Section 1: Archaeology With Professor Watts
Archaeological Data and Dating
•The matrices in which artifacts, ecofacts, sites and other human-manufactured features or
results of past human actions are found.
Three typical elements of Archaeological Research
•Observed material culture
•Unobserved human and non-human activity: Cannot be directly observed, material
sources and must be inferred.
•Interpretation of Human Activity: We don’t try to explain, but interpret.
1.Physical : Material dimension. Can be held and observed
Artifacts: Any Portable object whose form has been shaped (manufactured, modified) by way of
human activity. E.g. Hand Axe, Ceramic Vessel, Funerary Mask
Ecofacts: Non-artificial material evidence of human activity. Can be further subdivided into:
•Macrofossils: Visible to the naked eye, typically plant materials. Can be retrieved
through flotation or normal excavation processes. E.g. Corn in harvested and processed
•MicroFossils: Visible only under high-power magnification, 200x or greater. E.g. Pollen,
phytoliths; can be retrieved through flotation only, adhered to pots or stone tools etc.
Features: Non-Portable material evidence of human activity. E.g. Hearths, Storage pits,
2.Spatial : No physical quality.
•Can be defined in a number of ways
•Usually consists if a collection of activity areas containing any of the following
•Spatially defined areas where one can find remnants of past human activity. Can be
collected into one group or in several groups
•Physical location in three dimensional space
Site Level: Employ a Grid System for the actual site
Regional Level: Map co-ordinates and settlement features (e.g. Roads, Towns)
Site formation Processes
Nature of the Artifacts: What were they used for? What were they made of?
Human Agencies: Where were they used? Actions of the humans; actions that led to the creation
of the artifacts.
Natural Agencies: Natural disturbances that can aid preservation or ruin it. E.g. Soil
composition, environments, temperature, disturbance by animals (taphonomic processes)
Finding Archaeological Sites
•Field Walking: used to survey ploughed areas (very efficient, common) Can cover a huge
amount of ground in a relatively short time.
•Testpitting: Used to survey areas that cannot be examined by other methods. Go through the
area and dig small test pits every so often and then straining the contents (Not as efficient)
•Aerial photography, satellite imaging: A great tool for finding sites, or identifying areas of
high potential. Works well when there are large-scale landscape features.
•Remote Sensing: Measures the resistance of the ground to an electrical current. Current
passes more quickly through wet ground than dry ground. Based on how quickly the current
passes you can find out if there are pits or pieces of foundation under the soil (fairly easy)
Remote sensing (Magnetometry): Measures magnetic fields below the earths surface. Some
archaeological features (e.g. building materials with iron, hearth events) have their own magnetic
Remote sensing (Ground Penetrating Radar)(GPR): Uses low-energy radio waves to detect
subsurface features. The stronger the bounce, the bigger the object or feature. The longer it takes
for the radar to return, the deeper the object or feature. Only method to provide data along
vertical axis of soil matrix (possibly most common).
Benefits of remote sensing
•Cost effective, efficient and accurate
•Non-destructive and non-invasive
•Devices are relatively portable
•On-site real time data display
•Excavation: Recovering archaeological data. Normally begins with a surface collection (if a
site of ploughed or disturbed). Followed by the placement of a datum and grid. Then
everything found is recorded in conjunction to the distance from the datum on the grid. When
excavating, we record subsurface features and the location of artifacts in a similar fashion.
With reference to a grid system (based on Cartesian coordinates – x and y axis)
•Surface Collection: The spatial distribution of artifacts on the surface of a site is
recorded with reference to a fixed point (datum). This provides accurate maps, which can
then be used to guide the excavation.
Types of Excavations
•Open-area, areal or horizontal excavations: Uncover and remove layers (strata) from
youngest to oldest, simultaneously, across a wide area.
•Grid-and-Baulk or Vertical excavations: (aka grid and baulk method) are focused on a
single small portion on the site. Units separated by Baulks
Note: A number of sites are found by accident!
Processing Soil at Site
•Considerations: aperture size of mesh
•Stratigraphy: The analytical process by which we order layers and features
chronologically. Based on the Law of Superposition: That Sediments are deposited on
top of pre-existing sediments.
•Strata: Layers of cultures and times, from Youngest (top) to Oldest (bottom)
•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.
•There are other methods known as Absolute dating methods
•Dendrochronology: Tree-ring dating of preserved wood. Chronologies based on
overlapping ring sequences. *Limitations: Cannot be used in Tropical Regions, Confined
to certain tree species.
•Radiocarbon Dating (C14): Radioactive isotope or ‘variety’ of carbon which forms in the
atmosphere. Absorbed by plants during photosynthesis. Absorbed by animals when they
eat plants. After death C14 decays at a known rate – its Half-Life 5730 +/_ 40 years
Archaeological record: the matrices in which artifacts, ecofacts, sites and other human-manufactured features or results of past human actions are found. Three typical elements of archaeological research: observed material culture, unobserved human and non-human activity: cannot be directly observed, material sources and must be inferred. Interpretation of human activity: we don"t try to explain, but interpret. Artifacts: any portable object whose form has been shaped (manufactured, modified) by way of human activity. Can be further subdivided into: macrofossils: visible to the naked eye, typically plant materials. Can be retrieved through flotation or normal excavation processes. Corn in harvested and processed the carbonized: microfossils: visible only under high-power magnification, 200x or greater. Pollen, phytoliths; can be retrieved through flotation only, adhered to pots or stone tools etc. Archaeological site: can be defined in a number of ways, usually consists if a collection of activity areas containing any of the following.