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The Quality of the Archaeological Record$
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Charles Perreault

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780226630823

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2020

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226631011.001.0001

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The Forces That Shape the Quality of the Archaeological Record, I: The Mixing of Archaeological Data

The Forces That Shape the Quality of the Archaeological Record, I: The Mixing of Archaeological Data

(p.40) 3 The Forces That Shape the Quality of the Archaeological Record, I: The Mixing of Archaeological Data
The Quality of the Archaeological Record

Charles Perreault

University of Chicago Press

To identify what processes can be studied we need to understand the forces that shape the quality of the archaeological record. Here are examined the forces that mix archaeological material – i.e. that lump in the same analytical unit material associated with activities that took place at different points in time and in space. They include site formation processes such as cultural and natural deposition processes (e.g. the discarding of objects by ancient people, site reoccupation, reuse, sedimentation, erosion); disturbance processes (e.g. plowing, trampling, moving water, burrowing animals) and analytical processes (the lumping of remains due to imprecision in dating techniques, or by archaeologists during excavation or the construction of cultural time periods). The effect of these forces is also discussed: mixing results in palimpsests and inflates the size and the composition of assemblages; skews relative frequencies, inflates measures of diversity, richness and variance, confounds association and correlations between types of objects; and reduces apparent rates of change. Overall, the forces of mixing decrease the resolution of archaeological data, leading to space- and time-averaging. By destroying existing patterns and creating new ones, they impact every aspect of the archaeological record from which archaeologists draw inferences.

Keywords:   Resolution, Palimpsests, Analytical lumping, Time-averaging, Diversity, Richness, Rates of change, Deposition, Sedimentation, Disturbance, Site-formation processes

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