Glossary of Archaeological/Anthropological Terms


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B-HORIZON __ The second zone of a soil, containing materials washed down from the A-horizon.

BABICHE __ Lacings, thread, thongs or netting made of sinew, gut or hide.

BABYLONIA __ A region of Southern Mesopotamia named after the city of Babylon.

BABYLONIANS __ A group known as the Amorites moved into Mesopotamia around 1900 B.C. The Amorite king, Hamurabbi, conquered all of southern Mesopotamia, and the civilization became known as Babylonian. Babylon was its richest and most powerful city.

BACCHUS __ Roman god of wine. Dionysos to the Greeks.

BACKED __ Intentionally dulled along one edge. A blade may be backed in order to allow it to be held opposite the cutting edge.

BACKFILL __ Refill an excavational unit at the end of the investigations; the dirt used to accomplish this. The latter is also known as backdirt.

BALANCED RECIPROCITY __ Gift giving that clearly carries the obligation of an eventual and roughly equal return.

BALEEN __ Whalebone. The term is more commonly used to refer to the bony substance within the mouth of the whale which is used to strain food. it is widely used by Eskimos for making tools and ornaments.

BALTIC SEA __ The world's largest brackish sea, located in northern Europe. The low salinity affects not only shipwrecks and other underwater artifacts, but also animal life, where the fish are of different species. The oceans have a salinity exceeding 3%, but the Baltic Sea has a salinity of 0.8% in the south, 0.3% in the north and 0.6% in average. Through currents there is a constant exchange of salt water from the Atlantic with brackish water from the Baltic. The heavier salt water stays in the deep, usually below 40 m depth (in the south) and 80 m depth (in the north). The lighter brackish water is always nearer surface. Between these layers there is also a constant exchange with the water movements u0096 salt spreading up, and brackish water and oxygen diffusing down. For reasons unknown, perhaps climatic change, the Baltic Sea salinity is reducing.

BANNERSTONE __ A (usually) polished stone implement which may take a variety of forms. One of the most common is winged with a central hole. These may have served some ceremonial function or may simply be elaborate atlatl weights.

BARBARIAN __ A non-Greek. To the Greeks any foreigner who did not speak Greek was a barbarian.

BARQUE (or "Bark") __ A ship or a portable shrine shaped like a ship (usually mythical, e.g. the Barque of Amun- Re).

BASALT __ A fine-grained black, brown, gray or green rock consisting of feldspar, olivine, hornblende and augite. Often used for the manufacture of groundstone tools and ornaments.

BASAL THINNING __ The removal of flakes from the base of a projectile point or blade in a lengthwise fashion in order to facilitate hafting.

BASE LINE __ An arbitrary line established by stakes and string, or by surveying instrument, from which measurements are taken to produce a site-map, or to provide an initial axis for an excavation grid.

BASIN AND RANGE PROVINCE __ A geographic area extending from southern Oregon and Idaho to northern Mexico, and including most of western Arizona, the Great Basin of Utah and Nevada, and parts of eastern California. It is an area characterized by north-south trending mountain ranges interspersed by flat basins. The area was formed initially through block faulting during Tertiary times (15-20 million years ago), when, in a series of earthquakes, one section of land was lifted while the adjacent portion was lowered.

BASKET __ a container manufactured by the weaving, coiling or twining of vegetal materials such as cane or straw.

BAS-RELIEF __ Sculpture where figures project slightly from the background.

BASTION __ a projecting structure built onto a palisade for purpose of defence; any fortified place.

BATTLE OF MANZIKERT __ A decisive battle in 1071 in which the Seljuk Turks, under Sultan Alp Arslan, routed the forces of Byzantine emperor Romanus IV, resulting in the fall of Asia Minor to the Seljuks.

BAULK __ Unexcavated strip left standing between excavation units such that soil profiles remain in place for study and reference.

B.C.E. __ An abbreviation used to denote dates that occurred "Before the Common Era" as a more neutral alternative to the "B.C." ("Before Christ") of the Christian calendar.

BEAD __ Small disc-shaped, spherical or tubular artifact of bone, shell or glass which has been perforated such that it may be strung on a necklace.

BEAKER PEOPLE __ From the Late Neolithic to Early Bronze age (4000-2000 BC), named after their pottery. Styles of pottery known as funnel-beaker, protruding-foot beaker, and bell beaker.

BEAMER __ Tool fashioned of wood or the longbone of a large animal. It consists of a sharpened edge which runs nearly along the full length of the tool. The ends serve as handles by means of which it is drawn towards the user. It is used in the treatment of hides.
BEARDMAN JUG __ Common ceramic in the 17th and 18th centuries. May have contained wine or beer.

BEAR GRASS __ Also called sacahuista. Resembling clumps of large, coarse grass, this plant is found on mountain slopes around the Tucson Basin at elevations of 3000 to 6000 feet.

BEDROCK __ The solid layer of rock which underlies soil, gravel and other loose formations nearer the earth's surface.

BEHAVIORAL ADJUSTMENT __ Cultural responses, primarily through technology, that make survival in stressful environments possible. 

BEHAVIORAL SINK __ A psychological state characterized by gross distortions of behavior.

BENTONITES __ A clay formed by the decomposition of volcanic ash, having the ability to absorb large quantities of water and to expand to several times its normal volume.

BERGMANN'S RULE __ A rule which states that within the same species of endotherms, populations with less bulk are found near the equator while those with greater bulk are found farther from the equator.

BERINGIA __ Landmass which existed in the Bering Strait between Alaska and Siberia during the last (Wisconsinan) Ice Age. At the height of the Wisconsin, sufficient water was "locked up" in the glaciers to cause a marked reduction in ocean levels. Thus, land was exposed in many coastal regions, and a "land bridge," over l500 km wide was formed between Asia and North America. For a century, Beringia has been widely accepted as the most probable route of entry for early man into the New World. The land bridge likely flooded a number of times in accordance with climatic changes and fluctuations in sea level, but was finally submerged l0,000 years ago 

BESANT __ a valley in southern Saskatchewan which has given its name to a projectile point style and the Late Prehistoric Period phase, horizon or culture within which it occurs. The side-notched points generally have convex edges, sharp shoulders and straight bases. The latter are often thinned and ground and maximum width tends to occur at the shoulder or base. Length ranges from approximately l5 to 80 mm. The remainder of the artifact complex consists of drills, perforators, gravers, scrapers, spokeshaves, mauls and abraders. Besant peoples pursued a way of life focusing the communal hunting of bison by means of (bison) jumps and (bison) pounds throughout most of the northern plains. Their diet was supplemented by fishing, fowling and the collection of shellfish. Many other aspects of the Besant Phase are controversial. Chief among these are whether or not Besant peoples made pottery and the nature of the relationship between Besant and the burial mounds of the Sonota Complex along the Missouri River in northern South Dakota. Although Besant is here classed as Late Prehistoric, the bow (one of the defining traits of this period) was not in use in the earlier portions of this phase.

BEVELLED SURFACE __ One that meets two others at angles other than right angles.

BI (Chinese) __ Pierced jade disc

BIFACE __ A stone tool which has had flakes removed from both faces. No particular function is implied by this term as projectile points, knives and drills may all be bifacially worked.

BIFURCATION __ A basis of kin classification that distinguishes the mother's side of the family from the father's side. 

BILATERAL DESCENT __ A descent ideology in which individuals define themselves as being at the center of a group of kin composed more or less equally of kin from both paternal and maternal lines. 

BIOLOGICAL IMPERATIVES __ The basic human drives for food, rest, sexual satisfaction, and social contact.

BIOLOGY __ The science concerned with the structure, function, distribution, adaptation and evolution of all living organisms including both plants and animals.

BIPEDAL __ Signifies movement on two feet.

BIPOLAR __ A technique used in stone tool manufacture in which the core is rested on an anvil while being struck with the hammer. The waves of force are therefore not only directed downward from the hammer, but also reflected back upward from the anvil. Hence the flake may appear to have been struck at both ends.

BIRD ARROW __ An arrow which has been purposefully blunted so that it will not damage the hides or animals or become imbedded in a tree and thus be lost.

BIRDSTONE __ A polished stone object which resembles a bird in profile. Probably functioned as an atlatl handle or weight.

BISON JUMP __ A site at which bison have been killed by being stampeded over a cliff. This ancient communal hunting technique was occasionally used in conjunction with a (bison) pound.

BISON OCCIDENTALIS __ A large, now extinct variety of bison that roamed the North American grasslands during the Holocene.

BISON POUND __ A physiographic feature or a specially constructed enclosure into which bison were driven to be slaughtered.

BIT __ The cutting edge of an adze, axe, chisel, etc.

BITTERROOT __ An archaeological phase or culture represented at a number of sites in the Columbia Plateau region in eastern Oregon and in southern and eastern Idaho which Swanson (l962) equates with the northern Shoshone. Projectile points of this complex are side-notched and essentially indistinguishable from those from plains environments to the east (termed Logan Creek or Simonsen), and from those of the Mummy Cave Complex of the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains from Alberta to Wyoming. Associated artifacts include conical and wedge-shaped cores, choppers, oval, trinagular and side-notched end scrapers, stemmed and corner-notched bifaces, perforators, manos, whetstones, bone awls and beads of stone and seeds. Fauna include deer, antelope, bison and sheep. Radiocarbon dates range from 5200 to 3650 B.C.

BLACK SEA __ Inland sea connected to the Mediterranean through the Strait of Bosphorus.

BLADE __ l. the cutting edge of a tool. 2. a cutting tool. 3. that portion of a projectile point or knife which extends beyond the haft element. 4. a long, parallel-sided (prismatic, lamellar) flake core. These may be used as is, or used as the basis for the production of other tools. This highly sophisticated technique makes the most economical use of lithic resources.

BLANK __ An incompletely manufactured stone tool which has the general outline of the intended final form. The rough fashioning of blanks at a quarry would obviate the necessity of transporting greater amounts of unmodified stone to camp or fashioning all stone tools at the source of the stone.

BLOWOUT __ Geological term used to refer to the large bowl-shaped depressions created by wind erosion in arid and semi-arid environments. As the top soil and occasionally some of the underlying strata are removed in this process, artifacts may be exposed.

BOAT GRAVE __ A boat grave is a kind of ship burial, where a small boat is used. Examples of boat graves are Neolithic log boat graves, like the St Albans log boat grave. Other examples are planked boats used in Viking Age burials, perhaps they were simply poor man's/woman's versions of the larger ship burials.

BODKIN __ l. an awl used for making holes in fabric. 2. a blunted, large-eyed needle.

BODY SHERD __ Technically, a fragment of the body of a larger artifact. Most commonly, it refers to a fragment of a ceramic vessel which did not constitute part of the lip, rim, neck, shoulder or base.

BOG BODY __ Ancient human bodies preserved in bogs (waterlogged land filled with a substance called peat). Bog bodies have been found all over Europe, in bogs in Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Scotland, England, Sweden, and the Netherlands. 

BONE __ The hard tissue, composed of both organic and inorganic materials, which makes up the skeletons of adult vertebrates. Because of their density, bones may survive in the archaeological record long after the decomposition of the soft tissue.

BONE BED __ A concentrated layer of articulated and disarticulated animal bones usually taken as an indication of a butchering and/or kill site. Typically found in association are weapons and butchering implements.

BONE GREASE __ The sweet marrow which is extracted by the smashing and boiling of bones. The grease floats and may be skimmed from the surface for immediate consumption, for storage or for use in pemmican.
BOOK OF THE DEAD __ The term Egyptologists use for the texts and illustrations that were buried with mummies to help them pass through the dangers of the underworld into the afterlife.

BOOK OF KELLS __ An illustrated manuscript of the four Christian Gospels (the New Testament books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) created by monks in Scotland in about A.D. 800. The book is a masterpiece of Western art and includes amazing calligraphy (an artistic style of handwriting), colorful drawings of animals and people, and abstract designs. Some of the details are so fine that people can't see them with the naked eye.

BORDER CAVE, SOUTH AFRICA __ One of the earliest modern human sites on the planet, this rockshelter in the Lembombo Mountains was found by Louis Leakey(?) to contain Homo sapiens skeletons dated around 70,000 years old.

BOREAL (1) __ Pertaining to the north, its climate, flora, fauna, environment, resources and peoples; commonly used in reference to the northern forests.

BOREAL (2)__ A central North American climatic episode dating 7350 to 6540 B.C. This interval marks part of the warming trend between the Late Glacial climatic pattern and the warm dry Altithermal or Atlantic Climatic Episode which was to follow. During this time, the ice sheets retreated and vegetation zones moved towards their modern locations (Wendland l978).

BOREAL ARCHAIC __ An archaeological tradition associated with the mixed coniferous-deciduous forests of the American Northeast. As defined by Byers (l959), it was characterized by stemmed and side-notched projectile points, thumbnail and keeled scrapers, expanding and side-notched-based drills or perforators, shouldered knives and a proliferation of ground and polished implements: spears, adzes, gouges, plummets, rods, tubes, bannerstones, semilunar knives and birdstones. It was believed that Boreal Archaic peoples employed a diversified economy involving fishing, hunting, shellfish collection and plant harvesting. This construct is no longer commonly used.

BOREAL FOREST __ The technically correct term for the primarily coniferous forest which extends in a continuous arc from Alaska to Labrador and subsumes the Aspen Parkland -- the transition between the coniferous forest and the grasslands to the south. The white and black spruces are the most common elements throughout, with tamarack, balsam fir, jackpine, alpine fir and lodgepole pine achieving more restricted distributions. Trembling aspen and balsam poplar are the most important deciduous species (Rowe l972). The Boreal Forest is roughly equivalent to the taiga of ecologists.
BOSS __ A small mound-shaped node or protuberance. When used as a decorative element on pottery, they may be produced either by the impressing of a deep punctate on the opposite surface, or by the application and smoothing of small amounts of clay.

BOTANIST __ A person who pursues the scientific study of the structure, growth, and identification of plants.

BOTANY __ The science concerned with the study, classification, structure, ecology and economic importance of plants.
BOW __ A weapon consisting of a staff of elastic material such as wood, which is bent by a shorter piece of twine attached to each end. The tension thus imparted to the string is utilized to propel an arrow.

BOW DRILL __ a form of fire drill in which the stick is rotated with increased speed by virtue of the back-and-forth movement of a bow the string of which is looped around it.

B.P. __ Years before present; as a convention, 1950 is the year from which B.P. dates are calculated.

BRAKISH WATER __ Mixture of seawater and freshwater. The low salt-rate usually excludes those organisms that eat wood on shipwrecks.

BRECCIA __ A composite rock composed of angular fragments of more ancient rocks bound together by a natural cement.

BRONZE __ Mixture of copper, tin, and other metals.

BRONZE AGE __ The second age in Thomsen's three-age system, referring to the period when bronze tools were manufactured.

BRUSHED __ A method of modifying the surface of ceramic vessels by smoothing the still wet clay with a grass brush. This produces a heavily scored or striated appearance.

BUFFALO CHIP __ A piece of dried bison dung used as fuel by Native Americans.

BULB OF PERCUSSION __ A bulb or boss-like feature on the ventral face of a flake immediately below the striking platform.
BULBAR SCAR __ A minute surface irregularity which is occasionally present on the bulb of percussion of a man-made flake.

BULL BOAT __ A simple tub- or bowl-shaped boat made by stretching a bison hide over a willow frame bound with thongs. Used by various North American Native peoples.

BURIAL __ l. the covering-over of an object with earth. 2. the ceremonial entombment of a dead body beneath the ground or in a chamber. 3. the feature thus created consisting of the individual(s) and the context. bundle burial. the (re-)burial of bundled-up disarticulated, defleshed remains. extended burial. placement of the individual with arms at the sides and legs extended. flexed burial. placement of the individuals with arms and legs bent up against the body. intrusive burial. the excavation of a grave into a burial pit or mound constructed at an earlier period. Two individuals may thus appear to be in association although they are not contemporaneous. multiple burial. collective internment; the placement of two or more bodies within the same grave. platform burial. see scaffold burial. primary burial. placement of the dead in a grave with the flesh at least partially intact such that after further decomposition, the bones remain articulated. scaffold burial. placement of the dead on a scaffold above the ground where it may be defleshed by scavengers. The remains may be interred at a later date. seated burial. entombment of the deceased in a sitting position. secondary burial. the final interment of an individual subsequent to an earlier burial in which the flesh decomposed. Secondary burials are therefore not articulated (or frequently improperly articulated) and some bones may have been lost. supine burial. placement of the dead on the back with face and palms upward.

BURIAL MOUND __ Raised mass of earth or debris within or below which deceased individuals are placed.

BURIN __ A generally small flake tool which bears a short, chisel-like cutting edge. They are believed to have been used for engraving or scoring bone, antler or ivory prior to splitting.




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