Broaddus Flats
Assassquin Plantation

Dover Steam Mill

18th Century Cellar

19th Century Kitchen Cellar

Summer Hill
Mehixton Plantation

site design by riverrun enterprises / design & contents copyright 2005, 2004, 2003




alluvial: layers at a site that are laid down by water (flooding usually)

archeology: the process of digging in the earth to uncover information on how people lived in the past

artifact: any object made or used by humans

assemblage: a group of artifacts which were found together and may have some relationship to one another (e.g., many heat-cracked rocks that made up an Indian hearth)

benchmark: a fixed, immovable reference point set up by the archeologist prior to digging; used in conjunction with the transit (see below) in taking elevation reference points for drawings of a feature

cartouche: a thin clay seal added separately to the outside of a pipe or vessel; maker's initials or full name, or the king's initials (e.g. "GR" standing for Georgius Rex) are displayed within

ceramics: pottery

chamber pot: a pottery bowl used as a toilet before indoor plumbing was invented; dumped into the privy (see below) the next morning

colluvial: layers at a site that are laid down by the natural process of gravity

conservation: the art of cleaning and treating artifacts to ensure their survival outside the ground

crossmending: the process of fitting sherds of pottery together in order to see the original form of a vessel. These sherds may have been found in more than one area of the dig site.

culture: the unique behaviors, beliefs and artifacts of a particular people

datum: a permanent point used as a standard from which to measure other points at a dig site

delft: tin-glazed earthenware made in Holland or England during the colonial era (1607—1776) and shipped to America

diagnostic artifact: an artifact which provides clues to the function or date of a feature or site

disturbed site: a site where the original layers of soil and archaeological material have been disturbed or mixed by natural or human action, for example by a flood or by plowing

earthenware: term referring to a relatively soft-bodied pottery, fired in a kiln heated to only several hundred degrees Fahrenheit and less than that of stoneware (see below)

ecofact: any object excavated by the archeologist that is not made or fashioned by people, e.g. leaves, wood, pollen, seeds, etc.

excavate: to dig an archeological site

excavation unit: a section of a site measured and designated for excavation, such as a one meter square or ten feet square

faunal analysis: the study of the animal bones found at a dig site. This analysis can help in the understanding of human diet and environment

feature: permanent fixture (foundations, walls, cellars, wells, etc.) or distinct deposit (trash pits, privies, etc.) on a site

flotation sample: a technique used at a dig site for recovering lightweight floral and faunal remains by mixing the soil from an excavation unit with water in a large container. Heavier debris sinks, while lighter materials, such as small bones and seeds, float to the top where they can be scooped off.

glaze: a mineral treatment that, when added to the hot kiln during the baking of pottery, seals the porous clay of the vessel and produces a shiny and often colorful surface; favorite minerals were lead (Pb), tin (Sn) and salt (NaCl)

grid: the pattern of measured units laid out by the archeologist on the surface of a site prior to excavation; needs to be easily translated onto graph paper to record any features or significant artifacts

historical archaeology: the archaeological study of places and time periods for which there is written history. In Virginia history this begins with Jamestown (May 1607).

in situ: the place where an artifact was found in the ground (Latin for "in place")

lithic material: the type of stone from which an artifact is made

midden: a trash pile or pit originally deposited on the ground surface, and then later covered somehow with soil (by alluvial or colluvial action)

oral history: the recording of recent history through interviews with people who lived or worked during the time period under study

organic materials: artifactual material that was once living (e.g. wood, shell, bone, leather, etc.)

physical anthropology: the study of human skeletal remains from a site

plowzone: the top soil layer on a site, especially one that has been under cultivation each year; may vary from a few inches to 15 inches

prehistoric archaeology: the archaeological study of places and time periods for which there is no written history

privy: a hole dug into the ground for use as a place to go to the bathroom

provenience: the specific location where an artifact or feature is found

Rhenish: refers to the point of origin for ceramics made by German potters in the Rhine River valley; mostly stonewares

screening: the procedure used at a dig site after the soil is excavated from a unit. The dirt is shaken or sifted through a wire mesh screen to recover the artifacts within it

seriation: a method of arranging artifacts and artifact assemblages chronologically based on physical similarities

site: a location where archeologists can find evidence of human activity

slip: a thin, very wet layer of clay added to the outside of the vessel to seal up tiny cracks or to act as an adhesive for attaching handles, cartouches (see above), etc.

social archaeology: a field of research which uses archaeological records to reconstruct the belief system and social organization of past societies

stemware: refers to hand-blown glass (usually clear) made into a narrow-stemmed glass for serving wine, brandy or champagne

sterile soil: soil or soil layers containing no evidence of human occupation. Normally, excavation on a site is halted when
sterile soil is reached

stoneware: term referring to a relatively hard-bodied pottery, heated in a kiln heated to temperatures exceeding 1000 degrees Fahrenheit

strata: layers or occupation levels at a site

stratigraphy: drawing the distinct layers or levels in the soil at a site

subsoil: the undisturbed (by the plow) layer of soil lying underneath the topsoil layer on a site; usually containing no evidence of prior human activity

terminus ante quem: a date before which the underlying layers were deposited. (Latin for "the date before which")

terminus post quem: the earliest potential date for an artifact or artifact assemblage, based on the earliest date of manufactureof the most recent artifact in the assemblage. (Latin for "the date after which")

transit: an instrument used by archeologists to measure vertical elevations on a site; benchmark (see above) needs to be established

trowel: a small hand-held spade; the main tool of the archeologist

ware: an object made by hand by an artisan, usually referring to a potter or glass blower; thus the terms ‘stoneware,’ ‘earthenware,’ ‘delftware,’ ‘stemware’ or ‘glassware,’ ‘redware’ or ‘buffware’ (refers to color of the clay of the vessel), etc.

Date posted: 01.01.03