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



OBELISK __ From the Greek word meaning; "a spit". It is a monumental tapering shaft usually made of pink granite. Capped with a pyramidion at the top. Obelisks are solar symbols similar in meaning to pyramids, they are associated with an ancient stone called benben in Heliopolis. They were set in pairs, at the entrances of temples, and to some Old Kingdom tombs. (e.g. Cleopatra's Needle in New York City) Modern obelisks include such things as the Washington Monument and are still popular as memorial markers in many parts of the world. 

OBESITY __ A condition in which a person's weight is 20 percent greater than a sex- and age-specific weight-for-height standard.

OBOL __ Greek coin worth one sixth of a Drachma.

OBSERVATION __ Looking at and critically noting the details of a site, an artifact, or cultural behavior.

OBSIDIAN __ A volcanic glass which is one of the finest raw materials for the chipping of stone tools.

OBSIDIAN HYDRATION DATING __ A technique in which the age of an obsidian artifact is determined from the thickness of the layer of hydration.

OBVERSE __ The "head" side of a coin.

OCCUPATION SPAN __ The length of time a settlement is occupied.

OCCUPATION SURFACE __ A boundary layer between depositional strata upon which activities were carried out (also called a living floor)

OCHRE __ A general term for any of the clays or earths containing ferric oxide, silica and alumina. Ranging in colour from yellow through red to brown, ochre was widely used as a prigment for decorative and ceremonial purposes throughout much of prehistory

OCOTILLO __ This plant, also called the coach whip, is characterized by clumps of straight, thorny whip-like stems with no branches. When there is adequate rainfall, the ocotillo leafs out, but loses its leaves when the soil dries. The plant has brilliant red flowers that occur at the tips of its many stems. Ocotillos occur below 5000 feet, from west Texas to southeastern California and northern Mexico.

OFF-SITE DATA __ Evidence from a range of -information, including scatters of artifacts and features such as plowmarks and field boundaries, that provides important evidence about human exploitation of the environment.

OLD COPPER __ A late Archaic complex or culture, centered in the western Great Lakes region characterized by well-made copper artifacts. These include socketed, "rat-tail", lanceolate, conical and stemmed projectile points, large crescentic shaped objects, woodworking and hideworking tools, fishing equipment, and occasionally, ornamental objects. Associated artifacts include concave-based side-notched projectile points with square basal edges termed either Raddatz or Osceola, scrapers, drills, "burned" hornstone blades (sense 2), "turkey-tail" blades, bannerstones, triangular cache blades, ground axes, shell beads, bone awls, antler points, notched swan bones, elk antler axes, shell gorgets and antler shaft wrenches. Much of our information on this complex comes from cemeteries and as a consequence, the mortuary pattern is quite well-known. Both primary and secondary (bundle) single and multiple, flexed and extended interments are reported and these may occur in either oval or rectangular pits. Ochre, copper, lithic or faunal grave goods may accompany the deceased and the graves may have been ceremonially burned over. The grave escort or "retainer" phenomenon is also known for this culture. Old Copper peoples appear to have employed a diversified economy eccompassing the collection of nuts, acorns and perhaps wild rice in the fall, fishing in the spring, summer and early fall, the taking of wildfowl in the spring and fall, the trapping of small fur-bearing mammals throughout the year and the hunting of moose and deer. Old Copper artifacts have been found over much of southern Manitoba although they seem to be most common in the forests of the southeastern quarter of the province. The association of finished artifacts, "ingots" of unmodified copper, and waste fragments from tool manufacture suggests that these people imported copper for tool production, rather than receiving finished tools from outside the province. Radiocarbon dates on copper sites argue for a considerable time-depth and a substantial antiquity although most would agree that the period from 3000 B.C. to l000 B.C. marks the peak of Old Copper usage in its "heartland". Radiocarbon dates from eastern Manitoba fall between 2000 and l700 B.C. although it seems clear that Old Copper implements were made and used for a much longer period than this.

OLD KINGDOM __ Egyptian chronological term for dynasties 3-6.

OLD WORLD/NEW WORLD __ The Old World includes the continents of Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia and all their associated land. The New World includes the continents of North and South America and their associated land. 

OLDUVAI GORGE __ One of the most important sites for understanding both human evolution and the development of the earliest tools. (around 1.9 million years ago)
OLIVELLA __ A genus of small marine snails native to the Pacific coast of North America and elsewhere which were used prehistorically as ornaments and as a medium of exchange.

OLMEC __ A highly elaborate Mesoamerican culture on the Mexican gulf coast which was at its height from 1200 to 600 B.C. The Olmec influenced the rise and development of the other great civilizations of Mesoamerica, such as the Maya, and were probably the first to develop large religious and ceremonial centers with temple mounds, monumental sculptures, massive altars, and sophisticated systems of drains and lagoons. The Olmec were probably also the first Mesoamericans to devise glyph writing and the 360-day calendar.

OLYMPIA __ Site of Greek sanctuary to Zeus and home of the Olympic Games.

OLYMPUS __ Mountain in the north of Greece believed to be the home of the gods.

OMNIVOROUS __ Feeding on both animal and vegetable matter.

OPEN SITES __ Any site not located in a cave or rock shelter.

OPENING OF THE MOUTH __ This Egyptian ceremony was performed at the funeral to restore the senses of the deceased. The ceremony was done by touching an adze to the mouth of a mummy or statue of the deceased, it was believed to restore the senses in preparation for the afterlife.

OPPOSABLE THUMB __ An anatomical arrangement in which the fleshy tip of the thumb can touch the fleshy tip of all the fingers.

OPTICAL EMISSION SPECTROMETRY __ A technique used in the analysis of artifact composition, based on the principle that electrons, when excited (i.e. heated to a high temperature), release light of a particular wavelength. The presence or absence of various elements is established by examining the appropriate spectral line of their characteristic wavelengths. Generally, this method gives an accuracy of only 25 percent and has been superseded by ICPS (inductively coupled plasma emission spectrometry).

ORAL HISTORY __ Verbally transmitted information about past events. Although often providing information about non-written events, such history is subject to the vagaries of human perceptions and mental recall.

ORDEAL __ A painful and possibly life-threatening test inflicted on someone suspected of a wrongdoing. 

ORDER __ A major division of a class, consisting of closely related families. 

ORGANIC SOLIDARITY __ The unity of a society formed of dissimilar, specialized groupings, each having a restricted function (Durkheim).

ORTHODOX CHRISTIANS __ As members of the Eastern Orthodox Church, this branch of Christianity is a product of Middle Eastern, Hellenic, and Slavic history and culture. It is seen as holding to traditional teachings and values born in Jerusalem.

ORTHODOX JUDAISM __ The branch of Judaism that is committed to keeping its contract with the past. It stresses commitment to Jewish law and observance of all of the Jewish commandments and obligations.
ORTHOGRADE __ Vertical posture. 

OSIRIS __ Egyptian god of the underworld and judge of the dead.

OSSIFICATION __ The process of bone formation. 

OSTEODONTOKERATIC CULTURE __ an archaeological culture based upon tools made of bone, teeth, and ivory.

OSTEOLOGY __ The scientific study of the development, structure and function of bones.

OSTRACON __ From the Greek word meaning; "potsherd". A chip or shard of limestone or pottery used as a writing tablet. Ostraca are known from all periods.

OUTBUILDINGS __ A term used to refer to all nonresidential structures on a site. These include animal pens, storage buildings, sheds, barns, etc.

OUTCROPS __ A term designating the surface exposure of rock layers, which have not been decomposed into soil.

OUTWASH __ Rubble (sand, gravel etc.) deposited by water derived from melting glaciers.



Top of Page


Privacy Policy