Archaeological site

Archaeological site

Overview
An archaeological site is a place (or group of physical sites) in which evidence of past activity is preserved (either prehistoric or historic
Recorded history
Recorded history is the period in history of the world after prehistory. It has been written down using language, or recorded using other means of communication. It starts around the 4th millennium BC, with the invention of writing.-Historical accounts:...

 or contemporary), and which has been, or may be, investigated using the discipline of archaeology
Archaeology
Archaeology, or archeology , is the study of human society, primarily through the recovery and analysis of the material culture and environmental data that they have left behind, which includes artifacts, architecture, biofacts and cultural landscapes...

 and represents a part of the archaeological record
Archaeological record
The archaeological record is the body of physical evidence about the past. It is one of the most basic concepts in archaeology, the academic discipline concerned with documenting and interpreting the archaeological record....

.
Beyond this, the definition and geographical extent of a 'site' can vary widely, depending on the period studied and the theoretical approach of the archaeologist.

It is almost invariably difficult to delimit a site.
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Encyclopedia
An archaeological site is a place (or group of physical sites) in which evidence of past activity is preserved (either prehistoric or historic
Recorded history
Recorded history is the period in history of the world after prehistory. It has been written down using language, or recorded using other means of communication. It starts around the 4th millennium BC, with the invention of writing.-Historical accounts:...

 or contemporary), and which has been, or may be, investigated using the discipline of archaeology
Archaeology
Archaeology, or archeology , is the study of human society, primarily through the recovery and analysis of the material culture and environmental data that they have left behind, which includes artifacts, architecture, biofacts and cultural landscapes...

 and represents a part of the archaeological record
Archaeological record
The archaeological record is the body of physical evidence about the past. It is one of the most basic concepts in archaeology, the academic discipline concerned with documenting and interpreting the archaeological record....

.
Beyond this, the definition and geographical extent of a 'site' can vary widely, depending on the period studied and the theoretical approach of the archaeologist.

It is almost invariably difficult to delimit a site. It is sometimes taken to indicate a settlement of some sort although the archaeologist must also define the limits of human activity around the settlement. Any episode of deposition such as a hoard
Hoard
In archaeology, a hoard is a collection of valuable objects or artifacts, sometimes purposely buried in the ground. This would usually be with the intention of later recovery by the hoarder; hoarders sometimes died before retrieving the hoard, and these surviving hoards may be uncovered by...

 or burial
Burial
Burial is the act of placing a person or object into the ground. This is accomplished by excavating a pit or trench, placing an object in it, and covering it over.-History:...

 can form a site as well. Development-led archaeology undertaken as cultural resources management
Cultural resources management
In the broadest sense, Cultural Resources Management is the vocation and practice of managing cultural resources, such as the arts and heritage. It incorporates Cultural Heritage Management which is concerned with traditional and historic culture. It also delves into the material culture of...

 has the disadvantage (or the benefit) of having its sites defined by the limits of the intended development. Even in this case however, in describing and interpreting the site, the archaeologist will have to look outside the boundaries of the building site.

Traditionally, sites are distinguished by the presence of both artifact
Artifact (archaeology)
An artifact or artefact is "something made or given shape by man, such as a tool or a work of art, esp an object of archaeological interest"...

s and feature
Feature (archaeology)
Feature in archaeology and especially excavation has several different but allied meanings. A feature is a collection of one or more contexts representing some human non-portable activity that generally has a vertical characteristic to it in relation to site stratigraphy. Examples of features are...

s. Common features include the remains of hearths and houses. Ecofacts, biological materials (such as bones, scales, and even feces) that are the result of human activity but are not deliberately modified, are also common at many archaeological sites. In the cases of the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic
Mesolithic
The Mesolithic is an archaeological concept used to refer to certain groups of archaeological cultures defined as falling between the Paleolithic and the Neolithic....

 eras, a mere scatter of flint flake
Lithic flake
In archaeology, a lithic flake is a "portion of rock removed from an objective piece by percussion or pressure," and may also be referred to as a chip or spall, or collectively as debitage. The objective piece, or the rock being reduced by the removal of flakes, is known as a core. Once the proper...

s will also constitute a site worthy of study. Different archaeologists may see an ancient town, and its nearby cemetery as being two different sites, or as being part of the same wider site. The precepts of landscape archaeology
Landscape archaeology
Landscape archaeology is the study of the ways in which people in the past constructed and used the environment around them. Landscape archaeology is inherently multidisciplinary in its approach to the study of culture, and is used by both pre-historical, classic, and historic archaeologists...

 attempt to see each discrete unit of human activity in the context of the wider environment, further distorting the concept of the site as a demarcated area. Furthermore, geoarchaeologists
Geoarchaeology
Geoarchaeology is a multi-disciplinary approach which uses the techniques and subject matter of geography, geology and other Earth sciences to examine topics which inform archaeological knowledge and thought...

 or environmental archaeologists
Environmental archaeology
Environmental archaeology is the study of the long-term relationship between humans and their environments. Various sub-disciplines are involved to document and interpret this relationship, including paleoethnobotany, zooarchaeology, geomorphology, palynology, geophysics, landscape archaeology,...

 would also consider a sequence of natural geological or organic deposition, in the absence of human activity, to constitute a site worthy of study.

Archaeological sites usually form through human-related processes but can be subject to natural, post-depositional factors. Cultural remnants which have been buried by sediments are in many environments more likely to be preserved than exposed cultural remnants. Natural actions resulting in sediment being deposited include alluvial (water-related) or aeolian (wind-related) natural processes. In jungles and other areas of lush plant growth, decomposed vegetative sediment can result in layers of soil deposited over remains. Colluviation, the burial of a site by sediments moved by gravity (called hillwash) can also happen at sites on slopes. Human activities (both deliberate and incidental) also often bury sites. It is common in many cultures for newer structures to be built atop the remains of older ones. Urban archaeology
Urban archaeology
Urban archaeology is a sub discipline of archaeology specialising in the material past of towns and cities where long-term human habitation has often left a rich record of the past....

 has developed especially to deal with these sorts of site.

Many sites are the subject of ongoing excavation or investigation. Note the difference between archaeological sites and archaeological discoveries.

See also


External links


Further reading


Dunnell, Robert C., and William S. Dancey, 1983 The Siteless Survey: A Regional Scale Data Collection Strategy, in Advances in Archaeological Method and Theory 6:267-287. M.B. Schiffer, ed.