ask dr. dig


fantastic factoids


readers submissions

awesome art



about us


NEW and Improved !!!

A-G | H-M | N-R | S-Z

Absolute Dating:(also known as chronometric dating). A dating method that attempts to determine an object's exact age (as opposed to its relative age) in calendar years (AD or BC/BCE) or in years before present (BP). This includes scientific methodologies such as dendrochronology, radiocarbon dating and potassium-argon dating. The dates provided by these methods are not 100% accurate, and each date has a margin of uncertainty.

A.D.: Abbreviation for the Latin phrase "Anno Domini," which means "in the year of our Lord." Used to refer to dates starting with the year 1 (i.e., this is the year A.D. 2003).

Airlift: Instrument like a giant vacuum cleaner used by underwater archaeologists to remove dirt and debris from underwater archaeological sites.

Altamira: Cave near the north coast of Spain discovered in 1868. The first site where Paleolithic Period cave paintings were found.

Anasazi: One of the three desert cultures that shaped life in the American Southwest from 300 B.C. to A.D. 1300. Developed a new way of building pueblos and the technique of farming on top of mesas. Used both hand-formed adobe bricks and stones to build their homes.

Angkor Wat: A complex of religious buildings in Cambodia (in southeastern Asia) that is considered one of the world's archaeological and architectural treasures. The complex combines a temple dedicated to Vishnu (a Hindu god) and a mausoleum (a large and stately tomb). Angkor Wat was built by Suryavarman II, who ruled the Khmer Empire from A.D. 1113 to 1145.

Anglo-Saxons: A name used to describe the northern European Germanic warriors who invaded Britain around the 5th century A.D.; composed of two separate groups, the Angles and the Saxons. They eventually subdued the native Celts and Britons, forming seven kingdoms that would eventually become England.

Archaeoastronomer: Archaeologists who study how ancient peoples saw and thought about the planets, stars, and calendar.

Archaeology: The science of studying material evidence to find out about human cultures of the past.

Artifact: Any object that was made, used, and/or transported by humans that provides information about human behavior in the past. Examples include things like pottery, stone tools, bones with cut marks, coins, etc.

Atlantis: Legendary civilization described by ancient writers such as Plato. Some people believe that the civilization these authors called Atlantis was really the Minoan civilization that flourished on the island of Crete and surrounding Cycladic islands of the Aegean. This Minoan culture was destroyed in the 16th century B.C., following the eruption of the volcanic Island of Thera ca. 1625 B.C.

Attribute: A characteristic or recognizable quality of an object, such as size, color, material, shape, age, etc., which is used to describe, analyze, or characterize an artifact.

Australopiths: Extinct early humans who evolved 4 to 5 million years ago in Africa.

Aztec: The civilization that ruled the region now called Mexico between A.D. 1000 and 1500. The capital city of the Aztec Empire was called Tenochtitlan, now modern-day Mexico City.

Babylonians: A group known as the Amorites moved into Mesopotamia around 1900 B.C. The Amorite king, Hamurabbi, conquered all of southern Mesopotamia, and the civilization became known as Babylonian. Babylon was its richest and most powerful city.

B.C.: Abbreviation for "Before Christ.", used to refer to dates before the year 1.

B.C.E.: "Before the Common Era." Synonymous with B.C. Refers to dates before the year 1. Intended as a non-denominational dating system.

Beringia: Land that connected Alaska with eastern Siberia during the Pleistocene Era (Ice Age).

Bifacial: Usually refers to stone tools that have two sharp, worked sides.

Bipedal: Signifies movement on two feet.

Bog Body: Ancient human bodies preserved in bogs (waterlogged land filled with a substance called peat). Bog bodies have been found all over northern Europe, in bogs in Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Scotland, England, Sweden, and the Netherlands.

Book of the Dead: The term Egyptologists use for the various texts and illustrations that were buried with mummies to help them pass through the dangers of the underworld into the afterlife.

Book of Kells: An illustrated manuscript of the four Christian Gospels (the New Testament books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) created by monks in Scotland in about A.D. 800. The book is a masterpiece of Western art and includes amazing calligraphy (an artistic style of handwriting), colorful drawings of animals and people, and abstract designs. Some of the details are so fine that people can't see them with the naked eye!

B.P.: Before Present. Used to refer to years before the present one. (For example, in the year A.D. 2000, the term 5000 years B.P. is the same as saying 3000 B.C.)

Bronze Age: The period in history after the Stone Age characterized by the development of bronze and its use, especially for weapons and tools. The specific dates of the Bronze Age vary considerably from one region to another.

Canopic Jar: Ancient Egyptian containers used to hold the internal organs that were removed from a dead person before mummification. They are typically found in sets of four jars, one each for the lungs, stomach, intestines and liver.

Celts: A category of people who flourished from about 750 to 12 B.C. During this time, the Celts were the most powerful group in central and northern Europe. Although the Celts were composed of many different tribes, they shared similar languages, technology, customs, artistic styles, and beliefs. By A.D. 60, their power had been destroyed by the Romans. After that, only the Celtic tribes in the more remote areas of Europe, such as the British Isles, survived.

Chaco Canyon: Site in New Mexico representative of the Anasazi culture that thrived there between A.D. 500 and 1300.

Chronology: The arrangement of events in the order in which they took place.

Classification: Arrangement of artifacts, species, etc., into categories.

Cleopatra: Ruler of Ptolemaic Egypt from 51 to 30 B.C. Of Macedonian (Greek) descent, Cleopatra reigned for 21 years, until the fall of Egypt to Rome in 30 B.C. She was the lover of both the Roman general Mark Antony and the Roman dictator Julius Caesar (with whom she had a child).

Cliff Dwellings: Shelters or villages built along the edges of cliffs.

Colossus of Rhodes: A massive bronze statue of the sun god Helios located on the Greek island of Rhodes. It was built around 290 B.C. and was destroyed by an earthquake around 226 B.C. One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Colossus was 110 feet high and was once thought to have straddled the entrance to the city harbor (a fact which scholars now know would have been technologically impossible for the Ancient Greeks).

Computer Tomography: A technique that uses X ray or ultrasound to provide images of layers of solid objects, such as pottery or the human body. The images are processed by a computer to create two- and three-dimensional pictures of the object. Often called a CT or CAT scan.

Conquistador: A name given to the 16th-century Spanish explorers who came to the New World.

Conservation: The scientific process of cleaning--and often repairing and/or restoring--an artifact in order to preserve it for further study and/or display.

Context: The complete environment in which an artifact is found, including its exact location, its surroundings (soil, water, etc.), and its relationship to other artifacts. A very important concept in archaeology; it tells us how an artifact can contribute to our understanding of a site, culture, etc. Once an artifact is removed from its context, it is no longer archaeologically significant.

Coprolite: Preserved poop. By examining coprolites under a microscope, scientists can see things such as seeds, pollen grains, pieces of bone, and parasite eggs. These things can tell archaeologists a lot about the diet and health of people and animals in the past.

Cores: Nodules of stone, such as flint or obsidian, from which flakes have been struck to make stone tools, weapons, etc.

Cretaceous Period: A period 144 to 65 million years ago, characterized by the growth of the first flowering plants and the height of the era of the dinosaurs. It ended with the complete extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

Cultivation: Preparation and use of land for the production of food.

Cultural Dating: The process of comparing objects archaeologists find with information they already have; comparing cultural attributes. This technique allows archaeologists to place artifacts into specific cultural groups, but does not provide an Absolute Date.

Culture: The complete way of life of a people: the shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterize a group; their customs, art, literature, religion, philosophy, etc.; the pattern of learned and shared behavior among the members of a group.

Cuneiform: The earliest standardized writing system (used [first in ancient Mesopotamia [and later throughout the Ancient Near East]). A form of writing on wet clay tablets using a wedge-like writing tool called a stylus.

Dating: Figuring out the age of things; determining dates.

Dead Sea Scrolls: A collection of more than 800 manuscripts written on parchment, papyrus, and copper over 2,000 years ago. The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947 in what is now Israel. The Scrolls contain many different kinds of texts, including the oldest known portions of the Old Testament of the Bible.

Decipher: Cracking the code; figuring out something's meaning, especially an ancient language (for example, Egyptian hieroglyphics).

Dendochronology: A method of dating that counts the annual tree rings and matches up the ring patterns to make a dating sequence, usually on wooden objects. The oldest form of scientific dating.

digs: Archaeological sites with on-going excavations.

DNA: The abbreviation for a chemical called deoxyribonucleic acid, which is in every cell of your body. DNA acts like your blueprint since it holds the instructions for all your body's activities.

Dynasty: A ruling family who remains in power for generations by choosing successors from among blood relatives. Examples include the rulers of both the ancient Chinese and Egyptian civilizations.

Easter Island: An island in the South Pacific (Polynesia), which has also been called Rapa Nui since 1860, where giant statues called "moai" are found.

Ecofact: A naturally produced object found on an archaeological site, such as the remains of animals or plants, that gives us information about past environments. For example, seeds, animal bones and soil could all be ecofacts.

El Dorado: A Spanish phrase, meaning "the Gilded One" or "the Golden Man," which refers to a legendary South American king who covered himself in gold. European adventurers (mostly Spanish) became obsessed with finding the legendary treasures of El Dorado, and searched for a city filled with gold throughout the 16th- and 17th-centuries.

Environment: The physical and biological surroundings (plant, animal, climate, and inorganic resources) that influence social groups and their cultural development.

Eoliths: Very crudely chipped or shaped stones that were first thought to be tools. Some scholars have thought they were natural pieces of stone, not shaped by humans.

Erikson, Leif: Leader of the Vikings (also called Norsemen) who came from Europe and discovered North America in A.D. 1000, 492 years before Columbus.

Ethnology: The study of cultures, both modern cultures and past cultures. Ethnology is the description of a culture based on observing and interacting with living people.

Evidence: Data proving a point or contributing to a solution.

Evolution: The gradual process by which living organisms have developed since the start of time.

Excavate/Excavation: The process of methodically uncovering and searching for remains of the past. Because an excavation removes any deposits, it destroys a site forever. Archaeological evidence is almost always destroyed if it isn't buried, so excavation plays a large part in recovering this evidence. Some excavation methods are grid layout, open excavation, and quadrant method.

Feature: A feature is something that a human made in the past that has not been or cannot be moved. Good examples of this would be a house floor or a hearth (fire pit). When archaeologists are excavating, they often come across features. They draw them into their profile map and their unit plan so they can recreate what the area may have looked like.

Field Notes: Archaeologists keep a notebook with them when they are digging so they can note when they change levels and what kinds of things they find. They need to keep another record in case the profile or floor plan they drew wasn't very clear. Later, in the lab, archaeologists might question the context of an object. If they have notes to go back and look at, it makes it easier to figure out what was going on. The goal of every archaeological excavation is to document the work so well that anyone could accurately reproduce the site using only the field notes and site maps.

Fission Track Dating: A method of dating an object that counts the number of tracks made by the breakdown of radiocarbon elements. The older an object is the more tracks it leaves. This method is used mostly on rocks, pottery, and glass.

Flakes: Also called blades. Thin, sharp-edged pieces of stone that were shaped into tools or weapons, or the waste left over from flintknapping.

Flint: A hard, brittle stone, usually a type of chalk or limestone that can be flaked (see below) in any direction and easily shaped. Flint occurs naturally in many locations and often formed the material for human tools, until humans learned to work metals. Flint was the most common 'stone' of the Stone Age.

Flintknapping: The process of chipping and shaping flint to give it sharp edges useful for scraping and cutting.

Fluorine Test: A dating method that measures the amount of fluorine, nitrogen, and uranium in bones. Older bones have more fluorine and uranium and less nitrogen. But because decomposition happens at different speeds in different places, it's not possible to compare bones from different sites.

Floor Plan: Archaeologists draw a floor plan of the unit they are digging in at the bottom of every level, or when they find a feature such as a fire pit. A floor plan shows how something looks from above.

Fossils: The remains or imprints of plants and animals.

Fresco: A type of wall painting. Paint was applied to freshly spread plaster before it dried. This method locked in the colors, creating vivid and beautiful art.

Glyph: A symbolic figure or character that stands for a letter, sound, or word; many glyphs make up a writing system.

Great Pyramid: The only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still standing today. Located on the Giza plateau in Egypt very close to modern-day Cairo. It was built by 30,000 workers during the reign of King Khufu (known in Greek as Cheops; c. 2551-2528 B.C.). The pyramid was once 481 feet high, but today it is 451 feet high.

Grid: The division of an archaeological site into small squares that denote different areas of excavation, making it easier to measure and document the site.

A-G | H-M | N-R | S-Z

Cobblestone Publishing Company
A Division of Cricket Magazine Group

30 Grove St., Ste. C, Peterborough, NH 03458
1-800-821-0115 / 603-924-7209 / FAX 603-924-7380
Send email to:
Customer Service