Glossary of Archaeological/Anthropological Terms


  Home - Next - Previous

A - B - C - D - E - F - G - H - I - J - K - L - M - N - O - P - Q - R - S - T - U,V - W,X - Y,Z



LABRET __ A pulley-shaped object of stone, bone or wood, inserted in a perforation of the lower lip as an ornament or status symbol by some aboriginal peoples.  
LABYRINTH __ A building with intricate passages. Also the place where King Minos of Crete kept the monster Minotaur.

LAC __ A resinous deposit of an insect that lives on creosote bushes. 

LACTATION __ The production of milk by a female mammal 

LACUSTRINE DEPOSITS __ Lake sediments; usually fine laminated silts and clays.

LAMINAE __ Very thin strata.

LAMINATED __ Composed of or built up by layers.

LANCEOLATE __ leaf-shaped; tapered at one or both ends. In archaeological usage, the term usually refers to long, slender, un-notched chipped stone projectile points.

LAND BRIDGE __ Any tract of land which connects two continents thus allowing foot travel between them.
LANDSCAPE ARCHAEOLOGY __ The study of individual features including settlements. 

LANGUAGE __ A highly flexible and complex system of communication that allows for the exchange of detailed information about both interior and exterior conditions. As a creative and open system, new signals may be added and new ideas transmitted.

LAPIS LAZULI __ Semiprecious blue stone. In ancient times it was mined in Afganistan.

LARTER __ An archaeological site on the Red River north of Winnipeg which has lent its name to the distinctive barbed projectile point style for which it is known as well as to the focus or phase within which these occur. This late Archaic or late Middle Prehistoric Period complex consists of corner-notched projectile points named Larter Tanged, unnotched projectile points, or blanks, a variety of scrapers and knives, drills, gravers, chisels, grooved hammerstones and sinew stones. Larter peoples appear to have followed a seasonal round of activities centered upon the communal hunting of bison, although their diet was supplemented by a variety of other animals as well as fish and shellfish. According to at least one expert (Reeves l983) Larter derives from the earlier McKean Complex. see also Larter Sub-Phase, Pelican Lake, Tunaxa.

LATE GLACIAL CLIMATE EPISODE __ The climatic pattern characteristic of the end of the glacial period (roughly ll,000 to 8l00 B.C.).

LATE PREHISTORIC PERIOD __ Late Prehistoric Period. the last and most recent of the three "stages" in central North American prehistory. This term is most commonly used for the plains, but is roughly equivalent in terms of its dating to the Woodland Period of the eastern forests (ca. 200 B.C. to the Historic Period). In many ways, the basic lifestyles remained largely unchanged from those of the earlier Middle Prehistoric (or Archaic) Period. Nonetheless, a number of technological and behavioural innovations are present in the archaeological record which allow archaeologists to identify sites of this period with relative ease. These include the manufacturing of pottery, the use of the bow and arrow, the construction of burial mounds and an intensification of the use of bison corrals and (bison) "jumps" as a communal hunting technique.

LATERALIZATION __ The phenomenon in which the two hemispheres of the brain specialize in regard to different functions.

LAUREL __ A (now-abandoned) town in northern Minnesota near the Ontario border which has given its name to a distinctive Middle Woodland ceramic ware as well as the complex with which it is associated. Laurel vessels are grit-tempered and manufactured by means of coiling. Vessel shape is conoidal with slightly constricting necks terminating in un-thickened lips. Surface finish is smooth except where decorated. Decorative elements include bosses, dentates, punctates and incisions and these are applied and/or combined in various ways so as to produce pseudo-scallop shell, dragged stamp and various other patterns. The Laurel lithic industry consists of a variety of scrapers, and bifaces, pieces esquillees, netskinkers, hammerstones, anvils, smoking pipes, tools for decorating pottery, mortars, pestles, manos, abraders and pendants. The bone, antler, tooth, claw and shell industries are extremely well represented, and served as media for the production of numerous classes of tools and a variety of personal adornments. Native copper was also utilized for beads, pendants, chisels, fishhooks and knives. Subsistence was based on a wide range of resources including large and small mammals, wildfowl, shellfish, turtles and fish. Plants were also heavily utilized and it is possibly at this time that wild rice first entered the diets of prehistoric Manitobans. One of the most spectacular aspects of the Laurel culture was the construction of burial mounds. The largest of these was originally 36 m in maximum diameter and l4 m high. Within these mounds were placed the deceased together with meager grave goods. The condition of some of the skeletons was suggestive of (ritual?) cannibalism. Laurel sites are distributed in a broad arc from east-central Saskatchewan through central Manitoba to northern Minnesota and northwestern Ontario, and eastwards around the shores of Lake Superior to northern Michigan. Radiocarbon dating shows them to date between approximately 200 B.C. and A.D. l000.
LAW __ A rule of social conduct enforced by sanctions administered by a particular source of legitimate power.

LEACHING __ The removal of water soluble minerals in soil or rock by rainwater. Leaching also accounts for the gradual disappearance of bone from archaeological sites, particularly when the soil is acidic.

LEAN-TO __ A simple shelter consisting of a covered frame leant against the wall of another structure or against some other vertical face.

LECTOR PRIEST __ Translates as "One who bears the ritual book". This priests function was/is to recite from the ritual texts.

LEGAL SUBDIVISION SYSTEM __ The method of describing parcels of land in terms of "Township, Range, Section, and Quarter Section". 

LEGITIMACY __ The right to rule on the basis of recognized principles.

LEISTER __ A fish spear with three or more points, usually of bone or antler. Each point has a barb on the inner side.

LEKYTHOS __ A vessel used by Greeks to hold perfumed oil.

LEMURIDAE __ Madagascar prosimian family that includes the femurs.

LENS __ In archaeology, a biconvex (lenticular) discoloration in a soil profile.

LENTICULAR __ Shaped like the cross-section of a lens; biconvex.

LESSER APES __ The gibbons and siamang of Asia. 

LETHALS __ Defects that cause premature death.

LEVALLOIS TECHNIQUE __ The method (common in the Middle Paleolithic) or preparing a tortoise-shaped core so that flakes struck from it will be of a predictable shape.

LEVANT __ Land area between Mesopotamia and Egypt; it includes modern day Lebanon, Syria, Israel and Jordan

LEVEL __ The layer in which archaeologists dig. When they dig down through many layers in one site, it is also a unit of measurement. All sites have different numbers of levels, and even the different units within one site may have different numbers of levels. How do archaeologists decide when they are going into another level? Archaeologists try to judge by cultural clues like floors, but sometimes they will go by changes in soil color or soil type, or even by a specific number of centimeters. For example, an archaeologist might give a different level number every 10 centimeters in a site. Archaeologists want to keep track of levels because this allows them to build a profile (or a cross section) of the units, so that they can look at how the site changed over time.

LEVEL __ The basic vertical subdivision of an excavation unit. May be natural. arbitrary or contoured.

LEVEL BAG __ A bag containing excavated materials from a single level of a single excavation unit. 

LEVEL NOTES __ Written observations on all significant characteristics of an excavated level. 

LEVELING MECHANISM __ A social or economic practice that serves to lessen differentials in wealth. 

LEVIRATE __ A social custom under which a man has both the right to marry his dead brother's widow and the obligation to provide for her. 

LEXICON __ In linguistics, the total number of meaningful units {such as words and affixes) of a language. 

LEXICOSTATISTICS __ The study of linguistic divergence between two languages, based on changes in a list of common vocabulary terms and the sharing of common root words.

LEXIGRAM __ A symbol that represents a word.

LIBATION __ Ritual pouring of a liquid.

LICHENOMETRY __ The measuremet and study of rates of lichen growth. Lichenometry offers a means of calculating the minimum age of any rock painting or petroglyph which is overgrown with lichen or a petroform if the cobbles from which it is made were overturned during the construction phase. The latter condition is necessary as lichen grows only on the upper, exposed face of boulders and thus inversion will kill the old lichen and allow new patches to begin growing. If the rate of lichen growth in any given region can be determined (usually by long term observation) then a simple calculation will yield the age of the "new" lichen patch and thus the age of the petroform. Similarly, rock paintings and glyphs can theoretically be dated by the amount of lichen on top of them, or by the extent of "new" patches assuming that the rock surface was cleared of "old" lichen before use. Unfortunately lichenometry is not yet sufficiently refined for widespread use by archaeologists.

LIFE EXPECTENCY __ The length of time that a person can, on the average, expect to live. 

LIFE SPAN __ The theoretical, maximum age.

LIFEWAY __ The way of life associated with a culture; the technological and behavioral means of adaptation.

LIFTBAG __ A scientific instrument like a giant balloon, which is filled with air from a scuba tank and then used by underwater archaeologists to float heavy artifacts to the surface during underwater archaeological excavations.

LIGHT-TABLE __ A glass-topped table illuminated from underneath, used in the laboratory photography of archaeological specimens. 

LIGNITE __ A soft shiny black variety of coal, aboriginally used to manufacture decorative objects.

LIMONITE __ A substance produced by the oxidation of iron-bearing minerals such as pyrite and magnetite. Limonite is a yellowish brown, soft mineral with no cleavage. It is a widely occurring mineral.

LINDENMEIER __ An archaeological site in north central Colorado which yielded much material of the Folsom Complex. Henry Irwin (l97l) defined Lindenmeier as a phase consisting of two sequent subphases, the Folsom and the Midland which followed it. He considered the Lindenmeier Phase to date from 9000 to 8500 B.C.

LINEAGE __ A unilineal descent group composed of people who trace their genealogies through specified links to a common ancestor. 

LINEAL RELATIVES __ Direct ascendants and descendants.

LINEAR MOUND __ A long, low, linear earthen embankment which may include a right angle. Rounded expansions often occur at the ends of the mounds and at turning points. These are much less common than their oval and circular counterparts and tend to occur most frequently in southwestern Manitoba and adjacent portions of North Dakota. The largest of these was 800 m in length, over l0 m in width and approximately l m in height. The function of these structures is something of a mystery. They do not appear to have been used for burying the dead, and although they are occasionally called "entrenchments", they are not usually in easily defensible locations, and would not be particularly effective for that purpose. It is possible that they fulfilled some ceremonial but as yet unknown purpose.

LINEN __ Fabric woven from flax fibers.

LINGUA FRANCA __ Any language used as a common tongue by people who do not speak one another's native language.

LINGUISTIC ANTHROPOLOGY __ A subdivision of anthropology that is concerned primarily with unwritten languages (both prehistoric and modern), with variation within languages, and with the social uses of language; traditionally divided into three branches: descriptive linguistics, the systematic study of the way language is constructed and used; historical linguistics, the study of the origin of language in general and of the evolution of the languages people speak today; and sociolinguistics, the study of the relationship between language and social relations.

LINGUISTICS __ The science which concerns itself with the origin, development, history, relationships and structure of languages. Judicious use of linguistic data can reveal much of direct relevance to archaeology. The degree of similarity between two related languages is a gauge of the amount of contact between the two groups or the amount of time elapsed since they separated. Glottochronology can put an absolute date on the "split", and occasionally archaeology can trace the route of the emmigrant group. Comparison of terms in modern related languages can yield insights into the nature of the common "mother" language from which they all developed. These may include the kind of technological items the speakers of the now-extinct language used and even the geographic region they originally occupied.

LINKED CHANGES __ Those changes brought about in a culture when other (interconnected) parts of that same culture undergo change.

LINTEL __ The upper beam of a door or window.

LITHIC (1)__ Of or pertaining to stone.

LITHIC (2) __ A stone artifact, usually in the form of a stone tool. Archaeologists frequently find lithic artifacts at archaeological sites because humans used to make their tools out of stone before they used metal.

LITHIC INDUSTRY __ That part of an archaeological artifact assemblage manufactured of stone.

LITHIC REDUCTION SEQUENCE __ The entire process of manufacturing stone tools by flaking from the removal of the decortification flakes to the sharpening or retouching of the final product.

LITHIC TECHNOLOGY __ The process of manufacturing tools etc. from stone. Most frequently refers to stone flaking.

LIVING FLOOR __ The level within an archaeological site upon which a group of people lived. In the absence of specially prepared ground surfaces, living floors may only be defined on the basis of the depths of artifacts pertaining to that component and the degree of compaction of the floor due to people walking on it. Often, overlying soil will appear to peel off the floor due to the different densities involved. Exposure of entire living floors allows the graphic representation of the various activity areas of a site at a specific point in time.

LLANO COMPLEX __ That complex defined by the association of Clovis projectile points and mammoth remains.
LOAM __ A fertile topsoil consisting chiefly of sand, clay and silt and partially decomposed organic matter.
LOCAL RACES __ Subdivisions of geographical races. One type consists of partially isolated groups, usually remnants of once larger units. The second type includes fairly large subdivisions that contain a degree of variation within them.

LOCKPORT STEMMED __ A poorly defined projectile point style associated with Middle Woodland ceramics at a site in southern Manitoba. These crudely fashioned specimens are approximately 45 mm in length and 20 mm in width and show a tendency toward asymmetry. The stems are short and straight and the shoulders poorly defined.

LOESS __ A light-colored, un-stratified deposit consisting of fine-grained sands, clays or silts which is for the most part laid down by the wind under cold, dry conditions.

LOGAN CREEK __ Logan Creek. an archaeological site in northeastern Nebraska which has lent its name to a widespread Middle Prehistoric Period complex whose time-depth brackets the warm, dry Altithermal. One of the hallmarks of the complex is the side-notched projectile point which in many areas is the first style to appear after the demise of the Plano lanceolate forms. The former range from approximately l7 to 50 mm in length, have triangular blades, straight or concave bases and are frequently basally ground. Perhaps one of the most diagnostic traits of this complex is the practice of manufacturing side-notched end-scrapers, presumably from fragments of broken projectile points. Other items in the Logan Creek inventory include drills, grinding stones, hammerstones, bone awls, beads, needles, shaft straighteners, and fishhooks, and serrated mussel shells. Sites are widely distributed in the eastern grasslands, particularly near the forest edge, in major river valleys, in outliers of the eastern forests or near perennial sources of water. Presumably this reflects the generalized drought conditions which central North America was experiencing at the time. Faunal remains, found in association with Logan Creek materials tend to be more varied than those of their Paleo-Indian predecessors, although bison seem to have remained the mainstay of these peoples' diets. Radiocarbon dating indicates an age for this culture of 6500 B.C. to 4000 or possibly even 3000 B.C.

LOGISTICS __ The process of transporting, supplying and supporting a field project. 

LONG HOUSE __ The long multi-family dwellings of the Iroquois area.
LOOTING __ The removal of artifacts from archaeological context without documentation of their dimensions of variability.

LORISIDAE __ Prosimian family that includes the lords, potto, angwantibo, and galago. 

LOUTROPHOROS __ Water jar used in weddings and burials.

LOW ENERGY BUDGET __ An adaptive strategy by which a minimum of energy is used to extract sufficient resources from the environment for survival.

LOWER EGYPT __ Northern Egypt from Cairo to the sea. The Nile Delta.

LUG __ A protuberance or projecting part on the rim of a pot intended to assist in holding and lifting the vessel.
LUNATE __ Crescent-shaped.



Top of Page


Privacy Policy