Land of the Spirits
Virtual Museum of Canada
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Glossary of Archaeological Terms

A specialist in the study of human history and prehistory through the excavation of sites and the analysis of physical remains.

The study of human history and prehistory through the excavation of sites and the analysis of physical remains.

Anything used by humans, such as pottery, arrowheads, stone tools, and animal (or human) bones with cutmarks.

Avocational Archaeologist
A person interested in examining and learning about the past using archaeological methods to attain understanding. Although archaeology is not their occupation, it is their passion.

Borden Number
The unique identifier for the site location where an object was collected. Used only in Canada.

A large wooden cabin with a central fireplace, serving as a winter shelter in a logging camp.

Cataloguing data
Information recorded by the archaeologist on artifacts recovered from an excavation, includes recorder's name, date, site name, Borden number, unit, artifact number, location, level, and description.

A fine-grained silica, often called flint, commonly found in limestone outcrops. Its composition makes it particularly suitable for stone tool manufacture.

Consisting of related parts (e.g. a cluster of buildings).

The situation in which an artifact is found; includes location, as well as association to other artifacts around it.

Country of Origin
Where someone/something comes from originally.

The customs, civilization, technology and achievements of a particular time or people.

Chips or debris resulting from the manufacture of stone tools.

Matter produced by erosion, such as gravel and silt. Can also be used to describe the debris of stone tool manufacture.

Systematic removal of soil layers to explore an archaeological site.

The animal life of a particular region, geological period or environment.

Something made by a human that cannot be moved (e.g. hearth, well, stain in the earth, rock painting).

Field Notes
A recorded set of measurements, diagrams, maps and observations kept by an archaeologist while excavating a site.

A diagram of a single level of an excavated unit.

The plant life of a particular region, geological period or environment.

A piece of personal property passed down from generation to generation.

A horizontal plane or strata of soil colours/types or cultures. An archaeologist will dig until there are no more cultural levels or evidence of human activity.

Line level
Used to determine variations in ground surface, levels and depth of excavation.

A stone artifact, usually in the form of a tool.

A maker of articles, especially a factory. Materials The matter from which a thing is made.

A refuse heap near a dwelling, or where a dwelling once existed.

Native copper
A naturally occurring, very pure form of copper ore. Native copper ore was not found in the Ottawa Valley, but was traded from as far away as Lake Superior.

The study of pollen and spores, especially from archaeological or geological deposits.

A distinct span of history, or a time forming part of a geological era.

A distinct period or stage in a process of change or development.

An instrument with a sharp point used for excavating.

Pollen diagram
A series of graphs for different plant species displayed side by side; used to compare and analyse vegetational changes over thousands of years.

Primary source
A record created by people who actually saw or participated in an event and recorded that event or their reactions to it immediately afterwards (e.g. newspapers, diaries, letters).

A vertical cross-section of a unit showing the different soil layers.

The location and position of an artifact in three dimensions.

A broken piece of pottery or glass. Site A designated area of interest that may be archaeologically investigated.

The interpretation of layers in archaeological deposits. Artifacts found in the top layers are usually the youngest, while those on the bottom are usually the oldest.

Tape Measure
An essential archaeological tool used for laying out grids over an archaeological site, ensuring that a unit is square, and for measuring level depths and features.

Custom, opinion or belief handed down through the years.

A small, hand-held tool with a flat, sharp metal blade used by archaeologists to remove soil above and around artifacts. It is also used to scrape the earth to feel for artifacts and soil texture.

One square in a grid, usually one metre by one metre in size.

A specialist in the study of animal bones from archaeological sites. Zooarchaeologists use bone data to make interpretations about the food habits and diet of site inhabitants; seasonal patterns in stock-raising, hunting and fishing; and changes in the local environment.