This lab is actually jumping a bit ahead of the class material for this week’s module. The goal of this lab is to get you familiar with archaeological techniques in advance of our coming discussions that will investigate fossil evidence and excavation methodology as we interpret evidence of human ancestry. Please complete the activities throughout this lab, answer the question on the associated answer sheet, and submit your responses through Blackboard.
Section 1: Tool production
Biological anthropologists have long been interested in trying to determine when our human ancestors developed the ability to make and use tools. In this lab, we will discuss the process and abilities needed for tool production. This section is meant to familiarize you with stone tool production (flintknapping techniques). Watch the videos embedded here, and then answer the following questions or define the following terms:
Section 1 Reflection Questions
- What are some requirements for a rock to be ‘knappable’?
- What is a hammerstone?
- List some of the raw materials used for making hard or soft hammer stones:
Briefly define the following terms:
- Bulb of percussion
- Eraillure scar
- Ripple Marks
- Pressure Flaking
- Indirect Percussion
Please watch the videos to answer the questions, but for additional help, check out this lithics glossary website:
Section II: Dating Techniques
Watch the video summarizing archaeological dating techniques, and then read the online tutorial on Dating Techniques in Archaeology for additional testing descriptions. Answer the questions that follow as you go. Please click additional links and watch animations in the articles as needed for expanded explanation.
For additional assistance, and any terms you cannot locate in the video or text on the website, please consult Dr. Fagan’s archaeological chronology resources: https://archserve.id.ucsb.edu/courses/anth/fagan/anth3/Anth3Frame.html
Section 2 Reflection Questions
- What is absolute (also known as chronometric) dating?
- What is relative dating?
- Define the Law of Superposition.
- What is stratigraphy?
- Describe the following dating techniques and answer the supplemental questions for each.
- What are its limitations?
- Radiocarbon (please be detailed):
- Which technique is most appropriate for paleoanthropologists and why?
Section III: Practicing Relative Dating
Exercise 1: Stratigraphy
Below is an image of a stratigraphic profile (i.e., you are looking at a vertical cut into the earth) in which you can see four burials, seven ceramic artifacts, twenty-two strata (layers), and the remains of a building. Using what you learned of stratigraphy and the Law of Superposition in the station above, please answer the questions below.
Note: Be sure to pay attention to the terminology used:
Earlier = Deeper in Depth = Older in Age = Further in the Past
Later = Closer to the Surface = Younger in Age = More Recent
1. Which strata is earlier, Stratum C or E?
2. Is it possible to determine which ceramic vessel is later: 4, 5, or 6? If so, which one?
3. Is it possible to determine which vessel is earlier: 1, 2, 6, or 7? If so, which one?
4. In what order were the burials interred, from oldest to youngest?
5. Which is older, burial Y or vessel 3?
6. Was the wall built before or after burial Y was interred?
Exercise 2: Seriation
Seriation is a technique that seeks to order artifacts ‘in a series” in which adjacent members are mores similar to each other than to members further away in the series. The resulting series can be tested to see if it reflects the passage of time based on the tendency for classes of objects to change through time. Seriation has two basic applications: stylistic seriation and frequency seriation.
Stylistic seriation orders artifacts and attributes according to similarity in style (see image below). Here the variation observed may be ascribable to either temporal change or areal differences. It is therefore up to the archaeologist to interpret which dimension is represented on each situation.
One of the first studies to use stylistic seriation successfully was the Diosopolis Parva sequence done by Sir Flinders Petrie at the close of the 19th century. Petrie was faced with a series of predynastic Egyptian tombs that were not linked stratigraphically, but each had yielded sets of funerary pottery. To organize the pottery and its source tombs chronologically, he developed what he called a sequence dating technique. He ordered the pottery by its shape (see image above) and assigned a series of sequence date numbers to the seriated pots.
The “dates,” of course, did not relate to a calendar of years, but indicated instead the relative age of the materials within the series. Nonetheless, the sequence dating technique allowed Petrie to organize the pottery chronologically and, by association, to order the tombs as well.
Frequency Seriation is a method that is more strictly oriented to chronological ordering. It involves determining a sequence of sites or deposits by studying the relative frequencies of certain artifact types these contain. These seriation studies are based on the assumption that frequency of each artifact type or mode follows a predictable career, from the time of its origin to total disuse. Of course, the length of time and the degree of popularity (frequency) vary with each type or mode, but when presented diagrammatically, most examples form one or more lens patterns known as battle-shaped curves (Figure 2). The validity of this pattern has been verified by plotting the frequencies of artifact types from long-term stratified deposits and by testing historically documented examples. The best-known historical test is that by James D and Edwin N. Dethlefsen, involving dated tombstones from the 18th and early 19th centuries in New England. This study demonstrated that the popularity of various decorative motifs on headstones did indeed show battleship-shaped distribution curves over time.
Watch the video below for an explanation of how to conduct a seriation analysis.
Data Set – Cambridge Cemetery, Massachusetts. As an archaeologist, you are interested in determining whether a cemetery you are investigating matches the pattern observed by Deetz and Dethlefsen. Using the dataset below, tally the number of tombstone types in each time period. Then, draw a bar to represent each headstone type frequency in the table in your lab answer packet (mirror technique used above)
Section IV: Excavation Summary – Archaeological Vocabulary
There are entire courses you can take on archaeological excavation and techniques. While we do not have the time in this lab to get into such detailed descriptions of archaeological methods, please watch the two short videos below on how archaeologists figure out where to dig, and how they go about the process. Then, use what you’ve learned in those videos and the glossary link below to define the list of common archaeological concepts.
Using the following website, define the terms below: Archaeology Glossary