ANTA01 Introduction to Anthropology
Lecture 3 Archaeological Methods
Methods of studying the past
Biological Anthropology is primarily fossils and teeth from South Africa.
Where- we are looking for sites and fossil localities, we do this through surveying and sampling.
What- look for archaeological recovery to maintain spatial information.
When- how we know how old things are.
How- how do we know what the environment was like.
Who- who were the individuals we were finding
Why- why people or species did what they did in the past?
Where did people live?
Archaeological sites are places where people use to live or use to carry out certain behaviors such as
butcher sites or kill sites. This also includes fossil localities.
We are typically looking for fossils for the individuals themselves, as well as artifacts- objects that
people had made.
An ecofact is usually some biologically remnant (bone left over from someone’s meal).
Features are unique because you cannot pick them up and take them away and study them in a lab, a
feature is immovable, such as a grave, evidence of fire use, or foundation of buildings.
When you find an archaeological site, you must first map it out. The act of doing archaeology is
destroying your evidence; you must draw, take photographs, and videotape the site. DFM is an
important site, each blue square is a 10 by 10 meter area, and the red line shows the extent to which
the site was excavated.
There is a linear deposit of shellfish at the bottom and the hearths are located to the top, this can tell
where people were living, which was at the top around the hearths.
How do we find the site in the first place? Through educated guesses.
Simple things such as access to water and firewood are resources that humans have also needed.
Take out a topographic map and see where rivers are and look for high ground and where firewood
Another way is to use local and oral histories. There is a famous story of Heinrich Schleimann who
wanted to find the lost city of Troy. He talked to the people living in Turkey, he got a bulldozer and
started tearing apart a large area and found a ruin 6 layers beneath, meaning it was destroyed 6
Field survey is the main way of finding a site. It includes dropping a flag at every artifact one sees,
then seeing where the highest concentration of flags is.
Electrical resistivity survey, proton magnetometry, and ground penetrating radar are used to find
sites which are buried under the ground.
Look for raw materials.
What makes Homo sapiens unique is we take raw materials over long distances.
Being able to take a piece of rock and take lab analysis to see what artifacts it may match.
What materials did they leave behind?
You must record not only what area artifacts came from but also their relation to one another, hence
careful excavation in a 1 meter by meter box. Have to be careful in excavation, trying to keep control over spatial context and association of
You know everything found in that same grid was found within a peter of one another.
Provenience is like saying it’s actually location within the deposit. In this case the provenience would
be the site Metachoni, the square was F4, the layer we are excavating is 12 and it may be in the
northern west quadrant of that square.
The provenience is the most important information we get from archaeological excavations
Assemblage is all of the artifacts and ecofacts that belong to the same time period or provenience.
When did human activities occur?
BP refers to 1950. It is associated with a radiocarbon date and radio carbon dating was invented in
1950 so it normalized to 1950.
Most dates are not exactly precise, always assume that there is a range when you see dates.
The way that deposits or sediment is laid down is on top of whatever is already there. Whatever is at
the base of a sediment column is older than that on the top of a sediment deposit. This may not be
true if there is an earthquake or mountain has been folded on one another. Burrowing animals is
Common method of trying to figure out the likely period something belongs to, it is based on style,
and things come into style, fluoresce, and go out of style.
For a long time the only grave motifs were devil heads, then there was the introduction of cherubs,
and the introduction of earns and willows.
Seriation is also known as battleship diagram.
Columns represent number of different styles and rows represent different decade. 1720-1750 only
devil heads, by 1760, introduction of cherubs. By 1770, there is introduction of earns. When is cherub
most likely to be grave motif? – 1780
What are the best self-dated objects?
o Date of death on the tombstone!
Diaries, journals, newspapers, and coins are also self-dated objects.
One can also use a terminus post quam, if you know the date something was invented and you find it
then you know it cannot be older than that.
The caveat is that remember people keep heirlooms and souvenirs and because you find one, it may
be older than one thinks.
Involves great assumptions.
One can count the rings on trees to tell how old a tree is and can tell how the environment was by
determining the size and health of the ring.
We know that there are trees at are upwards to 3,000 years old. We can go back to 12-13 thousand
years based on dendrochronology.
There is a clear difference in rings of Northern and Southern hemispheres.
A radiocarbon date is never an exact date, there is always an error given with in, there is a 50 year
Radiocarbon (14C) Dating
Works on the simple idea that carbon is constantly replenished in living organisms. There are 3 types of carbon on earth, C12- the most abundant, C13- stable but very rare and created
in the atmosphere with cosmic rays, C14- extremely rare and its radioactive. C14 is nitrogen 14 that
has been stimulated in the atmosphere, it is temporarily a carbon until it deteriorates and becomes
The key to understanding radiocarbon dating is to assume the proportion of all carbon in the world is
constant. This works even though C14 is decaying; you are getting new ones created in the
This means that when something dies, it is not introducing new C14 into the body and when C14
decays, it is not being replenished so we can imagine that we can figure out if 14C is losing; it ends up
just being a mathematical equation. 14C: 12C =1 14C was 0.1 but now it is 0.05 (decaying as the
person is now dead) and 12C is 12 and remains at 12 so it is mathematical equation. C14 has a decay
rate and what that means is half of the amount of C14 will convert back to nitrogen every certain
amount of years (5,730 years).
How many C14 will there be after 11,460 years? 0.25 or 25%!
It has been realized that the constant is not constant and it shifts a bit every year, sometimes there
are solar flares (more C14) and sometimes the sun isn’t active at all (less C14).
The basic idea of calibration curve is if it was constant and you measured someone’s bones and you
did the equivalent and it was 3,000 years old you can roughly say someone was from 1,000 BC. We
have to calibrate it. There is software that calibrates, and you have to use different calibration
software depending on which hemisphere you are in.
How do you know that there is a difference every year, and it is not the same constant every year,
what information can tell us this? The dendrochronology! allows us to calculate radiocarbon
Calibrating gave calendar age in AD or BC.
Carbon cycle is different in marine ecosystem. The bushes are undergoing photosynthesis, animals
come along eat