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Marine Corps Installations West

Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton
Cultural Resources - Terminology

The following terms are commonly used when discussing archaeological resources and heritage assets on Camp Pendleton. Definitions have been provided by the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA). The AIA has an expanded glossary of terms which can found here .

A.D. - Abbreviation for the term Anno Domini Nostri Jesu Christi (or simply Anno Domini) which means, "in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ." Years are counted from the traditionally recognized year of the birth of Jesus. In academic, historical, and archaeological circles, A.D. is generally replaced by the term Common Era (C.E.)."

Anthropology - The study of human beings, including their behavior, biology, linguistics, and social and cultural variations. In the United States, anthropology is divided into four sub-disciplines: archaeology, biological/physical anthropology, cultural anthropology, and linguistics. All the sub-disciplines study aspects of past or present humans. Archaeologists generally study the physical and material remains of ancient societies, while cultural anthropologists study living cultures. Physical anthropologists study human skeletons and other bodily remains. Biological anthropologists deal primarily with the evolution of humans and primates. Linguists study languages, especially their development and their function within human culture.

Archaeology - The scientific excavation and study of ancient human material remains.

Archaeological site - A place where evidence of past activity is present and preserved.

Artifact - A portable object manufactured, modified, or used by humans.

Assemblage - A group of artifacts found within the same archaeological context (locus, matrix, stratum).

Association - Objects found near one another in the same context are said to be in association.

B.C. - Abbreviation for the term “Before Christ.” Years are counted back from the traditionally recognized year of Christ's birth. In academic, historical, and archaeological circles, this term is now generally replaced by Before Common Era (B.C.E.).

B.P. - Before Present; used in age determination instead of B.C. or B.C.E. "Present" is academically defined as the year 1950 (the year when this term was invented).

Biface tools - Stone tools that have been worked on both sides or faces, meaning that flakes have been intentionally (not naturally) chipped off from both sides of the stone.

Cache (pronounced "cash") - A collection of objects that was purposefully buried.

Chert - A fine-grained sedimentary rock, similar to flint, that is white, pinkish, brown, gray, or blue-gray in color. In antiquity, chert was one of the universally preferred materials for making stone tools (obsidian was another).

Chipped stone tool - Stone tool made by striking a stone (core or preform) with another stone (hammerstone) or other hard material (such as antler). Small pieces of stone (flakes) were struck off the core in a controlled and precise manner to create a usable shape (arrow heads, spear points, knives, etc.). The two main techniques of creating chipped tools were direct percussion (the core is struck directly with a hammerstone) and indirect percussion (another object is placed between the core and the hammerstone).

Conchoidal - Relating to stone tools, the term conchoidal describes a specific type of fracture created when obsidian, chert, or glass-like substances are struck with a hard instrument and a flake is removed. The fracture pattern produces a flake that appears bent.

Core - A chunk of stone from which flakes are removed. The core itself can be shaped into a tool or used as a source of flakes to be formed into tools.

Cultural resource - The physical evidence of past human activity. This evidence can include buildings, structures, districts, archaeological sites, historic landscapes, traditional cultural properties, Native American sacred sites, and objects of significance in history, architecture, archaeology, engineering, or culture that are eligible for or included in the National Register of Historic Places. Cultural resources can also include associated documents and records.

Cultural resource manager - A professional with the responsibility of documenting, preserving, interpreting, and evaluating various cultural resources. Cultural resource managers typically have an educational background in anthropology and archaeology.

Debitage - Small pieces of stone debris that break off during the manufacturing of stone tools. These are usually considered waste and are a by-product of production.

Diffusion - The transmission of ideas or materials from culture to culture, or from one area to another.

District - A concentration of sites, buildings, structures, or objects that are united historically or aesthetically by plan or physical development.

Ethnography - A branch of anthropology that studies and describes modern human cultures (rather than human behavior or physical attributes). Archaeologists sometimes work with ethnographers in an effort to correlate behavior with material remains.

Feature - Any physical structure or element, such as a wall, post hole, pit, or floor, that is made or altered by humans but (unlike an artifact) is not portable and cannot be removed from a site.

Flake - A piece of stone removed from a core for use as a tool or as debitage.

Geoarchaeology - Archaeological research using the methods and concepts of the earth sciences. Geoarchaeologists often study soil and sediment patterns and processes of earth formation observed at archaeological sites. This form of research provides a wealth of information about context and human activity.

Grave goods - Objects placed within human burials to equip a person for the afterlife or to identify the deceased.

Heritage asset - A cultural resource that is considered to have substantial value because of its contribution to a group’s culture and/or knowledge. These assets are typically physical, but some countries also identify assets that are intangible or spiritual in significance.

Historic property - A specific term defined by the National Historic Preservation Act as “any prehistoric or historic district, site, building, structure, or object included in, or eligible for inclusion on the National Register.” These properties can also include artifacts, records, and remains which are related to districts, sites, buildings, structures, or objects.

Historical Archaeology - A discipline within archaeology concerned with supplementing written history with archaeological research to create a more complete account of the past. The term applies only to the study of societies with written records.

Hunter-gatherers - A community or group that subsists primarily by hunting wild game and gathering wild plant resources. Hunter-gatherers usually live in small groups of less the 150 individuals.

In situ - Anything in its natural or original position or place is said to be in situ.

Knapping - A technique for making stone tools and weapons by striking flakes from a core with a hard (stone) or soft (antler) percussion instrument. Individual flakes or cores can be further modified to create tools. Also called flintknapping.

Law of Superposition - A physical "law" asserting that deeper layers of sediment or archaeological strata will naturally be older than the layers above them (in the absence of unusual, disruptive, activity, such as earthquakes).

Lithic - Of or pertaining to stone.

Locus - A specific point in space; a discrete excavated unit or archaeological context (plural = loci).

Matrix - The physical material (often dirt) in which archaeological objects are located.

Microlith - Small, flaked stone tools, 1-4 cms in length.

Midden - A deposit of occupation debris, rubbish, or other by-products of human activity, such as shell, bone, or debitage, found close to a living area; a trash heap or pit.

National Register of Historic Places - The United States’ list of districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects officially deemed worthy of preservation. The National Register is part of a larger national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect historic and archaeological resources.

Palynology - The recovery and study of ancient pollen grains for the purposes of analyzing ancient climate, vegetation, and diet.

Pedology - The scientific study of soils.

Petroglyph - A carving on a rock surface.

Petrology - The geological and chemical study of rocks.

Pictograph - A drawing on a rock surface using paint or other means aside from carving.

Pressure flaking - Technique of removing flakes from a core by applying pressure steadily until the flake breaks off, in contrast to percussion flaking, in which the flake is struck off.

Primary context - The context of an artifact, feature, or site that has not been disturbed since its original deposition.

Provenance - The origin, or history of ownership of an archaeological or historical object.

Provenience - The three-dimensional context (including geographical location) of an archaeological find, giving information about its function and date.

Radiocarbon dating - An absolute dating technique used to determine the age of organic materials less than 50,000 years old.  Age is determined by examining the loss of the unstable carbon-14 isotope, which is absorbed by all living organisms during their lifespan.

Relative dating - A system of dating archaeological remains and strata in relation to each other. By using methods of typing or by assigning a sequence based on the Law of Superposition, archaeologists organize layers or objects in order from "oldest" to "most recent." Relative dating methods help archaeologists establish chronologies of finds and types.

Secondary Context - Context of an artifact that has been wholly or partially altered by transformation/site formation processes after its original deposit, as in disturbance by human activity after the artifacts' original deposition.

Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act - A portion of the National Historic Preservation Act that requires Federal agencies to take into account the effects of their undertakings on historic properties, and afford the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation an opportunity comment on the findings. Associated regulations published in the Code of Federal Regulations at 36 CFR 800 require agencies to consult with a range of stakeholders, including Native American tribes.

Settlement pattern - Distribution of human settlements on the landscape.

Shard - The term used for a piece of broken glass from an archaeological context.

Sherd - The term used for a piece of broken pottery from an archaeological context.

Site - Any place where human material remains are found; an area of human activity represented by material culture.

Stratigraphy - The study of the layers (strata) of sediments, soils, and material culture at an archaeological site (also used in geology for the study of geological layers).

Test unit - An excavation unit used in the initial investigation of a site or area, before large-scale excavation begins, that allows the archaeologist to "preview" what lies under the ground.

Thermoluminescence (TL) - A radiometric dating technique in which the amount of light energy released when heating a sample of pottery or sediment is measured as an indicator of the time since it was last heated to a critical temperature.

Traditional cultural property - A historic property that is eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places based on its associations with the cultural practices, traditions, beliefs, lifeways, arts, crafts, or social institutions of a living community.

Typology - The study and chronological arrangement of artifacts, such as ceramics or lithics, into different types based on associating similar characteristics. Typing makes a high volume of samples easier to study and compare.

Uniface tools - Tools or points that are worked or knapped on only one side or face.

Use-wear analysis - Microscopic analysis of artifacts or bones to find wear patterns or damage marks that indicate how the artifact was used.