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Archaeology
of a
San Francisco Neighborhood

This Web site was funded by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans).

It was created by Anthropological Studies Center (ASC).

Glossary

 

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

A

AIMS-R or “Association, Integrity, Materials, Stratigraphy and Relative Rarity": Five principles that help archaeologists decide which deposits should be excavated and analysed, and which should not. The principles are called AIMS-R from the initial letter of each (Association, Integrity, Materials, Stratigraphy and Relative Rarity) and because they help determine what our "aims are."

Archaeologist: A person trained to study material remains such as artifacts and monuments of past human life and activities.

Archaeology: The study of the human past using material remains, from the most ancient to the relatively modern.

Archaeological Deposits: Soil and artifacts that are part of an archaeological feature.

Archaeological Excavation: The systematic removal of archaeological artifacts and features. Excavation involves careful recording of both the artifacts and the layers of soil in which they are buried.

Archaeological Feature: As distinct from an artifact, a feature is an element of an archaeological site that cannot be removed from the site without losing its physical integrity. Privy pits, walls, and stone hearths are all features.

Archaeological Layer: A stratum of soil or other archaeological material that is physically discernable from other layers by its color, texture, and structure. North American archaeologists also use the term contexts to refer to archaeological layers.

Archaeological Site: A place that contains the remains of past human activity in its original context. Sites include concentrations of debris from making stone tools, artifact-filled pits from nineteenth-century San Francisco, and England’s Stonehenge.

Archaeological Survey: The process of looking for archaeological sites in the field.

Artifact: Something made or modified by humans. Artifacts can be as simple as a stone tool chipped out of a pebble or as sophisticated as a city with all its buildings, roads, and infrastructure. A collection of artifacts and/or features in its original location that is no longer being used is called an archaeological site.

B

Backhoe: Wheeled vehicle equipped with arm and bucket for moving earth.

Bric-a-Brac: Small objects that are displayed as decorative items or ornaments.(more)

C

California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA): California legislation designed to ensure that environmental factors are considered in landuse decisions and management.

Conservation Archaeology: Recognizing that archaeological sites are irreplaceable, this principle stresses our responsibility to preserve them rather than let them be destroyed by commercial development, natural processes, or even by unnecessary archaeological excavation.

Context: Artifacts, features, and sites seen in relation to other artifacts, features and sites and the people who used them. To remove an artifact from the place where it was deposited is to take it from its physical context. To seek to understand an artifact without reference to the way it was used is to remove it from its cultural context. The term context is also used by North American historical archaeologists as another name for archaeological layer. See Archaeological layer.

Context sheets: Forms used by historical archaeologists to record information on different contexts or layers within an archaeological excavation.

Construction Monitoring: Observation and inspection by archaeologists of construction activities such as earthmoving in order to identify and treat disturbed archaeological features.

Cultural Resources: Collective term for archaeological sites, old buildings and structures, and important places, particularly those that have legal protection.

Cultural Resources Management [CRM]: The practice of managing archaeological sites and artifacts, historic buildings, and culturally important places in the interest of the public, scholars, and other groups who value them.

Curation: Process by which archaeological materials are prepared for and receive care either for a fixed period of time or in perpetuity.

D

Data Recovery: The process by which the important information contained in an archaeological site is removed by excavation. See Preservation by Record

E

Ethnohistory: The history of groups—often colonized populations—who are not represented in the usual written historic sources. The ethnohistoric era follows colonization as attempts are made to assimilate the original population.

F

Feature: See Archaeological Feature

Faunal Remains: Any part of an animal that is found on an archaeological site. Most are food bones from mammals, birds, and fish, although fish scales, shellfish shells, and even hair are sometimes uncovered.

G

H

Harris Matrix: A graphic system devised by Dr. Edward Harris, that allows the archaeologist to show the three dimensional relationship between layers and features on a site.

Historical Archaeology: Archaeology of sites with written records and of recent centuries from 16th-century New England to the Depression-era camps of the 1930s, and later. Most historical archaeologists work in places and eras that were affected by European colonialism.

Historical Research: The process by which researchers examine primary and secondary sources to find out about a historic place, person, or process. This often involves visits to public offices, libraries, and historical archives.

I

Identification Phase: Initial phase of archaeological field survey or excavation where archaeological sites and features are identified, prior to evaluation and possible data recovery.

J

K

L

M

Maker’s Mark: Stamped or printed mark on the base of a ceramic plate or other artifact. Manufacturers used each mark for a limited period of time, making them invaluable for dating their products.

Material Culture: Concept emphasizing that every artifact is a chunk of culture that functioned and had meaning within a cultural and historic context.

Matrix: See Harris Matrix

Midden: An accumulation of domestic wastes including such things as food bones, shell, broken pottery, and amorphous, unrecognizable lumps of stuff.

Modernization: Modernization is one of the most important processes studied by archaeologists on nineteenth century American sites. It is the process by which people from pre-modern, pre-industrial cultures adapted to the demands of the modern, industrialized society. This was a challenge faced by many people in nineteenth century America, as people left their farms to seek work in the cities, and immigrants arrived from agrarian areas of Europe. (more)

N

National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA): Federal legislation that requires government agencies to identify and manage historic properties that fall under their control. Section 106, perhaps the best known element of NHPA, requires federal agencies to take into account the effects of their decisions (including permitting actions) on historic properties and to allow the Advisory Council of Historic Preservation to comment on (but not to overrule) their actions. Historic properties are defined as districts, sites, buildings, structures or objects that are listed on or eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).

National Register of Historic Places (NRHP): The Federal Government’s official list of the Nation’s cultural resources worthy of preservation. Administered by the National Parks Service, the Register includes districts, sites, buildings, structures and objects that are significant in American history, architecture, archaeology, engineering and culture.

O

Open Area Excavation: A method of excavation used to expose large amounts of the historic ground surface at one time.

Oral History: An oral account of a past event or process in the words of one who experienced it. Oral history is solicited through personal interview and is usually documented on tape and transcribed. It is an aspect of historical research.

P

Preservation by Record: The idea that an archaeological site can be, in effect, preserved by recording it through excavation, analysis, curation, and publication. See Data recovery

Primary Sources: Records such as Sanborn Fire Insurance maps, tax assessments, diaries, oral histories, and other first-hand accounts and depictions of life in the past. Since primary sources were created by the individuals who actually witnessed the scenes they describe, these records are highly valued by historians.

Privy: An old-fashioned word for a pit toilet. Before flush toilets, people dug simple holes in the ground to take care of their… personal requirements. When these holes were no longer needed they were often filled with household refuse and other artifacts.

Q

R

Records Search, Archaeological: The process by which one researches known archaeological sites before going into the field. The records, which are often held by governmental agencies, commonly include location maps, descriptive forms, and survey and excavation reports.

Research Design and Treatment Plan: A plan that lays out the archaeologist’s theoretical scheme, research goals, and strategy for conducting the work.

S

Sanborn Fire Insurance Company Maps (Sanborn maps): Maps of American cities produced by the D.A. Sanborn Company that show individual building ‘footprints’, building materials such as brick or wood, and construction details such as height in stories, number of windows, locations of doors, street address, and use of the structure e.g. dwelling or school. These maps were produced during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries for use by insurance underwriters, who used them to determine risks and establish premiums for clients. These maps are used today by many scholars including archaeologists, historians, urban geographers and architectural historians.

Section 106: See National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA)

Secondary Sources: Records such as history books and articles that are based on primary sources but are not themselves first-hand accounts. Secondary sources are often synthetic, pulling together information from a variety of primary and other secondary sources.

Sheet Refuse: Layer or scatter of artifacts deposited on the ground's surface rather than in a hollow feature such as a pit, privy or well.

Stratified: Made up of layers, as in “the site was stratified with deposits representing three centuries of occupation.”

Stratigraphy: The layers consisting of structural remains, soil and artifacts that make up an archaeological feature or site. The recording and analysis of stratigraphy helps the archaeologist understand how an archaeological feature or site was created.

Survey, Intensive: The process of carefully inspecting all of the ground’s surface with the goal of discovering all archaeological remains that may be there.

Survey, Reconnaissance: A cursory inspection with the goal of getting the ‘lay of the land’ rather than finding all archaeological sites there are to find.

Surveyor: Trained and certified individual who makes accurate horizontal and vertical measurements using optical instruments to determine the exact position of points on the Earth’s surface. Surveyors often work with archaeologists on historic urban sites to determine the location of boundaries of historic lot lines.

T

Transfer Print: A method of decoration in which a pattern is transferred to a sheet of paper from a lithograph, silk screen or engraving. The pattern is then applied from the paper to a ceramic vessel and sealed with a clear glaze.

U

V

Victorianism: A term for a set of social values and aspirations that served as a bridge between pre-Industrial, agrarian cultures and Industrialized, urban cultures during the process of modernization in countries such as England, America and Australia. (more)

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