Glossary of Archaeological/Anthropological Terms


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C-14 __ Abbreviation for "carbon l4"; a radioactive form (or isotope) of carbon used in radiocarbon dating. The numerical suffix indicates that the atom contains l4 particles within its nucleus as opposed to the l2 within the more common, stable (non-radioactive) isotope.

CACAO __ Seeds from which chocolate is extracted.

CACHE __ An excavated pit, or mound of stones used to store and/or hide food or tools.

CADASTRE (CADASTER): __ A public record of the extent, value, and ownership of land within a district for purposes of taxation.

CADUCEUS __ A staff with two serpents coiled around it and a pair of wings at the top. Carried by the Greek god Hermes, known as Mercury to the Romans.

CAIRN __ A mound of stones serving as a monument or marker.

CALCAREOUS CONCRETIONS __ A rounded mass of mineral matter occurring in sand stone, clay, etc., often in concentric layers around a nucleus.

CALCINED BONE __ Burned bone reduced to white or blue mineral constituents.

CALENDRICAL SYSTEM __ System of measuring time that is based on natural recurring units of time, such as revolutions of the earth around the sun. Time is determined by the number of such units that have preceded or elapsed with reference to a specific point in time.

CALICHE __ Deposits of calcium carbonate that occur as the substrata throughout much of the US desert southwest. Caliche occurs as irregular, impervious layers a fraction of an inch to several feet in thickness, or as the matrix in a sand and gravel conglomerate.

CALL SYSTEM __ A repertoire of sounds, each of which is produced in response to a particular situation. 

CALLITRICHIDAE __ family of New World monkeys consisting of the marmosets and tamarins.

CALUMET __ A peace pipe, usually elaborately decorated and often composed of both wood and stone elements.

CANAAN __ A historical and Bibilical term used to describe the strip of land which includes most of present day Gaza Strip and Israel and the Western part of Jordan. The term was found on Egyptian writings from the 15th century BC.

CANNIBALISM __ The consumption of human flesh by other humans for reasons of dire need or for ritual purposes. In the archaeological record, the forceful enlargening of the foramen magnum at the base of the skull (presumably for removal of the brains) and the smashing of long bones (for the extraction of bone grease) are often viewed as evidence of cannibalism. In at least some cases, however, it is possible that while the individual was thus prepared for consumption, they were only symbolically devoured.

CANOE __ A long, narrow open boat lacking sails and rudder. It is pointed at both ends and propelled by paddles.

CANOPIC JARS __ Ancient Egyptian containers used to hold the internal organs that were removed from a dead person before mummification.

CARBOHYDRATES __ Organic compounds composed of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen; includes the sugars and starches. 

CARBON SAMPLE __ A quantity of organic material, usually charcoal, collected for radiocarbon dating.

CARIES __ Tooth decay. The condition of the teeth of a skeleton is often an important clue to the diet and health of the individual.

CARNIVORE __ An animal that eats primarily meat.

CARPAL __ A bone of the human wrist, or one of the corresponding bones of the forelegs of other animals.

CARRYING CAPACITY __ The point at or below which a population tends to stabilize.

CARTONNAGE __ Papyrus or linen soaked in plaster, shaped around a body. Used for Egyptian mummy masks and coffins.

CARTOUCHE __ Elongated version of the hieroglyphic sigh W "shen" which means 'to encircle'. Two of the Pharaoh's five names were written inside the cartouche. The sign represents a loop of rope that is never ending, such as the arch of the sky and the world, to indicate that Pharaoh lead everything that the sun encircled. 

CAST __ A representation of an organism created when a substance fills in a mold.

CASTELLATION __ A projecting or raised section on the rim of a pot.

CATLINITE __ A soft, red, easily worked stone of the Upper Missouri region which was commonly ground and polished into tobacco pipes. Also known as "pipestone".

CATALOGUE __ The systematic list recording artifacts and other finds, recovered by archaeological research, including their description and Provenience.

CATALOGUE NUMBER __ A number assigned all items recovered by archaeological research to cross-index them to the catalogue. 

CATARRHINE NOSE __ A nose in which the nostrils open downward and are separated by a narrow nasal septum; found in Old World monkeys, apes, and humans. 

CATARRHINI __ Infraorder of the order Primates that includes Old World monkeys and the hominoids plus various extinct taxa. 

CATASTROPHIC AGE PROFILE __ A mortality pattern based on bone or tooth wear analysis, and corresponding to a "natural" age distribution in which the older the age group, the fewer the individuals it has. This pattern is often found in contexts such as flash floods, epidemics, or volcanic eruptions.

CATASTROPHISM __ The eighteenth-century theory that earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and other natural disasters were responsible for the distribution of animal fossils and artifacts.

CATION-RATIO DATING __ This method aspires to the direct dating of rock carvings and engravings, and is also potentially applicable to Paleolithic artifacts with a strong patina caused by exposure to desert dust. It depends on the principle that cations of certain elements are more soluble than others; they leach out of rock varnish more rapidly than the less soluble elements, and their concentration decreases with time. 

CATTLE COMPLEX __ An East African socioeconomic system in which cattle represent social status as well as wealth.

CAULDRON __ A large kettle.

C.E. __ An abbreviation used to denote dates that occur within the "Common Era," as a more neutral alternative to the "A.D." of the Christian calendar.

CEBID __ A member of the family Cebidae; the New World monkeys excluding the marmosets and tamarins. 

CEBIDAE __ Family of New World monkeys that includes the squirrel, spider, howler, and capuchin monkeys, among others. 

CELL __ The smallest unit that is considered to be alive. All living organisms either are one cell or are composed of several cells.
CELTS __ A category of people who flourished from about 750 to 12 B.C. During this time, the Celts were the most powerful group in central and northern Europe. Although the Celts were composed of many different tribes, they shared similar languages, technology, customs, artistic styles, and beliefs. By A.D. 60, their power had been destroyed by the Romans. After that, only the Celtic tribes in the more remote areas of Europe, such as the British Isles, survived.

CENOTAPH __ From the Greek word meaning; "empty tomb". A tomb built for ceremonial purposes that was never intended to be used for the interment of the deceased.

CENOTE __ A natural waterhole. Cenote is a corruption by the Spanish of the Maya word dzonot, a large circular sink-hole created by the collapse of limestone caves. The water in cenotes is filtered through limestone and constituted one of the primary sources of drinking water for the Maya. Patterns of settlement among the early Maya often followed the location of cenotes.

CENSUS __ A comprehensive survey of a population designed to reveal its basic demographic characteristics.

CENTRAL HALL __ A frame house consisting of two rooms and an enclosed central hall. 

CENTRALIZATION __ Concentration of political and economic decisions in the hands of a few individuals or institutions.

CERAMIC __ Pottery, fired clay.

CERBERUS __ Three headed dog that guarded the entrance to Hades.

CERCOPITHECIDAE __ Family that includes all the Old World monkeys, such as guenons, mangabeys, macaques, and baboons.

CERCOPITHECINAE __ Subfamily that contains the Old World monkeys that are omnivorous and possess cheek pouches. 

CERCOPITHECINAE __ Superfamily that consists of the Old World monkeys. 

CEREMONIAL FUND __ The portion of the peasant budget allocated to religious and social activities.

CHAC MOOL - Maya stone reclining figure with a place for offerings on it's stomach.

CHACO CANYON __ Site in New Mexico representative of the Anasazi culture that thrived there between A.D. 500 and 1300.

CHAIN __ A surveying chain, or long steel tape-measure, calibrated in meters or feet, used for site mapping and grid layout.

CHALCEDONY __ A microcrystalline form of quartz with crystals arranged in parallel strands. Chalcedony was commonly used for tool-making and could be either chipped or ground.

CHARCOAL __ Carbon formed by heating organic matter in the absence of air; one of the preferred substances for radiocarbon dating.

CHARON __ In Greek myth, the boatman who rowed the souls of the dead across the River Styx into the underworld.

CHEEK POUCH __ A pocket in the cheek that opens into the mouth; some Old World monkeys store food in the cheek pouch.

CHEMISTRY __ The science concerned with the structure, properties, reactions and commercial application of substances.

CHERNOZEM __ A rich, black organic soil well-suited to the growing of grasses, which is found in cool or temperate semiarid environments.

CHERT __ A very fine grained rock formed in ancient ocean sediments. It often has a semi-glassy finish and is usually white, pinkish, brown, gray, or blue-gray in color. It can be shaped into arrowheads by chipping. It has often been called flint, but true flint is found in chalk deposits and is a distinctive blackish color.

CHIEFDOM __ The third stage in the 'stage model,' representing regional systems with mixed economies that are integrated through the institution of chief.

CHILAM BALAM __ A series of books written by various Maya tribes in Spanish after the Spanish Conquest. The content probably came directly from Maya codices.

CHINKING __ A mortar, usually composed chiefly of clay, used to plaster over gaps in walls or to bind bricks or stones.

CHIPPING STATION __ A restricted area of "floor" within an archaeological site which yields stone flakes to the virtual exclusion of other kinds of artifacts. Such features are frequently interpreted as places used for the chipping of stone.

CHITHO __ A disc-shaped biface.

CHINAMPAS __ The areas of fertile reclaimed land, constructed by the Aztecs, and made of mud dredged from canals.

CHOL __ Maya language and ethnic group.

CHOLLA __ Several species of spiny cactus having cylindrical stems and branches. The plants are found in many parts of semiarid and arid North America.

CHOPPER __ An axe-like tool, generally fashioned from a cobble or large pebble, and usually worked only on one face.

C-HORIZON __ The bottom-most zone of a soil, consisting of unaltered natural sediments.

CHRONOLOGY __ Arrangement of events in the order in which they occurred.

CHRONOLOGY BUILDING __ Devising a dated history for a region by combining numerous lines of evidence.

CHRONOMETRIC DATING __ Placing an event or process with a range of dates on a calendrical time scale, usually by means of radiocarbon or potassium/argon techniques

CHRONOMETRY __ The art of measuring time accurately.

CICERO __ Roman orator, died 43 BCE.

CISTS __ Boxed burials (eg: some of the Neolithic graves at El Garcel, Almeria, Spain) are referred to as cists burials. The term simply comes from the German word 'Kiste' meaning a box or crate.

CITY-STATE __ City and surrounding countryside under it's influence. Main political entity of classical Greece.

CIVILIZATION __ A term used by anthropologists to describe any society that has cities. 

CLADE __ A group of species with a common evolutionary ancestry. 

CLADISTICS __ A theory of classification that differentiates between shared ancestral and shared derived features. 

CLADOGRAM __ A graphic representation of the species, or other taxa, being studied, based upon cladistic analysis. 

CLAN __ A unilineal descent group usually comprising more than ten generations consisting of members who claim a common ancestry even though they cannot trace step-by-step their exact connection to a common ancestor. 

CLASS (1) __ A major division of a phylum, consisting of closely related orders. 

CLASS (2) __ A ranked group within a stratified society characterized by achieved status and considerable social mobility.

CLASSIFICATION __ Systematic arrangement in groups or categories according to criteria.

CLAY __ Extremely fine (less than 0.0l mm in diameter) particles produced by the weathering of certain rocks. Its primary constituent is hydrated aluminum silicate, but numerous impurities, such as quartz, mica, calcium carbonate, alkalies, iron compounds, humus, and sand may also be present. Clay is plastic when moist, but hardens when dried and is used in the manufacture of ceramics.

CLEAVER __ A large core tool with a straight, sharp edge at one end.

CLEOPATRA __ Ruler of Egypt from 51 to 30 B.C. Of Macedonian (Greek) descent, Cleopatra reigned for 21 years, until the fall of Egypt to Rome in 30 B.C. She was the lover of the famous Roman general Mark Anthony.

CLIFF DWELLINGS __ Shelters or villages built along the edges of cliffs.

CLOSED CORPORATE COMMUNITY __ A community that strongly emphasizes community identity and discourages outsiders from settling there by restricting land use to village members and prohibiting the sale or lease of property to outsiders.

CLOVIS __ A town in New Mexico which has lent its name to a distinctive type of Paleo-Indian or Early Prehistoric Period projectile point as well as to the complex (also known as the Llano Complex) and culture within which it occurs. The highly distinctive projectile points are concave-based and highly variable in size, ranging from approximately 3 to l2 cm in length. One or both faces may be fluted with the channel flake extending one-half or less of the length of the point. Most Clovis sites are either surface finds of isolated projectile points or kill sites and hence the full nature of he complex is not known. Associated artifacts include a variety of scraping tools, blades, hammerstones, chopping tools and foreshafts and defleshers of bone (Frison l978). Clovis points are distributed from the arctic to Mexico, and from California as far east as Nova Scotia. Radiocarbon dated sites range in age from 8500 to approximately l0,000 B.C. Where perishable materials are preserved and an association can be demonstrated, faunal remains are nearly invariably those of the mammoth. Clovis points are rare in Manitoba due to the fact that most of the province was glaciated or beneath the waters of glacial Lake Agassiz during the Clovis period. The small area in southwestern Manitoba which would have been available for occupation at that time probably did not support the kind of vegetation upon which mammoths depended for food (Pettipas l975).

CLUSTER ANALYSIS __ a multivariate statistical technique which assesses the similarities between units or assemblages, based on the occurrence or non-occurrence of specific artifact types or other components within them.

COBBLE __ A medium-sized stone (larger than a pebble but smaller than a fieldstone) which has been rounded and occasionally polished by erosion.

COCHRANE RE_ADVANCE __ A surging of the Wisconsinan ice sheet which occurred roughly 8000 years ago and which is associated with a rise in the level of glacial Lake Agassiz.

CODE SHEETS __ Anthropologists' checklists of observed behaviors and inferred motivations for or attitudes toward them.

CODY __ A town in Wyoming which has lent its name to a distinctive style of Palaeo-Indian knife as well as a complex consisting of at least two forms of Plano projectile points (Eden and Scottsbluff) and possibly a third (Alberta). The knives are either single-shouldered or parallel-sided with a transverse blade. Associated artifacts include a variety of side- and end-scrapers, drills, knives, spokeshaves, gravers, perforators and denticulates. Cody Complex sites are more or less restricted to grassland environments and where preservation is good, they contain the remains of now-extinct forms of bison. In Manitoba, Cody artifacts occur above the Manitoba escarpment in the extreme southwestern corner of the province. Elsewhere, they have been radiocarbon dated between 5900 B.C. and 7900 B.C. (if Alberta is included) or 7l00 B.C. if it is not.

COFFIN TEXTS __ Texts written inside coffins of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom that are intended to direct the souls of the dead past the dangers and perils encountered on the journey through the afterlife. More than 1,000 spells are known.

COGNATE WORD __ Words in different languages which are similar in terms of meaning and structure by virtue of descent from a common ancestral language.

COGNITIVE ANTHROPOLOGY __ The study of how peoples of different cultures acquire information about the world (cultural transmission), how they process that information and reach decisions, and how they act on that information in ways that other members of their cultures consider appropriate. 

COGNITIVE ARCHAEOLOGY __ The study of past ways of thought and symbolic structures from material remains.

COGNITIVE IMPERATIVE __ The human need to impose order on the world by mental processes. 

COGNITIVE PROCESSES __ Ways of perceiving and ordering the world.

COIL FRACTURE __ A potsherd, the shape of which reveals that it was a section of one of the coils used to manufacture the vessel. see coiling.

COILING __ A method of ceramic vessel manufacture which involves the stacking of rings of clay. The coils are later smoothed-over by hand or paddled to complete the finish and to bind the coils to one another.

CO-INFLUENCE SPHERE __ An area within which human groups interact due to trade, conflict, migration, the nature of local resources and the manner in which various groups exploited them. As the basis for a research design, the Co-Influence Sphere Model emphasizes interaction as opposed to unilineal chronology, and relies upon cultural comparisons beyond the immediate research area as a basis upon which to draw conclusions.

COLD HAMMERING __ Fashioning metal without the use of heat sufficient to melt it. In prehistoric Manitoba this was restricted to copper and recent evidence indicates that temperatures of up to l000C were often applied to render the substance less brittle.

COLLAGEN __ A protein which occurs in bone and may be used for radiocarbon dating.

COLLATERAL FLAKING __ When flakes on a chipped stone artifact extend to the middle from both edges forming a medial ridge. The flakes are at right angles to the longitudinal axis, and regular and uniform in size.

COLLECTING __ The removal of materials in archaeological context from one settlement by the residents of another.

COLLECTION __ l. the total array of artifacts from a single site or area. 2. the total array of artifacts in the possession of an individual or institution.

COLLUVIAL DEPOSITS __ Deposits formed on slopes near sources of sediment such as mountains.

COLLUVIUM __ A mixture of rock fragments and debris occurring at the foot of a slope.

COLOBINAE __ Subfamily of Old World monkeys that includes the langurs and colobus monkeys; species that are specialized leaf eaters, possessing a complex stomach and lacking cheek pouches.

COLOSSUS OF RHODES __ A massive bronze statue of the sun god Helios located on the Greek island of Rhodes. It was built around 290 B.C. and was destroyed by an earthquake around 226 B.C. One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Colossus was 110 feet high and was once thought to have straddled the entrance to the city harbor (a fact which scholars now know would have been impossible).

COMMUNAL CULT __ A society with groups of ordinary people who conduct religious ceremonies for the well-being of the total community. 

COMMUNICATION __ The transmission and reception of some stimulus or message. In relation to animal life, communication occurs when one animal transmits information to another animal.

COMMUNITY __ The behavioral component comprised of groups of households whose members frequently interact.

COMMUNITY IDENTITY __ An effort by speakers to identify themselves with a specific locality and to distinguish themselves from outsiders.

COMPUTER TOMOGRAPHY __ A technique that uses X ray or ultrasound to provide images of layers of solid objects, such as pottery or the human body. The images are processed by a computer to create two- and three-dimensional pictures of the object. 

CONCEPTUAL __ The major assumptions or underlying premises of a field of research.

CONG (Chinese) __ Jade tube.

CONQUISTADOR __ A name given to the 16th-century Spanish explorers who came to the New World.

CONSERVATION __ The scientific process of cleaning--and often repairing and/or restoring--an artifact in order to preserve it for further study and/or display.

CONSERVATION ARCHAEOLOGY __ A sub-field of archaeology which focuses on the preservation of archaeological resources. This position encourages the stabilization and preservation of archaeological sites as opposed to their immediate excavation.

CONTEXT __ Relationship of artifacts and other cultural remains to each other and the situation in which they are found.

COPAL __ An incense of Mesoamerica.

COPPER SHEATHING __ Used underwater (below the waterline) on wooden ships to repel marine organisms.

COPROLITE __ Fossilized, desiccated< or otherwise preserved dung or human faeces. Study of coprolites can yield information on the diet, environment and habits of early peoples.

COPTIC __ The Afro-Asiatic language of the Copts, which survives only as a liturgical language of the Coptic Church; of or relating to the Copts, the Coptic Church, or the Coptic language.

CORBALLED ARCH __ A false arch constructed by putting ceiling tiles closer together on each successive layer until a capstone could be laid.
CORE __ 1. the stone from which flakes have been removed; the nucleus. A "prepared" core is one which has been specially modified in such a way as to control the shape of subsequent flakes. The core itself may be modified into a tool (core tool). core, conical. a cone-shaped core with the flat surface serving as the striking platform. core, polyhedral. a generally sphere-shaped core with many faces. core, wedge-shaped. a core in which flakes are removed from two faces, thus rendering it a wedge-shaped appearance. 2. a generally thin, cylindrical sample of soil or tree growth-rings.

CREMATION __ Destruction of the bodily remains of the deceased by burning. This mode of postmortem treatment may be favored for many reasons; to prevent the return of the dead, to protect the deceased from scavengers, or to prevent the transformation of the dead into a harmful entity. Treatment of the ashes is highly variable from one group to another. Cremation seems to have been particularly popular with Paleo-Indians and this is one of the reasons that skeletal remains dating to this period are so rare.

CRETACEOUS PERIOD __ A period 144 to 65 million years ago, characterized by the growth of the first flowering plants and the height of the era of the dinosaurs. It ended with the complete extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

CROP MARK __ Differential vegetational growth as a result of buried features. Some species of plants are particularly sensitive to various subsurface conditions. For example cereals will not achieve normal height and will ripen sooner over wall foundations, while over ditches, or trenches they will grow taller and remain green longer. Study of these differences, particularly with the aid of aerial photography, can reveal such features in remarkable detail.
CROSS DATING __ A relative dating technique which attributes similar ages to two strata, components or sites on the basis of the recovery of similar artifacts from each; the use of an artifact whose age is known elsewhere, to date a new site.

CUCURBIT __ The plant family which includes pumpkins, squash, gourds and cucumbers and which occurs in tropical and subtropical regions. Some members of this family were domesticated by Native North Americans.

CULTIGEN __ An initially wild plant which has undergone sufficient genetic changes due to nurturing (or conscious selection), so as to be entirely dependent upon man for its survival; a domesticated plant.

CULTIVAR __ A wild plant that is nurtured by humans. Cultivars may thus be found thriving outside of their normal habitats due to irrigation, fertilization or weeding.

CULTIVATION __ Preparation and use of land for the production of food.

CULT-STATUE __ A statue of a divinity found in a shrine dedicated to that divinity.

CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY __ That branch of anthropology that concerns itself with homanity's non-biological adaptations. Occasionally it is used synonymously (but incorrectly) with social anthropology.

CULTURAL DATING __ The process of comparing objects archaeologists find with information they already have; comparing cultural attributes.

CULTURAL ECOLOGY __ The study of the ways a society adapts to its environment.

CULTURAL EVOLUTION __ The study of how and why human adaptive systems have changed over time.

CULTURAL FORMATION PROCESS __ Human activities responsible for forming and modifying the archaeological record.

CULTURAL DYNAMICS __ The study of population movements and stability or cultural change and continuity. Cultural dynamics thus includes such phenomena as migration, diffusion, re-adaptation, population increases and expansions, etc. and attempts to identify the reasons for their occurrence.

CULTURAL RESOURCE MANAGEMENT __ A branch of archaeology that is concerned with developing policies and action in regard to the preservation and use of cultural resources. Often called simply CRM.

CULTURAL RESOURCES __ Sites, structures, landscapes, and objects of some importance to a culture or community for scientific, traditional, religious, or other reasons.

CULTURE __ Sets of learned beliefs, values and behaviors--the way of life--shared by the members of a society.

CULTURE AREA __ A geographic region within which the occupants are more similar to one another (particularly in terms of material culture) than to those beyond its limits. These rather frequently correspond to natural, environmental areas, thus reflecting a shared mode of adaptation to a similar environment. In practice, a culture area is defined on the basis of its center. The peripheries often share more traits with neighboring culture areas.

CULTURE HERO __ In mythology, an animal, person or god(ess) who may be seen as the protector of a people, and/or as being the originator of their culture and circumstance. In Native North American folklore, he/she is frequently also a trickster.
CULTURE HISTORY __ The placement of the material remains of the culture(s) of a region into proper chronological order and the subsequent study of their development.

CULTURE PROCESS __ The underlying factors which bring about change in a culture. Processual archaeology attempt to identify such causes, and tests hypotheses thus generated against other archaeological data.

CULTUS TEMPLE __ Temple dedicated to the worship of one or more deities.

CUNEIFORM __ The wedge-shaped characters of many ancient Near Eastern languages.

CUPID __ Roman god of love. Knows as Eros by the Greeks.

CYCLADIC __ Dealing with the islands called the Cyclades, found between Greece and Turkey.


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