Glossary of Archaeology

  • Archaeo-Botany

    A sub-discipline of archaeology that deals with the study of plant and tree materials from archaeology sites.

  • Archaeological “signature” 

    Archaeological “signature” is a recurring set of cultural remains specific to a certain category of sites. Military encampments, for example, contain many musket balls, bullets and other armaments, military buttons, and other metal artifacts.

  • Archaeology

    Archaeology – the term is derived from two Greek terms, “archaeo” meaning Old or ancient, and “logos”, which means the word or the study of; that is, the study of old or ancient things. Archaeologists study the material remains of past peoples to learn about their lifeways and social structures.

  • Arrowhead

    Archaeologists use the term  “projectile point” instead of arrowhead.  This is because many of these tools were not used for arrows, but instead were used as other things unrelated to bow-and-arrow technology, such as the tips of spears and knives. When archaeologists find tools that were used as tips for arrows, they use terms such as “arrow point”. [See: for more]

  • Artifacts

    Artifact: an object made by a human. Examples are dishes and clay pots, nails, stone “arrowheads” / “projectile points”, fishing hooks or harpoon heads, baskets, musket balls, buckles, buttons, and jewelry.

  • Augur

    An augur a hand tool with a corkscrew-shaped bit for boring holes, or a larger tool, using the same principle, for boring holes.

  • Base Camps

    A camp location that functions as the primary residence for a group. This can be for a short or extended period of time depending on the needs of the occupants. From this camp temporary, sometimes called satellite, camps are often set up to access resources that are a longer distance away from the base camp. This strategy allows resources to be accessed without moving the entire group to access the resources.

  • Caches

    Underground storage pits which would have been used to store stone tools, dried food stuffs, and other materials. This indicates to archaeologists that the people who deposited these items thought they would be coming back for the items, showing that people were moving in predictable patterns around the landscape knowing where they would be in the next few months.

  • Ceramic

    The state that clay achieves when converted into pottery by firing. The term ceramics is often used when referring to large amounts of pottery. See Pottery 

  • Clay Coil

    Short, thick, sausage like rolls made from clay which are pieced together and smoothed to form a clay vessel. See Coil Pot

  • Coil Pot

    A type of ceramic vessel made using a technique whereby the pot is formed by gradually adding spiral coils, which are then smoothed. See Clay Coil

  • Debitage

    A general term used to refer to the waste products of stone tool making. This general category is often broken down into further categories based on the characteristics of the individual pieces of debitage themselves.

  • Diagnostic artifact

    Diagnostic artifact is one that characterizes a specific time period.

  • Dry bone cremations

    Dry bone cremations are cremations of bones that were not fresh and the body was probably already in a skeletal condition when it was burned.

  • Ecofacts

    An ecofact is a natural object used by humans. Examples are bark slabs used for covering pole-frame houses and bones, shells, seeds, nutshells and other plant parts that are the remains of meals.

  • Existing tribes of Connecticut

    Existing tribes of Connecticut: The five existing Connecticut tribes, recognized by both the Colony and the State of Connecticut from earliest European settlement to the present are: Schaghticoke Tribe with a reservation in Kent; Golden Hill Paugusset Tribe with reservations in Trumbull and in Colchester; Eastern Pequot Tribe with a reservation in Stonington; Mashantucket Pequot Tribe with a reservation in Ledyard; Mohegan with a reservation in Montville.

  • Faunal Remains

    Refers to the bones of animals found in archaeological sites. Finding faunal remains can provide information on what ancient peoples were eating, what they were hunting, how they were processing what they hunted, and what they had available to hunt. This helps archaeologists create a more accurate picture of what the environment was like during the time period the site was occupied and how past peoples lived.

  • Features

    Features in archaeology — also known as “cultural features” — are non-portable (cannot be moved) artifacts such as storage pits, garbage pits, graves, hearths, wells, cellar holes, and stone walls.

  • Flake

    A piece(s) of stone which has been struck during tool making and removed from a core. In some cases flakes are deposited directly after being taken off the core, in other cases they are used as a tool, or in other cases flakes themselves are worked and turned into tools.

  • Forensic

    Forensic – relating to the application of science to decide questions arising from crime or litigation.

  • Funerary Objects

    Any object placed with an individual during a funeral, made specifically for a funeral or funerary practice. This includes objects placed with human remains at the time of burial or later as part of a cultural practice or ceremony. This also includes objects containing human remains.

  • Geographic Information System (GIS)

    A GIS is a computerized system capable of capturing, storing, analyzing, and displaying geographically referenced information; that is, data identified according to location. This technology can be used for scientific investigations, resource management, and development planning, among other things, and is heavily used by archaeologists. (See:

  • Green bone cremations

    Green bone cremations are in-flesh cremations, where the body and its skeleton were relatively fresh when they were burned.

  • Ground Stone Tools

    A stone tool that is formed by grinding or polishing the tool with another stone.

  • Historic Archaeology

    A sub-discipline of archaeology focused on the excavation of sites with the aid of historic documents and texts. Generally this subject focuses on more recent sites in the archaeological record.

  • In Situ

    Latin for in place. Used in archaeology to mean something in the original context when it was found. Artifacts found in situ mean they have not been removed from the position they were in when discovered.

  • Indigenous

    Indigenous: occurring or living naturally in an area; native.

  • Industrial archaeology

    Industrial archaeology is a sub-discipline of archaeology that studies the material remains of industry/technology and the industrial age, which began with the Industrial Revolution and continues to this day. Mills, factories, bridges, and highways are the sites studied by industrial archaeologists.

  • Lean-To

    Lean-tos were America’s first motels – short-lived structures of pole and brush that served as temporary resting places for indigenous travelers. Like villages, actual physical evidence of lean-tos is difficult to obtain in Connecticut. Unlike wigwams and longhouses, lean-tos were not meant to be permanent structures, so there are no decaying poles to produce soil discolorations in the form of post molds. However, archaeologists can still find evidence of the existence of lean-tos through the presence of other cultural remains left behind by people who used the lean-to. Remnants of burning on rock faces and a nearby hearth, with possible animal bones or burnt seeds, for example, can lead to the deduction that someone built and used a temporary shelter at that location. If stone flakes are found in such a locality, perhaps someone was creating and altering their tools while resting on a hunting trip. Many rock faces that were used for lean-tos show little signs of change from natural forces such as storms. Archaeologists have found evidence of layered fires and habitation activity at some sites, indicating that various peoples occupied each lean-to site multiple times- sometimes over thousands of years!

  • Maritime archaeology

    Maritime archaeology is another, relatively new, sub-discipline that focuses on underwater archaeology sites, which includes the scientific investigation of shipwrecks but also any submerged sites.

  • Osteomyelitis

    An infection of the bone that is usually caused by a deep wound remaining open long enough for microorganism to enter the bloodstream and the bone tissue.

  • Paleo

    Greek for “old” or “ancient”.

  • Post mold

    A post mold is the dark, circular stain that remains when a wooden post decays in the ground. Eastern Woodland wigwams were supported by wooden posts buried in the ground 12”-18”. Post molds are important “cultural features” because they can show archaeologists where people lived.

  • Post-contact

    Post-contact refers to the time of European visitation and settlement. The beginning of the post-contact differs depending on the geographic region. Along Long Island Sound it dates to the 1500s. In northwestern Connecticut it dates from the late 1600s to the early 18th-century. The time frames of “pre-contact” and “post-contact” were traditionally referred to as prehistoric and historic. Those words implied that prior to European contact the New World had no history, which is untrue. Indigenous peoples kept and passed down meticulous oral accounts of their tribal histories.

  • Pothunters

    Pothunters are not “real archaeologists.” They are people who damage archaeological sites and sacred burying grounds by digging randomly to take objects for themselves. They think that they can sell the artifacts for a lot of money or they may want to have items for their personal collections, but they often wreck archaeological sites in the process. This makes it hard for scientists to learn about people of the past and for the public to share in what can be learned from studying past peoples. The term was originally used to describe collectors of Indian artifacts, such as the painted pots from Southwestern Indian burials. But it may also include collectors of non-Indian memorabilia, such as vandals of post-contact sites looking for old bottles, military items, etc. Unlike professional archaeologists and many amateur archaeologists, they do not dig a site according to scientific methods nor do they keep careful records of their findings. They often destroy “cultural features” like hearths and post molds, because they don’t understand or care about their importance. Often their digging is surreptitious and illegal, making them looters and vandals of our shared cultural heritage. Connecticut has passed laws that penalize such activities with fines and jail time or both in some instances.

  • Pottery

    Clay that has been fashioned into a desired shape and then dried to reduce its water content before being fired/baked. Pottery is made in different ways, either by hand (pinch or coil) or by wheel. See also Ceramics, Coil Pot, Clay Coil  

  • Pre-contact

    Pre-contact refers to the time before European traders and settlers. The time frames of “pre-contact” and “post-contact” were traditionally referred to as prehistoric and historic. Those words implied that prior to European contact the New World had no history, which is untrue. Indigenous peoples kept and passed down meticulous oral accounts of their tribal histories.

  • Projectile Point

    Stone, bone or metal point made to strengthen the tip of a spear or arrow. Usually made from a different material from that of the shaft. See Arrowhead 

  • Rock Shelter

    A rock overhang or cave that was used as a residence by human groups in the past and even today by hikers, campers and children at play.

  • Salvage Archaeology

    Archaeological excavation in order to recover and learn as much about a site before it is destroyed. This forces archaeologists to play ‘catch up’ as they try to recover as much as they can before the context of the site is lost forever though destruction.

  • Sampling Bias

    Occurs when more information has been gathered from one area than another. For instance, it may appear that there are more archaeological sites in one geographic area rather than another, however it may be that the geographic area with more sites has been excavated more thoroughly than the area with less sites. Therefore giving the appearance of a greater concentration of sites.

  • Steatite

    Also known as soapstone, a soft, gray-blue metamorphic rock which can be shaped and carved into stone vessels for cooking or into jewelry. Found in veins in the region this was an important resource during the Terminal Archaic into the beginning of the Early Woodland Period the resource was quarried at various locations, mostly in the uplands, and traded to other parts of the region.

  • Subsistence Strategy

    A method of obtaining food. The major strategies are Horticultural, Foraging, Pastoral, Agricultural, and Industrial. The one a group relies upon is influenced by the environment in which the group lives.

  • Temper

    An additive to clay to assist making the clay more workable and prevent shrinking by helping the clay to dry more uniformly. See Ceramic, Pottery 

  • Village

    Although we have documentary evidence of indigenous villages existing in Connecticut at the time of European arrival, actual physical evidence in the form of archaeological remains is much harder to obtain.  IAIS Director of Research, Dr. Lucianne Lavin, discusses this in what she calls The Village Problem:

    “Several noted New England archaeologists have claimed that there is yet no archaeological evidence for villages. Given the evidence for geographic diversity in earlier cultural periods, village life could be absent from some parts of southern New England, but as Dr. Peter Thorbahn has noted, ‘the absence of evidence … cannot be taken to be evidence of absence.’ Several explanations have been given for this absence in certain areas: (1) the village locations were also desirable to European settlers, and towns may now sit on the remains of the Native villages; (2) village sites have been erased by hundreds of years of farming, industrial development, and urban sprawl; and (3) New England ‘villages’ may have consisted of a small cluster of houses that left only a fain archaeological footprint.”

    [Connecticut’s Indigenous Peoples: What Archaeology, History, and Oral Traditions Teach Us About Their Communities and Cultures, Lucianne Lavin, PhD. Yale University Press, 2013, page 179.]

  • Wampum

    Wampum is shell beads made from the interior of quahog shells (black or purple wampum) and whelk shells (white wampum). Most were in small disk shaped but some were also long thick and cylindrical shaped. They were used as jewelry, mnemonic devices, and political symbols. Beads were used to adorn regalia. Wampum was also important in the spiritual beliefs of the indigenous peoples of Connecticut, and is described as being used to seal packs during the contact period. Colonists saw the way Native Peoples used wampum and inferred that wampum must be money to the native peoples. This was not the case as the native peoples of Connecticut did not have a concept of money.