Archaeology Inktober 2019: Oct. 1 ‘Material’

Material

Catching up on my Archaeology Inktober Prompts.  This is the first thing that popped into my head when thinking about ‘material.’  We all wish we could get into the heads of those who leave behind the artifacts we study, to get beyond the material record.  Sometimes that’s possible with descendant communities, who carry a wealth of knowledge from their ancestors, and/or from written records, but so much of prehistory and history is limited to just the things we find.  Something we find breathtakingly beautiful may have been considered butt-ugly when it was created.

This years prompts:

Inktober2019

Artifacts Galore: Lab Day!

Check out my other posts on the ‘What’s Up, Archaeology?” blog!

Here is the full text: 

When I was in college, oh so long ago, we focused primarily on the traditional aspects of archaeology without doing much in the way of hands-on activities; anything of that sort was left for fieldschool.  Most of the students in the introductory archaeology courses were planning on majoring in the field, and so fieldschool was a requirement, so it’s not surprising methods and artifact analysis were left out.  But, I’m a hands-on kind of learner.  The more I can see, touch, and interact with, the better I will remember it.  If I solely learned about lithics and the process of creating stone tools in class/from books without learning flint knapping or working with collections of flakes, cores, and tools, I don’t think I would be able to recognize tools and such in the field as quickly or with as much accuracy.  That being said, I still drone on about theory, formation processes, the history of archaeology and the like in my courses, but I try to have a hands-on aspect as well.  After covering dating methods, I set up a large dendrochronology (see the post on tree-ring dating) master sequence on one of the walls and handed out tiny tree ring ‘samples’ that my students had to match up to the sequence.  They had to figure out when the tree started growing, when it was cut, and how many wet and dry spells occurred.

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What I hope my students see: the artifacts from this ‘site’ are from an established village. There’s groundstone, so agriculture may be present. There is a variety of pottery types, as well as lithic materials, so there may be trade.

This past week I covered the different types of artifacts typically observed in the material record, like stone tools and pottery.  I raided type collection for all kinds of artifacts to set up small mock archaeological sites in my classroom; each site even had it’s own context!  I wish we had the time to set up mock sites outside, but this was just going to have to do.  So, I set up three prehistoric sites, two historic sites, and one trick (got to keep students on their toes).  Some of the sites had to be created with photographs of historic artifacts, but I think they got the idea across.

 

 

 

 

 

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Lab questions for each ‘site.’

More than anything, I wanted my students to think about what artifacts can tell you about a site, like what people ate or trade networks.  And, how the lack of artifacts may indicate looting.  Context is key—for artifacts to have meaning, we have to know where they were located.  Then, we can generate a narrative for what happened in the past.  That’s why I included a photograph of a rather famous looter’s basement, who had artifacts piled to the ceiling.  A couple of students came up to me, saying, “but this isn’t a site! What’s the context?” and we had a nice chat about whether or not you can actually learn anything from something completely out of context.

What's up, Archaeology?

When I was in college, oh so long ago, we focused primarily on the traditional aspects of archaeology without doing much in the way of hands-on activities; anything of that sort was left for fieldschool.  Most of the students in the introductory archaeology courses were planning on majoring in the field, and so fieldschool was a requirement, so it’s not surprising methods and artifact analysis were left out.  But, I’m a hands-on kind of learner.  The more I can see, touch, and interact with, the better I will remember it.  If I solely learned about lithics and the process of creating stone tools in class/from books without learning flint knapping or working with collections of flakes, cores, and tools, I don’t think I would be able to recognize tools and such in the field as quickly or with as much accuracy.  That being said, I still drone on about theory…

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Artifacts: What’s all that jargon about?

Here is another one of my posts from the What’s Up, Archaeology? blog!  Here is the Full text:

There’s a whole lot of jargon surrounding the stuff archaeologists’ study, which can confuse even the most experienced in the field (i.e. Thermoluminescence, that’s a fun word).  There are terms I occasionally hear from colleagues, where I just want to yell, ‘just say “dirt” already’ but jargon is important.  Terms like artifact, lithics, ground stone, and so on, help us put things into categories, which then helps us figure out what on earth was going on at some site (i.e. a place where people made/left their stuff).  I will soon be teaching my students the primary artifact types, so that they can get an idea of how archaeologists break down what they see in the field.  Jargon makes us sound all kinds of fancy, but it can create a barrier between archaeology and the public.  The following is just a little rundown of some of the types of artifacts out there.  Hopefully, through the terms, you will see that whatever you’re looking at is more than just a pretty arrowhead or piece of pottery—jargon gives weight/meaning to each of the artifacts we find.

First things first: What is an artifact?

An artifact is anything made by human hands.  In the United States, based on cultural resource management laws, an artifact is anything made by human hands that is 50 years old or older.  That gross rusty evaporated milk can?

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A variety of prehistoric artifacts, including pottery, a hammerstone, a ground stone fragment, and debitage.

That’s an artifact!  That 1,000-year-old basket fragment?  That’s an artifact.  You get the idea.  Artifacts are an amazing tangible link to past people and cultures.  If you find any kind of artifact, please, just take a picture and put it back where you found it; taking an artifact from the site can change how we interpret the past.  Every artifact—even the ugliest of tin cans—matter!

 

Lithics: any artifact made of stone

Do you like stone tools?  Well, those types of artifacts fall under the category of ‘lithics.’  Flint knapping, the process of making stone tools, generates a whole bunch of jargon-laden terms.

-Core: a big chunk of stone, like obsidian, which flakes are removed during the knapping process.

-Hammerstone: a nice rock to hit the core, in order to make flakes.

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Quartzite flakes and debitage.

-Flake: a piece of stone removed from a core to make a tool or debitage.

-Debitage: stone debris knocked off a core that can’t be used for anything else.

Some sites may have a ‘lithic scatter’ where an archaeologist can tell if people were creating stone tools due to the amount of flakes and debitage left behind.

 

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This protohistoric chalcedony knife was made through the knapping process.

Projectile Point: those pointy things

A projectile point is the tool that gets fastened to the end of a spear, dart, or arrow shaft.  Most people are familiar with stone spears and arrowheads, but they also have been made from antler, bone, and copper.  The type of material used for projectile points can tell archaeologists about trade and the style can show cultural change overtime.  Unfortunately, projectile points are some of the most popular artifacts to be taken from archaeological sites.

Ground stone: feel the grind

Ground stone tools are formed by the grinding, pecking, or polishing of one stone with another stone.  These tools include manos and metates, which were used to grind up seeds.  There are pestles that would be used to crush seeds in a carved-out shape on a boulder, as well as beautifully crafted stone axes to pipes.

Ceramics: fire it up

Ceramics are artifacts made of fired clay, including pottery (jars, bowls, etc.), figurines, or really any other objects using fired clay.  Pottery provides archaeologists an incredible amount of information on clay types, trade, design, culture change, cooking, food, and so on.

Potsherds: no, not ‘shards’

A ‘sherd’ is a prehistoric or historic fragment of pottery.  There are many rocks that look like sherds (‘shrocks’) and sherds that look like rocks (‘jerkfaces’), which can make it difficult to distinguish at a site.

Perishables: where’d it go?

Most artifacts observed at archaeology sites are made of long-lasting materials, like stone or fired clay.  It’s not surprising that we typically do not find baskets, blankets, or animal skins at sites.  You need extremely good conditions, like a dry cave, to preserve perishable artifacts or artifacts made from organic materials, to prevent them from completely breaking down overtime.  It’s a particularly exciting day if you find a fragment of any kind of perishable artifact!

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Prehistoric Fremont baskets.  Observed at The Prehistoric Museum, Price, UT.

What's up, Archaeology?

There’s a whole lot of jargon surrounding the stuff archaeologists’ study, which can confuse even the most experienced in the field (i.e. Thermoluminescence, that’s a fun word).  There are terms I occasionally hear from colleagues, where I just want to yell, ‘just say “dirt” already’ but jargon is important.  Terms like artifact, lithics, ground stone, and so on, help us put things into categories, which then helps us figure out what on earth was going on at some site (i.e. a place where people made/left their stuff).  I will soon be teaching my students the primary artifact types, so that they can get an idea of how archaeologists break down what they see in the field.  Jargon makes us sound all kinds of fancy, but it can create a barrier between archaeology and the public.  The following is just a little rundown of some of the types of artifacts out…

View original post 612 more words

Palimpsest Palooza

pompeii

Did you know that Pompeii is an excellent example of temporal and spatial palimpsests? Fancy pantsy.

What on earth is a palimpsest?  Something having usually diverse layers or aspects apparent beneath the surface.  So, Pompeii has both temporal (time stamped/era/period) and spatial (same location and related) palimpsests, since the city is essentially a time capsule.  Alright, you may now carry on with your day.