Glossary of Archaeological/Anthropological Terms


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WADI __ Arabic word for a rocky watercourse. Dry except in the rainy season. 

WARE __ The largest and most general classification into which pottery can be grouped. Wares are usually defined on the basis of such attributes as surface finish (eg. smooth, corded, etc.), composition of the paste (e.g. shell-tempered, grit tempered, etc.) and vessel form (globular, conoidal etc.). A ware generally includes a number of types (often defined on the basis of decorative elements) and these in turn may include a number of varieties (based upon the manner in which the decorative elements are arranged).

WATER TABLE __ The level of groundwater below which all cavities are filled and permeable rock formations are saturated with water.

WATTLE & DAUB __ A construction technique using mud plastered over a framework of cut branches.

WEALTH __ The accumulation of material objects that have value within a society.

WEAR PATTERN __ The distinctive way a tool is worn or abraded through use. Examination of wear patterns can often and more reliably identify the function a tool served, than can consideration of size and shape alone.

WEATHERING __ The alteration of materials by environmental processes.

WEATHERING ZONE __ In pedology, the depth to which soil processes are operational.

WEIR __ A barrier constructed across a stream or on a tidal flat to trap fish.
WELDED TUFF __ A rock formed of consolidated pumice or volcanic ash. Occasionally used as a raw material for lithic artifacts.

WENTWORTH SCALE __ A particle size scale ranging from "boulder" (greater than 256 mm) to "clay" (less than 0.0039 mm) with intermediate ranges to allow the definition of cobbles, pebbles, sand and silt. Sieves with correct mesh sizes are available so that the proportions of these various particles can be readily calculated.

WHEELER BOX-GRID __ An excavation technique developed by Mortimer Wheeler from the work of Pitt-Rivers, involving the retaining of intact baulks of earth between excavation grid squares, so that different layers can be correlated across the site in the vertical profiles.

WHETSTONE __ A sharpening stone.

WICKIUP __ A beehive-shaped hut of grass or brush most commonly found in the American Southwest.

WIGWAM __ A dwelling structure consisting of bark, matting or hide over a frame of arched poles
WINDBREAK __ A rude screen or fence intended to provide shelter from the wind.

WINNOWING __ Separating grain from chaff by means of a wind or air current.

WINTER COUNT __ Among native peoples of the North American plains, a pictorial history painted on buffalo hide.

WISCONSIN (AN) GLACIATION __ The latest major episode of glacial advance in the Pleistocene of North America; from about 70,000 to 10,000 B.P. 

WITCHCRAFT (1) __ Use of religious ritual to control, exploit, or injure unsuspecting, or at least uncooperating, other persons.

WITCHCRAFT (2) __ A pagan earth based religious philosophy.

WONDERS OF THE WORLD __ A list made by Greek writers in the second century B.C.: (1) the Pyramids at Giza, (2) the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, (3) the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, (4) the Temple of Diana at Ephesus, (5) the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, (6) the Colossus of Rhodes, and (7) the Pharos of Alexandria lighthouse. Only the Pyramids at Giza survive.
WOODLAND PERIOD __The most recent of the three "stages" in the prehistory of the eastern forests of North America. In accordance with the trend which began with the earlier Archaic Period, the Woodland witnesses increased regionalism and the proliferation of local cultures. As this period is often defined by the appearance of pottery in local assemblages, and because these cultures adopted pottery at different times, no single date marks the beginning of the Woodland Period.

WORKDAY __ The culturally established number of hours that a person ideally spends at work each day. 

WORLD SYSTEM __ A term coined by the historian Wallerstein to designate an economic unit, articulated by trade networks extending far beyond the boundaries of individual political units (nation states), and linking them together in a larger functioning unit.

WORSAAE'S LAW __ The law that artifacts deposited together in a grave were in use at the time.


XERIC __ Pertaining to, or growing in dry conditions.

XEROTHERMY __ Aridity; dry heat.

XEROPHYTE __ A dry-loving plant such as cactus.
XIBALBA __ Maya underworld.

X-RAY DIFFRACTION ANALYSIS __ A technique used in identifying minerals present in artifact raw materials; it can also be used in geomorphological contexts to identify particular clay minerals in sediments, and thus the specific source from which the sediment was derived.

X-RAY FLUORESCENCE __ The bombardment of a sample for chemical analysis with X-rays. The light which the sample emits indicates which chemicals are present and the relative proportions in which they occur.


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