Glossary of Archaeological/Anthropological Terms


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RACE __ A subgroup of human population that shares a greater number of physical traits with one another than they do with those of other subgroups.

RADIOACTIVE DECAY __ the regular process by which radioactive isotopes break down into their decay products with a half-life which is specific to the isotope in question.

RADIOCARBON DATING __ A process that provides absolute dates by counting the radioactive decay of carbon in the remains of once living plants and animals (i.e., charcoal, wood, bone, shell).

RADIOIMMUNOASSAY __ A method of protein analysis whereby it is possible to identify protein molecules surviving in fossils which are thousands and even millions of years old. 

RADIOMETRIC DATING __ A type of chronometric dating that involves methods based upon the decay of radioactive materials; examples are radiocarbon and potassium-argon dating. 

RAISED BEACHES __ These are remnants of former coastlines, usually the result of processes such as isostatic uplift or tectonic movements.

RAMADA __ An open-air shade built of upright posts that are covered with a flat roof. The Pimas and Papagos also made use of the ramada as a focal point of family activity.
RAMON TREE __ A nut-bearing tree common in the lowland rain forests of the Yucatan Peninsula.

RANCHERIA __ A form of village arrangement in which individual dwellings are widely separated. This can be contrasted with the Pueblo sale of architecture in which dwellings within a village are attached to one another in an apartment-like complex.

RANKED SOCIETIES __ Societies in which there is unequal access to prestige and status e.g. chiefdoms and states.

RATIONAL ECONOMIC DECISIONS __ The weighing of available alternatives and calculation of which will provide the most benefit at the least cost. 

RE __ Egyptian creator god. Sun god of the sky, earth and the underworld.

RE-ATUM __ A manifestation of Re as the setting sun.

REAVES __ Bronze Age stone boundary walls, for instance on Dartmoor, England, which may designate the territorial extent of individual communities.

REBELLION __ An attempt within a society to disrupt the status quo and redistribute the power and resources.

RECIPROCITY __ A mode of exchange in which transactions take place between individuals who are symmetrically placed, i.e. they are exchanging as equals, neither being in a dominant position.

RECLAMATION __ Activities that move objects from archaeological context back into systemic context.

RECORDING UNIT __ A level, feature, or occupation surface used as a reference point to designate the recovery location (provenience) of artifacts at a site.

RECOVERY THEORY __ The principles on which are based the choice of techniques to be used in a given archaeological survey and excavation.

RECOVERY UNITS __ The two-dimensional (in surface collection) and three-dimensional (in excavation) spaces in which archaeological materials are recovered and recorded at a site.
REFITTING __ Sometimes referred to as conjoining, this entails attempting to put stone tools and flakes back together again, and provides important information on the processes involved in the knapper's craft.

REFUGIUM __ A geographical area which remains unaltered or changes much more slightly than surrounding regions in response to a change in climate. A refugium therefore constitutes a haven for plants and animals which were once more widely distributed (plural refugia).

REFUTATIONIST VIEW __ Approach which holds that science consists of theories about the empirical world, that its goal is to develop better theories, which is achieved by finding mistakes in existing theories, so that it is crucial that theories be falsifiable (vulnerable to error and open to testing). The approach, developed by Karl Popper, emphasizes the important of testability as a component of scientific theories.

REGIONAL DIMENSION __ The artifacts that occur in close association with each other.

REGIONAL SURVEY __ Locating and describing the remains of settlements in a region.

REGIONAL SYSTEM __ The behavioral component made up of communities related to each other by trade, political alliances, and other forms of social interaction.

RELATIVE DATING __ Dating of an event or process according to its chronological position (earlier or later than) relative to another event or process.

RELATIVISM __ The concept that a cultural system can be viewed only in terms of the principles, background, frame of reference, and history that characterize it.

RELIEF __ A form of sculpture where the figures stand out from, but are still attached to the background. 

RELIGION __ A framework of beliefs relating to supernatural or superhuman beings or forces that transcend the everyday material world.

REMOTE SENSING __ Observation and recording at a distance, especially by specialized serial photography of sites and natural environment.

REPLICA __ A copy or reproduction of the original.

RESCUE ARCHAEOLOGY __ A term applied to the emergency salvage of sites in immediate danger of destruction by major land modification projects such as reservoir construction.

RESEARCH DESIGN __ The plan for an archaeological investigation.

RESIDENTIAL MOBILITY __ The degree of movement of household social units from dwelling to dwelling, particularly of hunting-gathering communities

RESISTIVITY __ A pre-excavation method for determining the size, shape and occasionally the nature of an archaeological site. It works on the principle that different deposits offer differential resistance to an alternating current passing through them, largely in response to the amount of water contained within them. Thus a damp, buried ditch will provide less resistance while a wall or foundation ill offer more. Mapping electrical resistance across a site can greatly aid the archaeologist in deciding where to dig.

RESHARPENING FLAKES __ Usually small flakes removed from the edges of chipped-stone cutting or scraping tools to rejuvenate the effectiveness of the edge.

RESTORATION __ The process of cleaning and studying an artifact and attempting to return it to its original form (before it was buried).

RETICULE __ A frame with a grid used as an aid in mapping. Those used in Manitoba consist of a square wooden frame with a network of strings set at regular intervals. These may be placed over a feature thus allowing more accurate sketch maps to be made. Locally, reticules have found their greatest utility in the recording of petroforms.

RETOUCHER __ A small tool (such as that found on the body of Otzi the Iceman) made especially for pressure flaking flint and chert tools. In the iceman's case, his retoucher was at first mistaken for the stub of a pencil.

REVERSE __ "Tail" side of a coin.

REVERSE STRATIFICATION __ Earlier materials overlying later materials.

REVOLUTION __ An attempt to overthrow the existing form of political organization, the principles of economic production and distribution, and the allocation of social status.

REWORKING __ Modification of an object so that it may be used again. The reworking of stone artifacts after breakage was particularly common in times and places where suitable lithic resources were scarce. A projectile point which had been broken at the time could easily be re-sharpened and some were probably reworked several times in this fashion, becoming shorter relative to their widths each time. Drills and side-notched end-scrapers with bases similar to those of the projectile points with which they are associated are often considered to be examples of reworking.

RHYOLITE __ A fine-grained igneous rock of the same composition as granite (quartz, feldspar and mica), but capable of being worked by flaking into tools. Characteristically, rhyolite has a glossy appearance and small inclusions of quartz and feldspar within the finer matrix.

RIMSHERD __ A fragment of pottery which originally formed part of the rim of a vessel.

RIPARIAN __ Pertaining to the bank of a river.

RITE OF SOLIDARITY __ any ceremony performed for the sake of enhancing the level of social integration among a group of people.

RITES OF INTENSIFICATION __ Rituals intended either to bolster a natural process necessary to survival or to reaffirm the society's commitment to a particular set of values and beliefs. 

RITES OF PASSAGE __ Rituals that mark a person's transition from one set of socially identified circumstances to another. 
RITUAL __ Behavior that has become highly formalized and stereotyped.

RIVERINE ARCHAEOLOGY __ Maritime archaeology, specializing in the study of artifacts of early river traffic.

ROCK ALIGNMENT __ Any artificial arrangement of rocks or boulders into rows or other patterns.

ROCK ART __ A general term for figures or designs painting or engraved on rock or formed through the placement of boulders. Rock art thus includes petroforms, petroflyphs, petrographs and pictographs.

ROCK CUT TOMB __ Method of excavating tombs that is fairly common world wide. The most famous are in Egypt and were begun during the Middle Kingdom. The burials in the Valley of the Kings are perhaps the best known Rock-cut tombs.

ROCK PAINTING __ A more common term for pictograph.

ROCK SHELTER __ A small cave or overhang of rock which afforded some degree of protection from the elements either as a permanent camp or temporary location of activity.

ROCKER STAMPING __ A pottery design produced by rocking a straight or notched edge from one end to the other, while moving the tool sideways across the surface of the wet clay. The result is a zigzag pattern of curved lines.

ROLE __ A set of behavioral expectations appropriate to an individual's social position.
ROMAN COLOSSEUM __ Built in Rome, Italy between A.D. 70 and 80, the four-story structure was the site of bloody fights between animals, gladiators, or animals versus gladiators for more than 300 years. After A.D. 404, the gladiator battles ended, but scuffles between animals in front of about 50,000 spectators remained a popular sport until the 6th century A.D.

ROMAN COPIES OF GREEK ORIGINALS __ Replicas of famous Greek statues made for the Roman market.

ROMAN REPUBLIC __ Period of Roman history from the expulsion of the Etruscan kings till the establishment of the empire by Augustus Caesar.

ROOF COMB __ The part of a Mesoamerican temple that extends over the usable area. Frequently carved with glyphs and figures.

ROSETTA STONE __ A basalt slab discovered at Rosetta (Rashid), at the western mouth of the Nile, during Napoleon's occupation of Egypt. It is now in the British Museum. The text is an honorific decree of Ptolemy V (196 B.C.) that was written in ancient Greek, hieroglyphics, and demotic, which is a later form of ancient Egyptian. The stone enabled the French explorer and linguist Champollion to decipher ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics by comparing the unknown text of hieroglyphics to the known and translated text in Greek and demotic.

ROV __ Remote Operated Vehicles are remote controlled underwater robots used instead of divers for difficult operations, e.g. on great depth.


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