(2)Archaeology Textbook Notes.docx

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University of Toronto St. George
Christopher Watts

Physical Anthropology and Archaeology Pg. 7-8 Chapter 2: Uncovering the Past: Tools and Techniques Step 1: Archaeological sites are found by specialized scientific and geological methods Step 2: Archaeological techniques are used for the excavation of the remains Provenience (or provenance): the location of an artifact or feature within a site; physical location in 3 dimensional space *Site level: grid system *Regional level: map coordinates/settlement features *Archaeology is DESTRUCTIVE: once material has been removed, all information regarding its burial has been lost. Therefore, Archaeologists want to prevent illegal/amateur excavation and apply rigorous methods to retrieve any remains Material culture: objects that people have and make; it is a direct reflection of human culture and behaviour (objects have agency on us) CONTEXT IS KEY Observed material culture: “Stuff that gets left behind” that an archaeologists finds Unobserved (past) human/non-human activity: with its limits, take objects and say something about the past (meaning) Interpretation of (past) human activity: goal=to publish something telling a story about the past Site Formation Processes Site formation processes: environmental and cultural factors that affect how and where materials are deposited at an archaeological site or fossil locale. Midden: a pile of refuse (trash), often shells, in an archaeological site. *Garbage can very handy in determining the elements of a human population. *How a community constructed its dwellings (places of residence) may have an impact on the formation of an archaeological site (nomadic or sedentary, for example) *Locations tend to have layers of accumulated materials superimposed by the groups of people that once lived there (more difficult to determine nomadic settings because they were constantly on the move, taking their material culture with them) *Composition and position of materials can affect the preservation of those remains *Materials are reused and traded over distances Material culture can have functional, social, and aesthetic purposes *Some objects lose their usefulness/utility over time (with the coming of age of new technologies); i.e., pottery (was useful for everyday tasks in the past, now mostly used for decoration) *Some objects have hierarchal or sentimental value, passed on from generation to generation (social/cultural purpose) Natural physical processes can affect the survival of artifacts*Climate, temperature, and natural disasters over time all influence the state of an archaeological site or artifact (erosion, exposure, destruction, especially for organic material)  Non-organic material (such as stone, metals, baked clay…) are favoured within the archaeological record Locating Sites Archaeological sites: areas of past human habitation or where fossil remains are found. Fossil Locales: Fossil locales: places where fossilized remains of once living organisms (animals) are found. *Candidate locations are based on the environment that would have existed tens of thousands or MYA *Combination of SKILL and LUCK What Are Fossils? *An impression of an insect/leaf on a muddy surface that is now in stone OR actual hardened remains of an animal’s skeletal structure (bone turned to stone) Fossilization: the process of becoming a fossil by the replacement of organic materials with inorganic mineral matrix Process: *right place at the right time 1) When an animal dies, the organic matter in its body deteriorates. All that remains in the end are the teeth and skeletal structures (which are composed of inorganic mineral salts)  also deteriorate on most conditions 2) Some conditions are favourable for preservation of animal remains: materials that found a high mineral environment What Can We Learn From Fossils? *Palaeontonlogists rely on comparative anatomy to help reconstruct and dissect missing pieces of a fossil, as well as technologies *Geology helps Archaeologists understand the changes in environment over the years that gave us these fossils Taphonomy: the study of changes that occur to organisms or objects after being buried or deposited (the science of the burial) *The key is learning about the original morphology by examining all its fragments Finding Archaeological Sites *Can range from small campsite to large city … *Many archaeological sites are discovered accidentally! *Precautions: to make sure that cultural heritage is not being destroyed by modern development (documenting the boundaries of a site) Site Prospection Intuition, experience, and subsurface inspections will aid in the initial discovery of archaeological sitesSurface Techniques: archaeological survey techniques for finding and assessing archaeological sites from surface finds *Include field walking and field surveying (for signs of artifacts or surface irregularities) *Appropriate in situations where disturbances have exposed archaeological materials (e.g. erosion) *Human activities like cultivation, construction or forest clearing may help one discover material culture from the past *Aerial photography and satellite imaging help one distinguish past changes to the landscape on a larger scale Subsurface Techniques: archaeological survey techniques that map features beneath the surface *Often, the surface is not enough to determine past archaeological sites; one needs to look beneath the surface *Subsurface techniques can be mechanized or electronic: Mechanical techniques: can be invasive, such as shovel shining, test pitting, or trenching Shovel shining: the edge of a shovel is used to scrape off thin layers of the immediate and usually disturbed surface layer to reveal undisturbed soil. The site is further assessed by systematically removing layers of the surface from a small, contained area. Suitable for unearthing features like post moulds, hearths, house foundations, or refuse. Test pitting: A less destructive method of excavation where a shovel is used to determine different test pit intervals across the site. A test pit is a sample of artifacts that help date the site’s age and function. The size, depth, and spacing of test pits vary with the nature of the site deposits, the research objectives, and the resources available. Trenching: Ideal in instances where material is suspected to be deep beneath the surface. Its primary assumption is that the distribution of artifacts within the core will be representative of the distribution within the immediate surrounding area.  Electronic techniques: are non invasive, allow archaeologist to survey/map below the surface without disturbing the site Ground-penetrating radar: involves radar waves that map subsurface sedimentary layers and buried archaeological features. Radar waves “reflect” off subsurface features and produce pulses that can be detected on the surface. Can help provide relative locations and depths of features within the site.Electrical resistivity meters: measure differences in the ability of sediments and other materials beneath the surface to conduct electricity. (some features are more or less conductive of electricity) Magnetometer: can measure the relative magnetism of items below the surface Excavation: 1) Site evaluation: involves an assessment of the size of the site, depth of the deposits, site formation processes, and function (Horizontal control + Vertical control = critical) 2) The choosing of a sample to be representative of the entire deposit is critical. Datum point: a fixed, permanent reference point within or near and archaeological site used to define the location of all information and specimens collected from the site. As the datum is a permanent fixture, future investigations can be spatially related to all previous work at the site. 3) Grid system is laid out: divides the site into 1 or 2 meter squares 4) Archaeologists apply different techniques and equipment, depending on the scale of the excavation 5) Sediments are examined by removing the backdirt (pile of soil left from excavation) in buckets, and sifting through fine screens to identify small artifacts (smaller screen
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