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Archaeology: Glossary

A

A.D.
abbreviation for the Latin phrase "Anno Domini," which means "in the year of our Lord" which is year 1
Archaeoastronomer
archaeologists who study how people thought about the planets, stars, and calendar
Archaeology
the study of people from the past using the material things found in the present
Artifact
any object that was made by or altered by humans for a purpose. Examples are: pottery and stone tools

B

B.C.
abbreviation for "Before Christ." Refers to dates before the year 1
Bronze Age
the period in history after the Stone Age. During this time bronze was developed for use, especially for weapons and tools

C

Chronology
the arrangement of events in the order in which they took place
Context
This refers to an artifact and its exact location, surroundings, and relationship to other artifacts
Culture
the way of life of a people. It includes the attitudes, values, goals, customs, art, literature, religion, and philosophy of a group

D

Dating
figuring out the age of things
Digs
archaeological sites with excavations

E

Excavation
the process of methodically uncovering and searching for remains of the past

F

Field Notes
a way to document what is found and where when archaeologists are digging so that anyone can accurately reproduce the site using only the field notes and site maps
Flint
a hard, brittle stone, usually made of chalk or limestone that can be flaked shaped. Flint was the material humans used for tools during the Stone Age
Fossils
the remains or imprints of plants and animals

G

Grid
the division of an archaeological site into small squares making it easier to measure and document the site

H

Hieroglyphs
the earliest Egyptian writing, from about 3000 B.C
Hominids
part of the family of Hominidae, which includes both extinct and modern forms of humans
Homo Sapiens
modern humans, which first appeared in the fossil record around 35,000 B.C
Hunter-Gatherers
people that are dependent on wild food resources
Hypothesis
a tentative and testable guess

I

Ice Age
the period of prehistory between 35,000 and 12,000 years ago, when huge ice sheets covered much of northern Europe and North America
Iron Age
period of human history after the Bronze Age, characterized by the development of iron and the use of this technology

L

Level
the layer in which archaeologists dig. Archaeologists want to keep track of levels because this allows them to build a profile (or a cross section) of the units, so that they can look at how the site changed over time
Lithic
a stone artifact, usually a stone tool. Archaeologists frequently find lithic artifacts at archaeological sites because humans used to make their tools out of stone before they used metal

M

Midden
a rubbish or trash heap of remains where archaeologists often find broken pots, food, tools, and other items that were thrown out
Mummy
a dead body whose flesh has been preserved from decay

N

Nautical archaeology
underwater archaeology

O

Observation
looking at and noting the details of a site, an artifact, or cultural behavior
Old World-New World
The Old World includes the continents of Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia. The New World includes the continents of North and South America

P

Palaeontology
the study of fossils. Human palaeontology is the study of human origins by excavating and looking at fossilized human skeletal remains
Pick
a tool used to remove delicate items from archaeological units
Pleistocene
the last Ice Age, from about 1.6 million years ago to about 10,000 years ago (8300 B.C.)
Prehistory
the time before written records. Prehistory ended about 3,000 years ago
Preserve
to keep safe and protect from injury, harm, or destruction, to keep free from decay; or to save from decomposition
Profile
a picture of the layers of a unit. A profile of a unit helps archaeologists understand the levels that were excavated, as well as changes in human activity

R

Remote sensing
a way to figure out what may be hidden under the ground before digging. One of the tools archaeologists use to do this is a metal detector
Restoration
the process of cleaning and studying an artifact and attempting to return it to its original form

S

Sherd (also shard)
a broken fragment of pottery
Site
an area where an archaeological excavation and/or survey is taking place
Stone Age
the earliest technological period in human culture when tools were made of stone, wood, bone, or antlers. Metal was unknown
Strata
layers of earth. When an archaeologist digs into the earth, they are actually digging through "layers"of history
Survey
to examine the land to locate and record artifacts and sites

T

Transit
a scientific instrument used on excavations to measure horizontal and vertical angles and horizontal distances
Trowel
a straight-edged tool used by archaeologists to dig in a sideways scraping way
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