Archeology notes, page



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ARCHEOLOGY NOTES, PAGE


I. Introduction: The Study of the Human Past

A. Archeology


- study of past cultures

- archeologists study past humans and their societies primarily through their material culture (their buildings, tools and other artifacts)

- archeology is a multisciplinary science, utlizing concepts of the social sciences (especially anthropology, the study of humanity) and the methods, concepts and techniques of the natural sciences

- archeology is often divided into Prehistoric Archeology (Prehistory is the period before written records) and Historic Archeology


B. Objectives of Archeology
1. Reconstruct ancient lives
2. Compile cultural histories
3. Analyze cultural processes (including the origins of agriculture, cities, warfare, religion, etc.)
C. Research Methodologies
1. Ecological/Environmental approach (Cultural Ecology)

- study relationship between culture and environment

- the cultural-ecological approach views culture as an adaptive system; the “adaptations” allowed the ancient peoples to survive the challenges of the particular ecosystem that they lived in
2. Agency Theory

- states that individuals in ancient societies were the “agents” of change


3. Ethnoarcheology

- comparing prehistoric societies with living peoples (Ethnography is the study of living groups of people by living among them, observing their behavior, and where ethnographers participate in the daily activities of the people they are studying)

- ethnoarcheology assists in determining the use and origin of particular artifacts or architectural remains in ancient cultures, and tests theories concerning the relationship between material remains and the human culture that produced them
Direct Historical Approach - a research methodology in which the culture of a group that represents the descendants of the people whose archeological remains are being investigated are utilized as a source for models or analogies to explain the lifeways of the ancient group
Experimental Archeology - archeologists replicate tasks or artifacts and compare them with the archeological record
4. Processual Archeology

- archeologists concentrate on discovering "causes" rather than only describing ancient cultures

- processual archeology states that archeology is a mathematical, evolutionary and ecological science of complex systems
5. Postprocessual Archeology (Interpretive Archeology)

- questions the rigid scientific methods of processual archeology in favor of a variety of approaches and multiple interpretations

- postprocessual archeologists are interested in the symbolic and cognitive aspects of ancient societies, including interpretation of ancient ideas, gender roles, power relations, ritualism and other social concepts
Cognitive Archeology - the study of past ways of thought and symbolic structures from material remains
D. Cultural Resource Management (CRM)

- the study, preservation and protection of archeological sites

- in CRM, the archeological record is viewed as a non-renewable cultural or historical resource that is worthy of conservation

- much of the archeology currently conducted in the United States is funded by federally-mandated CRM

E. Culture
- learned patterns of thought and behavior characteristic of a population or society

- humans “adapt” to their environment by means of their culture


1. Cultural Concepts
a. Tradition

- cultural trait or pattern which persists through time

- often describes long-lasting artifact types, tool assemblages, economic practices, art styles, or behavior that last much longer than one archeological phase or horizon
b. Culture Area

- a major geographic province which develops similar cultural traditions due to similar environmental and historical conditions


c. Cultural Evolution

- concept that human societies evolve from simple hunter-gatherers to complex civilization


Cultural Stage - level of cultural development
d. Stages of Societal Complexity
- These classification categories are "Labels of Convenience" and vary considerably in their characteristics
d1. Pre-State Societies

- small-scale societies based on the band, village or community

- pre-state societies lack a highly-stratified class stucture and other features of state-organized societies
Pre-State Societies Include:
Mobile Hunter-Gatherer Groups (often termed “Bands”) - self-sufficient groups of less than 25-60 people, usually consisting of a few families; highly adapted for a hunting-gathering lifestyle; constantly on the move and band size varies considerably; bands are egalitarian (with social equality), with leadership based on personal qualities rather than political power
Segmentary Societies (often termed “Tribes”) - egalitarian societies, but with greater social and cultural complexity than bands; with mechanisms to accomodate more sedentary living, redistribution of food, and organization of community services; often with some village farming; often clusters of bands linked by clans, with "kinship ties" that provide effective mechanisms for social control; most decision-making is based on public opinion
Chiefdoms - clan groups develop a social ranking; headed by important individuals with unusual ritual, political or entrepreneurial skill; power based in hands of powerful kin leaders responsible for resource redistribution; with higher population densities and more material possessions; vary widely in elaboration and are often difficult to distinguish from tribes
d2. State-Organized Societies

- with a ruling class and a hierarchy of social classes below them; with centralized social and political organizations, class stratification, and intensive agriculture; with complex political structures, permanent government institutions and social inequality


e. Hunter-Gatherer Theory

- prior to the 1960's hunter-gatherers were depicted as primitive societies, unable to rely on predictable food supplies and constantly in danger of starvation; as a result they were underdeveloped in their cultural and social institutions; these notions of hunter-gatherers have been proven false

- all hunter-gatherer societies are based on an underlying logic; that is, to sustain long-term internal group equilibrium
The following models have been used for hunter-gatherer societies:
e1. Forager-Collector Model of Hunter-Gatherer Societies
Forager - in warmer climates with no serious seasons of food shortage; with few incentives for resource storage; when local resources are exhausted, the hunter-gatherers move to a new location; defines the concept of "Foraging Systems"
Collector - found in areas with sharp seasonal contrasts; people obtain food in bulk and accumulate a surplus for use during the "lean" seasons; requires an efficient, portable technology and involves a more structured social relationship; defines the concept of "Collector Systems"
e2. Optimal Foraging Model

- hunter-gatherer societies select a combination of resource items that maximize the net energy intake per unit of foraging time; decisions revolve around the diet or breadth of diet, where to forage, amount of time spent on different activities, settlement location, and group size

- as food resources decline in abundance, the time required to search for them increases; typically the breadth of the hunter-gatherer diet widens to compensate for this decline
2. Primary Cultural Processes
a. Invention (Innovation)

- create a new concept or technology


b. Migration

- whole peoples and their cultures move

- migration is difficult to establish archeologically

- if a "foreign" culture is found in an area, it is often termed a “Site-Unit Intrusion”


c. Cultural Diffusion

- introduction of single traits or trait complexes


Trait intrusion - introduction of a trait or object from another culture
Stimulus diffusion - introduction of an idea from another culture
F. Archeological Data

- include all indications of human activity


1. Site Constituents

- the things that make up the archeological record, including artifacts, ecofacts and features


Typical Items found in Archeological Sites Include (and they are often in this order of frequency):
a. Food remains
- they are often found in Middens, which are accumulations of residue resulting from food preparation
Food Remains May Be Preserved as:
a1. Floral Remains
Paleoethnobotany (Archeobotany; Floral Analyses) - study of recovered plant remains from archeological sites; these are used to reconstruct past environments and human economies
- Floral Remains from Archeological Sites Include:
Macrobotanical Remains (seeds, fruits, wood or charcoal found in the archeological sites), often recovered by screening (sieving) or by flotation techniques
Microbotanical Remains, including Pollen (the study of pollen is termed palynology) and Phytoliths (microscopic inorganic mineral particles produced by plants, that can often be identified to species)
a2. Faunal Remains
Zooarcheology (Archeozoology; Faunal Analyses) is the identification and analysis of animal remains from archeological sites; this analysis aids in reconstructing ancient human diets and provides information on the ancient environment
a3. Coprolites (Paleofeces) - feces recovered from archeological sites; they provide data for reconstructing ancient diets
b. Structural Remains

- the remains of structures built by humans (see discussion under “habitation sites” below)


c. Ceramics

- pottery remains

- most pottery recovered from archeological sites consists of broken pieces, termed “sherds” or “potsherds”
d. Lithic artifacts

- stone tools

- microscopic study of the patterns of wear or damage on the edge of stone tools (termed Microwear Analysis) may provide valuable information on the way a tool was used

- besides tools, other lithic remains include debitage (waste material due to toolmaking, such as “flakes”)


e. Perishable items, such as organic remains
Organic Remains are typically only preserved in 1)cold environments 2)dry environments 3)waterlogged environments
2. Typology

- classification of artifacts


Artifact - any portable object made by humans
a. Artifact Type

- group of artifacts that resemble each other and that can be differentiated from other groups

- artifact types are "artificial classifications", that may be subject to different interpretation by archeologists

- artifact types are defined by their Attributes (the characteristic features of the artifacts)


b. Artifact classes

- larger categories of artifacts based on similarities in form or function

- artifact classes are used in sorting and comparing artifacts
c. Technology

- determine manufacturing processes and sequences


d. Analytical Techniques

- uses a variety of optical, x-ray and nuclear methods to establish the identity and geographic source of raw materials, techniques of manufacture, etc.


Chemical Signature - the chemical makeup of a particular raw material (such as flint, obsidian, copper or iron ore, or clay) may indicate its source; chemical signatures may often be obtained by utilizing Trace Element Analysis; certain analytical techniques, such as Neutron Activation Analysis (NAA) may be used to determine the source of archeological materials
3. Archeological Sites
- places with traces (usually artifacts) of ancient occupation or activity
Site Formation Processes - the processes by which material objects become a part of the archeological record; site processes include both Cultural Formation Processes [such as loss, discard, caching (hoarding) of artifacts or site abandonment] OR Natural Formation Processes (including natural and environmental events that affect the burial and survival of archeological sites)
- Sites Based on Activity Include:
a. Habitation Sites

- houses (the most common structures in archeological sites), caves, rock shelters or open areas


- Types of Structures (based on types of building materials used) include Pithouses (semi-subterranean structures), Masonry Structures (made from stone), Wood Structures, Thatch Structures (made from grass or some other plant fibers) and Jacal ("wattle and daub" structures, made by weaving branches, sticks or cane between vertical posts, and then plastering the structure with mud)
b. Trading Centers

- trading centers may be identified by the presence of a variety of “foreign” trade items


c. Quarry Sites

- where minerals were mined


d. Kill sites

- kill sites should contain bones of animals that indicate meat processing, projectile points, butchering tools, and sometimes hearths ("fireplaces")


e. Ceremonial Sites

- ceremonial sites usually contain few, if any, dwellings (except for the houses of political and/or religious officials)


f. Burial sites

- often help determine social ranking in a culture and social practices


g. Surface (Lithic) Scatters

- with geological or geographical context but no archeological association


h. Petroglyphs and Pictographs

- pecked pictures (petroglyphs) or painted pictures (pictographs) of animals, men, mythical beings or geometric designs

- these are usually found on cliffs or in caves
4. Ecofacts

- non-artifact environmental items preserved in a site

- usually food remains; also soil, charcoal, rock fragments, etc.

- ecofacts help determine climate and cultural practices


5. Features

- cultural manifestations that are neither artifacts nor structures (an example would be a charcoal-stained area in an archeological site)

- features are locations where human activities took place, and result in the presence of artifacts and ecofacts
G. Genetic Archeology

- almost all molecular archeology studies have been performed using DNA from mitochondria (mtDNA), cell structures that supply energy for metabolism; mammalian mtDNA is inherited only through the maternal lineage

- researchers extract DNA from tissue samples, use Polymerase Chain Reactions (PCR) to copy part of it, and then compare the resulting DNA to other DNA sequences (from a relative, a particular population, or a species) to identify an individual or the population the sample came from

H. Archeological Chronology


- dating techniques used in archeology
1. Relative Dating Techniques

- date events in chronologic order of occurrence rather than in years


a. Stratigraphy

- study of sedimentary layers (termed strata; singular stratum)

- layers in sites are due to both geologic and cultural activity

- stratigraphy is based on the “Law of Superposition” (in undisturbed sites, the lowermost layer is the oldest)


b. Seriation

- sequence dating based on artifact types

- seriation is based on the "Index Fossil" concept [artifacts (such as pottery or points) useful for dating are of a distinctive form, widespread distribution and are in existence for a short time]
c. Intracomponent Associations
Component - culturally homogeneous stratigraphic unit within a single site (a settlement occupied one time has one component; if occupied four times with four components); regional chronologies are produced by synthesizing components from different sites
Law of Association - artifacts and ecofacts should be the same age in the same level at the same site
d. Biological Associations

- use stratigraphic ranges of fossil animals and pollen frequencies to date sites


Palynology - the study of pollen; palynologists construct “pollen profiles”, which show the percentages of pollen types through time
Faunal Dating - zooarcheologists or paleontologists use the stratigraphic “ranges” of animals to date archeological and paleontological sites
2. Actual (Absolute, Chronometric) Dating Techniques
- dates in calendar years
a. Methods that Depend on Radioactive Decay of one element to another
a1. Radioactive Dating (Radiometric Dating)

- dates are based on the regular decay of an unstable (radioactive) isotope (isotopes are forms of an element with the same number of protons, different numbers of neutrons)

- radioactive decay is measured in Half Lives (the time required for half of the “parent” nuclei in a sample of an element to decay to the “daughter” isotope)
The Major Types of Radiometric Dating Techniques used in Archeology are:
Carbon 14 - with half life of 5,730 years; this is the most-used dating technique in archeology; standard laboratory methods can be used on objects as old as 50,000 years [using Accelerator Mass Spectrometry, or AMS, smaller samples can be analyzed, it gives better dates, and older samples can be dated (up to approximately 70,000 years)]; calibration curves are used to correct carbon dates to tree ring dates or calendar dates
Potassium- Argon = with half life of 1.25 billion years; K-Ar typically dates volcanic ash falls; it is especially used for early hominid sites (another technique, Argon-Argon dating, is also used)

These notations, and their abbreviations, are used in radiometric dating:


Kiloannum (plural = Kiloanna; kilo an) = Ka = thousands of years in the radioisotopic time scale
Megannum (plural = Meganna; mega an) = Ma = millions of years in the radioisotopic time scale; M.Y. (or m.y) = millions of years, without reference to the radioisotopic time scale
a2. Fission Track Dating

- high energy radioactive particles (especially uranium-238) damage the surrounding rock

- for fission track dating, the scientist determines the track density (the more fission tracks, the older the date)

- fission track dating is typically used for sites older than 100,000 years


b. Methods that require calibration by radioactive or chemical means
b1. Paleomagnetic and Archeomagnetic Dating

- the Earth’s magnetic field is constantly changing in direction and intensity; these changes are preserved in iron-rich sediments and rocks

- paleomagnetic dating is based on the fact that the Earth's magnetic poles reverse; these reversals may be calibrated with other absolute dating techniques, such as potassium-argon dates

- the orientation of a cultural deposit versus magnetic north may be fixed in a cultural deposit; in archeomagnetic dating this orientation is compared with that of a “master curve” to determine the date of the deposit


b2. Luminescence Dating

- this dating is based on the fact that commonly-occuring crystalline materials such as quartz and feldspar capture electrons in defects in the crystal structure; luminescence techniques measure the time elapsed since electrons were last "drained" from the "traps" (by burning, exposure to sunlight, etc.)


- in Thermoluminescence (TL), pottery or stones heated in the past release energy (in the form of light particles, or photons) when reheated; there is more light released in older materials
- Optically-Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) is similar to TL, but uses one wavelength of light to release light of another wavelength
b3. Electron Spin Resonance (ESR)

- similar to luminescence dating in that the number of trapped electrons in measured, but in ESR ancient teeth or other materials are placed in a magnetic field, and the interaction between the objects and the magnetic field is measured

c. Dendrochronology (Tree Ring dating)

- in this technique, annular growth rings in trees are counted

- the best trees to use are long-living types (such as bristlecone pine); a “master sequence” is produced by overlapping the rings of a living tree with a series of successively older trees

- in the southwestern United States, tree ring dates extend back to 8,000 BC


d. Calendars and Historical Records

- typically limited to civilizations


3. Temporal (Time) Units
a. Phase

- basic unit of archeological chronology; similar components from more than one site are correlated

- a phase has a specific cultural content, is found in a specific region, and represents a relatively brief time interval

- distinctive cultural traits distinguish one phase from another

- phases may be divided into subphases
b. Horizon

- complex of traits occurring together

- a horizon links a number of phases in neighboring areas that contain some general cultural patterns in common (some religious cults may transcend cultural boundaries and spread over large areas, such as the Chavín art style of ancient Peru)

- horizons may be used for chronological correlation


I. Archeological Reconnaissance

- finding archeological sites


1. Ground Reconnaissance

- evaluate a potential archeological site by systematically walking back and forth, or across in sweeps using a team of archeologists


2. Remote Sensing

- involves techniques in which the observer is not in direct contact with the archeological remains


a. Aerial Photography

- use a small airplane to take vertical or oblique air photos to use in preliminary analyses of the local environment and determine site location

- aerial photography may use black-and-white photos, color or false color infrared photography, or digital sensors
b. Thermography

- thermal imaging involving the infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum

- detects heat emitted from the object being examined

- buried objects may affect vegetational growth which may, though not visible to the naked eye, be detectable by analysis of infrared radiation

- thermography is often used to locate buried ditches, prehistoric fields, etc.
c. Ground-Penetrating Radar

- electromagnetic pulses are passed through the soil; the pulses encounter objects in the soil and is reflected back to the receiver; the radar operator then interprets the nature of the objects (such as buried walls or the foundations of structures)


d. Satellite Imagery

- uses multispectral scanners that record the intensity of reflected light and infrared radiation; typically used for regional or interregional studies


e. Magnetometry

- use a magnetometer to measure the intensity of the magnetic field

- iron tools, ceramic kilns, and burned areas can be detected
f. Electrical Resistivity Surveys

- measure localized differences in conductivity of an electrical current passed between probes placed in the ground

- passage of electricity may be impeded by buried walls or similar solid features
3. Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

- a collection of computer hardware and software that manages and manipulates geographic data; it is one of the primary tools that archeologists use to map archeological sites

J. Excavation Techniques
Archeological Excavation - the careful and methodical exposure of subsurface archeological material
Provenience - determine the exact location of an artifact, ecofact or feature; when an artifact or ecofact is encountered, it is left in place so its location can be measured
1. Test Pits

- preliminary excavations carried out in search of subsurface archeological evidence

- test pits are dug during the initial surveys for sites yet to be discovered, and in the preliminary examinations of known sites to determine their size and function
Shovel Test Pits (STPs) - holes of variable size and shape (usually 0.5 to 1 meter), to determine archeological content
- the sediments from test pits are passed through screens to determine content




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