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How to sound like an archaeologist (with no formal training!)



Hold onto your fedora and fashion your best Indiana Jones sneer. Here are ten key terms used by archaeologists. Get ready to grab your field notebook* and start recording!


1. Artifact or Artefact

These are portable objects that have been modified, manufactured or used by a human. Examples include stone tools, pottery, weapons and items of personal adornment such as buttons, jewelry and clothes.

2. Back Dirt

This is the excavated and discarded sediment and dirt from a site that has been sifted for artifacts. Back dirt is presumed to have no further archaeological significance and is not to be confused with Back Fill which is the back dirt is used to restore the former ground surface.

3. Ecofacts

Archaeological finds including bones and vegetal remains that can tell us about past environments and the diets of those who preceded us.

4. Feature

Features are any physical structures, like a wall, post hole, pit, or floor, that is made or altered by humans. Unlike an artifact, a feature cannot be removed from a site and is not portable.


5. *Field Notebook

Notebooks an important part of any excavation as they are used by researchers on a daily basis to record descriptions of the excavation process, plans, drawings and lists of objects found. See sample notebooks here.

6. Flotation

This is the process of soaking backfill in water to separate and recover small ecofacts and artifacts, like pollen samples that cannot be recovered through traditional sieving and screenwashing.

7. Formation

In geology, a body of rock that has a consistent set of distinct, physical characteristics. It must be different enough in appearance from surrounding rocks, that a geologic mapper can distinguish it. The geologic timescale provides more details on the eras and periods of different formations.

8. Screen Wash

The process which is used to analyze the soil removed during excavation. Nothing goes unstudied in archaeology. All the soil that is removed from a site is sifted and cleaned with water through screen meshes and sieves to ensure absolutely everything is accounted for.

9. Stratigraphy

The study of the layers of sediments, soils, and material culture at an archaeological site.

10. Taxon (taxa plural)

The unit used in the science of biological classification. Taxa are arranged in a hierarchy including (in order): kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus and species)

Bonus term: Species

The last rank in the taxonomic hierarchy. Species are organisms that have one or more diagnostic characteristics that make them capable of exchanging genes or interbreeding. Formal naming includes the genus and species names, such as humans: Homo(genus) sapiens (species) and dog: Canis (genus) familiaris (species).


The glossary at the Archaeological Institute of America is a great resource to prepare you for any archaeological dig we offer through Ancient Odysseys! Let’s dig into the adventure!








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