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Glossary of Terms
Every field of study has its own long list of words that are hard to understand. To make it easier to understand what we are talking about on the site, we have put together a list of archaeology words and phrases that you might see most often. There are many more terms than appear on this list, so if you see a word you don't understand here on the site or somewhere else, go ahead and ask us!
Archaeology: The study of past cultures. We learn from the things people have left behind.
Anthropology: The study of people and cultures.
Artifact: An object a person made or used in the past.
Culture: A collection of beliefs and practices shared by a group of people.
Site: A concentration of artifacts and features where people were active in the past.
Feature: A pattern or collection of evidence that shows a past activity.
Prehistory: The time in a given part of the world before written records were used.
Projectile Point: An object made of stone, antler, bone or other material that could be sharpened and placed on the end of an arrow, spear, or dart.
Hafting: The method of attaching a projectile point or stone object to a handle or shaft, often with cord or sinew.
Atlatl: A throwing device that enables a hunter to launch a spear or dart farther and more accurately.
GPS: Stands for Global Positioning System. It's a network of satellites that help to locate a person (their GPS device) by use of triangulation (comparing 3 or more distances) and radio signals.
Floatation: The method to put soil in water to separate small objects by their density.
Foundation: The sturdy construction upon which a house or building is placed. Often, foundations are the only remains of an old house.
Hearth: A place where food and boiling water was prepared using a bed of coals and/or hot stones.
Longhouse: The dwelling often associated with the Iroquois and other Woodland cultures, though many cultures in the world used a similar format.
Flintknapping: The art of chipping quartzite and similar stone (flint, chert, obsidian) into useful tools.
Biface: A tool that has been flintknapped carefully on both sides to create a thin and even tool that is easier to maintain and sharpen.
Pottery: Vessels and containers made out of clay that is dried or heated on a fire.
Netsinker: A simple stone tool that is chipped in on two side to make it easier to tie around the edge of a net. The sinkers helped to pull the net down over a school of fish.
Gorget: A decorative object that was made by grinding and polishing a piece of slate or similar stone. Often worn around the neck on a cord.
Adze: A stone tool made by grinding and polishing, often of greenstone or slate. An adze was used to work wood.
Laboratory: A place where careful scientific work is done in a controlled environment.
Dart: A thrown object used for hunting. Darts used by Native Americans could be as long as 5 feet or more.
Trowel: A flat, sharp, metal hand tool, used by archaeologists and stone masons all over the world.
Unit: The 1-meter by 1-meter square that makes up the basic unit of excavation.
Survey Test Pit: A small pit dug with a shovel in the first phase of testing. STPs are often laid out in a grid to ensure even and systematic sampling.
Stratigraphy: The idea that soils are generally laid down and accumulate over time. Over time, as artifacts and sites become buried, the older the artifact, the lower in the "layer-cake" of soils they appear to be.
Catalogue: The method of taking notes about the appearance and location of artifacts found at carefully excavated sites.