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Archaeology - Notes from Every Lecture

Course Code
Christopher Watts

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October 27
Three elements of archaeological research
1. Observed material culture
2. Unobserved (past) human/non-human activity
3. Interpretation of (past) human activity)
Material Evidence
1. Physical
a. Artifacts
b. Features
c. Ecofacts
2. Spatial
a. Activity areas
b. Sites
c. Regions
Any portable object whose form has been shaped, i.e. manufactured or modified by way of
human utility
Nonportable material evidence of human activity
Examples: hearths, storage pits, post holes
Non-artifactual material evidence of human activity
Can be further subdivided into macrofossils and microfossils
Macrofossils: visible to naked eye, retrieved through flotation or normal excavation
Microfossils: pollen, phytoliths, found in soils or residues, adhering to artifacts, 200X

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Archaeological site
can be defined in a number of ways
consists of a collection of activity areas containing one of the following: artifacts, ecofacts,
physical location in three-dimensional space
site level: grid system
regional level: map, co-ordinates, settlement features
Site formation processes affected by
human agencies, e.g. curating/discard of objects
natural agencies, e.g. soil composition, environment, temperature, disturbance by animals
(taphonomic processes)
Finding Sites
field methods
subsurface technologies
- excavation: recovering archaeological data. Normally begins with a surface
collection (if site is ploughed or disturbed).
1. Types of excavations:
a. open area (horizontal excavations) uncover and remove
layers (strata) from youngest to oldest simultaneously, across a wide
b. vertical excavations are focused on a single, small portion of
the site, units separated by baulks
- stratigraphy: the analytical process by which we order layers and features
chronologically, based on the Law of Superposition
- Law of Superposition: that sediments are deposited on top of pre-existing
- stratigraphy is a relative dating method
- levels (and, by extension, the artifacts, ecofacts, and features contained in them)
can be ordered through time based on their stratigraphic position
- magnetometry: measures magnetic fields below the earth’s surface. Some
archaeological features (building material with iron, hearths) have their own
magnetic fields

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- ground penetrating radar (GPR): radiowaves to detect subsurface features
- benefits of remote sensing
1. cost effective, efficient, and accurate
2. non-destructive and non-invasive
3. devices are relatively portable
4. on-site real-time data display
surface techniques
- field walking
- testpitting
- aerial photography
- satellite imagery
- remote sensing (measures the resistance of the ground to an electrical
November 3
Absolute dating methods
1. dendrochronology
2. radiocarbon dating
3. potassium-argon dating
4. thermoluminescence dating
- three-ring dating of preserved wood
- chronologies based on overlapping ring sequences
- limitations:
a. cannot be used in tropical regions
b. confined to certain tree species
Radiocarbon dating
- radioactive isotope or ‘variety’ of carbon which forms the atmosphere
- absorbed by plants during photosynthesis
- absorbed by animals when they eat plants
- after death, 16 C decays at a known rate its ‘half-life’
- 5730 +- 40 years
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