State Agencies

Federal Agencies

The Catawba Nation

Native American Heritage

Artifact Curation

Military Site Management

Professional & Avocational Organizations

Volunteer Opportunities


Historic Contexts

SC Standards and Guidelines for Archaeological Investigations

SHPO Guidance for Archaeological Surveys


SC Archaeology Month


Archaeology, a subfield of anthropology, is the scientific study of past human societies. Archaeologists use a specific vocabulary to discuss their research methods and information about the past. For instance, "material culture" is a term used by archaeologists to refer to the artifacts or other things left by past cultures. Some common terms include:

Archaeological site: A place where human activity occurred and material remains, such as artifacts and ecofacts, were left behind.

Artifact: Anything made and/or used by humans, including tools, containers, toolmaking debris, and food remains. Technically, buildings are also artifacts, but archaeologists usually apply the term "artifact" to portable items.

Context: The location or placement of an artifact, feature, or site, including the relationship of artifacts features, and the surrounding environment.

Culture: The learned beliefs and behaviors shared, and passed on, by the members of a society.

Debitage: The lithic debris that remains from the manufacturing of stone tools; often referred to as flakes.

Ecofacts: Natural objects, such as animal bones and plant seeds, found at an archaeological site.

Feature: A distinct, human-made component of an archaeological site often identified by changes in the color of the soil. Features typically have not been or cannot be moved and contain collections of artifacts and/or types of materials that represent special activities, such as a fire ring, a trash pit, a well or post holes.

Knapping: The flaking of chert, flint, or other stone to shape it into tools or other objects.

Lithics: General term applied to all collections of stone tools, working debris, and raw materials recovered during archaeological investigations, including axes, bifaces, and the flakes of stone tool production.

Midden: An area used for trash disposal often consisting of shell, bone and discarded broken artifacts.

Mounds: Architecture made out of earth, which may have had ceremonial or religious purpose.

Post hole: A hole dug in the ground to support posts used in construction. When archaeologists identify post holes, the post has deteriorated leaving a feature that allows archaeologists to determine the former shape of structures such as houses or fortifications.

Pottery: Containers made out of a combination of clay and sand that is hardened firing. Also referred to as ceramics. The Catawba Indian Nation continues to make pottery today.

Projectile point: A shaped stone point created by knapping and used to tip a spear, dart or arrow. Commonly referred to as "arrowheads".

Settlement: An area in which people live comprised of dwellings and associated private and shared facilities, perhaps surrounded by associated fields, approach ways, and other features, which together constitute a living space.

Settlement systems (or patterns): The distribution of humans across the landscape and the cultural and environmental variables that affect that distribution.

Shell Ring: A circular or horseshoe-shaped pile of shell, such as oysters, conch, clams, and mussels, Shell rings range in size from 50 to up to 250 meters across and located along the coast.

Sherds: Individual pieces of broken pottery vessels.

Social organization: The social relations within a group of people. These interactions include kinship systems, marriage residency patterns, how various tasks that need to be completed are divided, who has access to specific goods and knowledge, and what ranking strategy is being used.

Strata or stratigraphy: The layers of soil and artifacts in an archaeological site. If layers are undisturbed, the more recent layers will lie above the older layers. The relationship between the cultural deposits in the layers help the archaeologist understand what happened at a site over time.

Subsistence: The means through which humans make a daily living, usually referring to how they procure food, e.g., through gathering-and-hunting, or agriculture.

Temper: Materials such as crushed stone, sand, plant fiber shell, and crushed pottery mixed with the wet clay to make ceramic vessels more resistant to cracking during drying and firing.

Tribe: A social group comprising of families, clans or generations who share a common ancestry or culture.

Introduction || Historic Preservation