APCC140 INTRODUCTION TO PREHISTORY

Spring 2007

SOME CENTRAL CONCEPTS, KEY TERMS, AND BASIC STUFF YOU’LL NEED TO KNOW


Archaeology – the science of developing interpretations about human behaviors through the documentation and analysis of the archaeological record.

Archaeological Record – is a contemporary record of past processes. The archaeological record is the result of a complex ‘dynamic, evolving, integrated system of [cultural] biological and sedimentological processes.’ The archaeological record is neither a snapshot of the past (a material record frozen in time) nor a ‘biased’ representation. We study the archaeological record in order to make informed, well documented inferences about the past.

Material Record – the material remains produced by a cultural system. This can include tools, features, garbage, and their spatial arrangement.

General Theory – an ultimate goal of archaeological research. Seeks to understand universal aspects of human behaviors and adaptations.

Middle-Range Theory -- a body of approaches and methods that provide less ambiguous linkages between our observations on the archaeological record and our interpretations about past behaviors. Middle range investigations are one of the ways that contemporary archaeology differs most from earlier, speculative modes of archaeological interpretation.

Archaeological Documents – the limited set of potential observations on the archaeological record that are recorded in archaeological reports, field notes, publications, and museum collections.

Ethnoarchaeology – a class of middle range approaches that seek to provide a better understanding of the linkages between the operation of cultural systems and the production of a material record. Studies of the interactions between living peoples and their material world.

Taphonomy – a class of middle range approaches that seek to provide a better understanding for the linkages between a past material record and the contemporary archaeological record that is derived from the preceding material record.

Dinosaurs – interesting long-dead critters studied by vertebrate paleontologists, not archaeologists. Although archaeology and paleontology share many techniques and interpretative approaches, archaeologists seek to understand the human past. Since there is about 60 million years separating the last dinosaurs and the first humans, archaeologists do not study dinosaurs.

Dig – what a dog, rodent, or looter does. You can dig a ditch, a well, or a hole in the ground, but if you are removing materials from an archaeological site it had better be through excavation. A dig is not a term to be used to describe an archaeological excavation, unless you are making a derogatory comment about the quality of work being done at the site.

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