Skip to ContentGo to accessibility pageKeyboard shortcuts menu
OpenStax Logo

absolute dating methods (see also chronometric dating methods)
dating methods that use physical and chemical properties of artifacts and structures modified by humans to establish their age without reference to other artifacts. For example, radiocarbon dating is used to date organic materials generally up to 50,000 years old.
a specialist who studies plants and seeds appearing in an archaeology site.
archaeological context
the place where an object was originally found, along with other associations, such as the stratum it was found in, specific features, and other objects associated with it.
archaeological excavation
the scientific process of uncovering artifacts and other biological and cultural remains in the historic and prehistoric past of human-inhabited sites.
armchair anthropology
a method of conducting anthropological research without doing fieldwork, relying instead on materials and documents previously collected by others.
objects that are portable and show evidence of human cultural activity; for example, bones that show evidence of drawings sketched on them, stone tools, pottery, etc.
chronometric dating methods
dating methods used to analyze various physical or chemical characteristics of an artifact in order to assign a date or range of dates for its production.
cross-cutting relationship
a principle in geology and archaeology that suggests that a geologic or cultural feature that cuts across another feature is the more recently deposited of the two.
an absolute dating technique that uses patterns of growth of tree rings and cross-dating to determine the approximate age of wood.
natural objects found at an archaeological site, such as seeds, bone, shells, etc., that show no sign of human craftsmanship.
emic perspective
viewing and attempting to evaluate other peoples and cultures according to the standards of those cultures; an “insider’s” point of view.
the study of differences and relationships between various peoples, societies, and cultures.
etic (or ethnocentric) perspective
viewing a culture from the perspective of an outsider looking in.
cultural structures found at an archaeological site that are not movable or portable, such as parts of a temple, altars, tombs, etc.
feminist anthropology
an approach to anthropology that seeks to transform research methods and findings by engaging with more diverse perspectives and using insights from feminist theory.
a supposition that is subjected to research in order to be proven or disproven through data collection.
Indigenous anthropology
the study of one’s own culture or society using anthropological methods. The term has come to mean any application of Indigenous knowledge, perspectives, and scholarship in anthropology.
institutional review board
a university research committee that reviews biomedical or social science research proposals to determine if they appropriately protect human participants, informants, and subjects.
the act of explaining the meaning of something.
a method of research in which the researcher asks questions of an informant to gain information about a person, society, or culture.
law of superposition
the geological principle of stratigraphy that assumes that materials, normally rock layers, found beneath other materials are older that the materials on top.
the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (1990), a US law that protects human remains and cultural and ceremonial objects and artifacts from collection and requires the return of such items already collected to the originating tribes. NAGPRA also allows for the repatriation of the same materials from museums and other repositories.
an approach that seeks to understand the world and the laws that govern it by direct observation of nature.
in the context of anthropological research, describes a research method whereby the researcher allows informants to answer questions without a limit in time or subject.
oral histories
histories of previous events, moral or ethical lessons, or stories of creation that are passed down by memorization. Many oral histories are also called mythologies, legends, texts, or folklore.
participant observation
an anthropological research method in which the researcher enters a cultural community and collects information through observation of and participation in the culture.
primary context
the context of an artifact, feature, or site that has not been disturbed since its original deposition.
the location of an artifact when it is first found. The provenance is normally recorded when the artifact is in situ, or before it has been removed.
qualitative data
nonnumerical data, such as language, feelings, or impressions, that is normally collected when the researcher is at the research site.
radiocarbon dating
a dating technique for organic substances that measures the decay of radioactive carbon in the sample; also called carbon-14 (14C or C14) dating. This is the most widely used technique for dating organic artifacts between 50 and 60,000 years old.
relative dating
describes methods of determining the relative order of past events through comparisons of two or more artifacts without determining their absolute age; e.g., sample 1 is older than sample 2 because sample 1 was found beneath sample 2.
the process of returning human remains, associated funerary objects, and ceremonial items to the originating culture.
research question
a question that can be proved or disproved through research and observation.
the scientific practice of conducting experiments or research more than once in order to determine if the findings are accurate. Retesting helps eliminate human and other errors in testing and create a range of accuracy.
salvage anthropology
a particular period in early anthropological practices (1870s–1930s) during which tribal cultures were subject to extreme collecting from researchers. The practice occurred because of fears that Native cultures would go extinct and there would be nothing further to study.
scientific method
a method of expanding knowledge by asking questions, creating a hypothesis, collecting data, and presenting well-reasoned findings based on evidence.
secondary context
the context of a cultural or natural objects that has been moved or disturbed from its original location and is thus no longer associated with its place of origin; for example, a burial that has been moved from its original location due to geological shifts or natural disaster.
a relative dating method that places similar artifacts from the same area in a chronological sequence.
the science of collecting and analyzing numerical data in large quantities and inferring proportions in a whole from those in a representative sample, or the numerical data collected and analyzed in this manner.
plural of stratum; in geology and archaeology, distinct layers of deposited natural or archaeological material.
stratigraphic superposition
a relative dating method that assumes that any cultural or natural artifact that is found within a stratum, or that cuts across two or more strata in a cross-cutting relationship, is younger than the stratum itself.
the process of identifying the order and relative positions of strata.
singular of strata; one specific layer of deposited natural or archaeological material.
a supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something.
three-dimensional collection
a collection of objects or artifacts.
typological sequence
a set or group of objects ordered according to their types.
an archaeologist who specializes in the identification of animal remains at an archaeological site.
Order a print copy

As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.


This book may not be used in the training of large language models or otherwise be ingested into large language models or generative AI offerings without OpenStax's permission.

Want to cite, share, or modify this book? This book uses the Creative Commons Attribution License and you must attribute OpenStax.

Attribution information
  • If you are redistributing all or part of this book in a print format, then you must include on every physical page the following attribution:
    Access for free at
  • If you are redistributing all or part of this book in a digital format, then you must include on every digital page view the following attribution:
    Access for free at
Citation information

© Dec 20, 2023 OpenStax. Textbook content produced by OpenStax is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License . The OpenStax name, OpenStax logo, OpenStax book covers, OpenStax CNX name, and OpenStax CNX logo are not subject to the Creative Commons license and may not be reproduced without the prior and express written consent of Rice University.