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Glossary of Terms


Absolute Dating -- a method of dating archaeological materials in which scientific tests are performed directly on an artifact that can be used to determine the time period during which the artifact was made or used. 

Analytical Unit (AU) -- a discrete, intact deposit of sediment that represents a recognizable period in the occupational history of a site.

Antler Billet -- a tool made from deer or antelope antler used to apply a moderate amount of percussive force to a large flake in order to remove smaller thinning flakes.

Arrow Point - A small tool made from bone, metal, or stone that has been formed as the pointed end of an arrow for penetration and is often found at sites of prehistoric peoples. The earliest known are Solutrean points of the Upper Palaeolithic. Arrowheads are often the only evidence of archery since the arrow shaft and bow rarely survive. The term projectile point is generally preferable because it avoids an inference regarding the method of hafting and propulsion. Most often, arrowheads were placed in a slot in the shaft, tied, then fixed with resin.

Biface – A stone tool that has two surfaces (faces) that meet to form a single edge that circumscribes the tool. Both faces usually contain flake scars that travel at least half-way across the face.

Blade- a long, thin parallel-sided flake with a triangular cross-section from a tabular or cylindrical core.  The bulb of percussion will appear to be minimal to absent.

Bone- fossilized, and/or burned human or animal skeletal remains.

Ceramic - historic or prehistoric pottery.

Charcoal - Charcoal recovered in situ is usually wrapped in foil and accompanied by a tag carrying a point provenience.  

Chopper – A core tool that has a unifacial or bifacial edge that shows evidence of use or battering. Also could be a Hammerstone.

Chronology - the order in which events that are visible in the archaeological record occurred; the situation of a site or occupation in time. 

Compression, Compressed -- the deflation of a site by the removal of sediments from between separate occupational deposits; IE: soil and dust might be removed by wind action, leaving behind the heavier artifacts. 

Core - the scarred nucleus resulting from the detachment of one or more flakes from a lump of source material or tool stone, usually by using a hard hammer percussor such as a hammerstone. The core is marked with the negative scars of these flakes. The surface area of the core which received the blows necessary for detaching the flakes is referred to as the striking platform. 

Cortex - the outer layer of rock formed on the exterior of raw materials by chemical and mechanical weathering processes

Crazing -- a network of fine cracks caused by over-heating of chert due to burning. 

Curated - for stone tools, the concept of keeping and reusing; relates to curation and measuring use versus potential use available in a stone tool.

Dart Point - A flaked projectile point designed for use as a tip for a throwing stick dart.

Debitage - Stone debris produced during flaked-stone tool manufacture. Detached pieces that are discarded during the reduction process.

Diagnostic Artifact - an item that is indicative of a particular time and/or culture group.

Drill  – an oblong tool made of flaked stone used in drilling holes in wood, leather or hides. Oftentimes, drills were made from well used projectile points which were near end of life and thus many drills maintain the stem and hafting area of the original point type. 

Ecofacts - Naturally occurring item whose location or context indicates that it has been used by humans, such as seeds bones, pollen, etc.

Endscraper – a flake tool with retouch on the distal end. The retouched area has an edge angle that approaches 60 to 90 degrees.

Expedient tools - tools that can be easily prepared but have relatively low reliability. (Flake tools, etc.)

Faunal Remains – Animal remains, such as bones, fish scales, or mussel shells.

Fire Cracked Rock (aka FCR or Burned Rock) - evident by angular breaks and spalls. Limestone pieces may be dark gray or black, while some chert may appear red if it has been burned.

Flakes – thin flat asymmetrical piece of chert that was intentionally removed from a tool or core during the process of manufacture.

Geoarchaeology -- the study of the way in which geological processes impact materials in an archaeological context. 

Ground Stone - a category of stone tool formed by the grinding of a coarse-grained tool stone. Ground stone tools are usually made of basalt, rhyolite, granite, or other macrocrystalline igneous stones whose coarse structure makes them ideal for grinding other materials, including plants and other stones

Hammerstone - A hard stone used as a hammer during the knapping of flint and other stone, for processing food, breaking up shells or bones, etc.

Incise – To engrave into

Lithics  - Artifacts or ecofacts made of stone or rock. Sometimes the term lithics refers to the raw materials used to make stone tools.

Material Remains/Material Culture - The physical material left behind by former societies, such as buildings, tools and other artifacts.

Maker’s Mark – The name or artistic mark stamped on an object from which we can possibly determine the maker, location and date.

Mixing, Mixed -- the disturbance of archaeological deposits so that their original order of deposition cannot be easily determined. Mixing can be caused by natural processes, such as erosion or animal disturbance, or by human activity, such as digging. 

Modified Flake - A flake with evidence of modification along one or more edges, whether by natural forces, human use or intentional flaking or bag wear.

Pebble - a sediment particle with a diameter of 2-64 mm.

Persistent Place -- a place having qualities of geography or ecology that makes it particularly suited to human life, and to which humans are drawn over and over again despite differences in culture, technology and lifeways.

Pot Lid -- a small round or oblong piece of chert that pops off of a larger chert object due to burning

Potlidding -- small round or oblong divots in a chert artifact caused by over-heating and burning of the artifact.

Pressure Flaking -- removing very small flakes from the edges of a uniface or biface by applying pressure with a sharp pointed tool.

Projectile Point - Tools used for arrow, dart, or spear. They are not referred to as "arrowheads" unless it is known that the point was hafted to a shaft and used with bow and arrow. See also, Dart Point or Arrow Point.

Provenience -- the exact location in 3-dimensional space from which an artifact was recovered. Provenience includes not only the general location and name of a site, but also the precise location in the site including unit number, level number and location in 3 dimensions within the level. A well-documented excavation will record the provenience of many artifacts down to the centimeter. 

Relative Dating -- the dating of archaeological materials that can not be absolutely dated by their proximity to materials that have been absolutely dated. See also: Temporally Diagnostic.

Shard – Broken piece of glass.

Sherd – Individual pieces of broken pottery vessels.

Temporally Diagnostic - an artifact or other feature that can be associated with a particular time period with a reasonable degree of certainty. See also, Relative Dating.

Uniface – Stone tool that has only been worked on one side.