The Catawba Nation
Native American Heritage
Military Site Management
Professional & Avocational
SC Standards and Guidelines for Archaeological
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
Context: The location or placement of an artifact, feature, or site,
including the relationship of artifacts features, and the surrounding
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
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
Settlement systems (or patterns): The distribution of humans across the
landscape and the cultural and environmental variables that affect that
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
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.