used until early in the 17th Century." Really?! Tell that to Thucydides (fifth century BCE), who titled his…
    8 December 2018
  • Imstillcurios
    Re: The Jesus Boat
    I have searched far and wide on the internet for some answers and i have found a few images that match some of the scrolling on this magnificent…
    21 November 2018
  • Bassie
    Re: Pottery Experts
    I have a greek pot that is 600 B.C an has lions on and want to know the value of it
    21 November 2018
  • Cindy
    Re: Pottery Experts
    I have a vase, approximately 6” tall. It is cream coloured inside and a terracotta red outside. It has a picture of a woman with a giant bow on her…
    6 November 2018
  • Sonya
    Re: Pottery Experts
    Hi have ancient handmade clay bowl that i would love to know more about
    1 November 2018
  • Jasher
    Re: Types of Archaeology
    I'm an American high school student, interested in Ethno-Archaeology, any idea on some good colleges for archaeology majors, any and all…
    1 November 2018
  • Sheila
    Re: Archaeology as a Hobby
    Hiya just trying to find a local archaelogical club to join as a hobby. I love in Kirriemuir
    24 October 2018