Excavation Manual: Glossary

2011 Revised Edition

Download PDF Manual I. Procedures of Excavation II. Handbook of Recording Procedures


with significant contributions by Randall W. Younker and David Merling

Many of the terms in this glossary do not occur in the Manual. But because they often come up during conversation, strategy sessions, pottery readings, and lectures, they are included here for your convenience.


An archaeological era, often divided into periods. It generally derives its name from the dominant technological capability of the time; for example: Lithic (stone), Chalcolithic (copper-stone), Bronze, and Iron.
Greek term for a large jar with two handles.
Greek term for a small jar with two handles.
Small object used for personal cultic purposes.
Analytical Sherds
See Diagnostic Sherds.
A semi-circular area at the east end of Byzantine churches; with a vaulted ceiling.
Water channel.
The specialist who is responsible for drawing final top plans of all architecture. Artifact Anything that has been made or modified by humans.
Artifact Registration
The process during which artifacts are cleaned, numbered and described. A staff specialist is assigned to oversee this process.
Well chiselled and squared building stones.
A group of objects of different types found in association with each other.


The vertical section of earth, usually one meter wide, left between excavated squares for control of stratigraphy (standing balk). The term is also used to refer to one of the four sides of a square. When excavating a probe, the standing balks are called main balks and the new, temporary balks, are called subsidiary balks.
Balk Stamp
A rubber stamp used on balk drawings which provides space to record site, season, square, locus, date, balk, supervisor, north (orientation), and scale.
Balk Stub
The intersection of two balks, revealed when one balk is removed.
A pottery drinking vessel usually with depth greater than diameter and also usually with handles.
Beaten Earth
A hard earth surface which has been compacted by traffic. It is often associated with paths, floors, or other occupational surfaces; (cf. terre pisee).
Solid underlying rock formation below the level of human activity and artifacts.
Bedrock Party
A traditional celebration marking the completion of excavation in a square (actually, it is merely an excuse to justify a party ... almost any “reason” will do).
A platform in a cult center.
Bench Mark
A point (usually with exact elevation in meters and centimeters above sea level) to which all elevations are referenced. Also called datum mark or simply, datum.
Organic samples (seeds, microflora, etc.) collected by excavation, sifting, and flotation.
Mixing of debris caused by burrowing animals.
Body Sherds
Sherds from an undiagnostic portion of a vessel.
Bone Bag
The plastic bag in which bones are collected during routine excavation. Comparable to a pottery pail for pottery.
Two walls with interlocking stone or bricks (as opposed to abutting one another); a technique which suggests that the walls were built together at the same time.
Bossed Stone
A stone with its edge or border trimmed, leaving a rough face in the center.
Small clay object that sealed ancient documents; Iron Age examples often contain seal impressions.
A polish given to a pot by rubbing the dried clay with a tool before firing.


A mound of stones covering a burial or serving as a landmark.
Angular ridge around the body of a ceramic vessel where the body takes a sharp turn.
Oval frame encircling an Egyptian royal name in hieroglyphic signs.
Casemate Wall
A fortification system made up of two parallel walls with periodic crosswalls; in plan, it looks like a ladder.
Ceramic Technician
The specialist responsible for analyzing how pottery is made: type and mixture of clay, inclusions, firing procedures, construction techniques, initial, and secondary pottery use, etc.
Characteristic Sherds
See Diagnostic Sherds.
An underground “pit,” often plasterlined, used for water storage. It may be associated with a system of channels for channeling water to its mouth.
The invasion of noncontemporaneous foreign material into a locus or a group of finds. A locus could have been contaminated in antiquity or by faulty excavation process.
Dried or fossilized feces.
The roofbuilding technique wherein stones or bricks extend over space, overlapping each other, until they meet and are then covered with a capstone.
Layers of brick or stone in a wall; a stone wall, three stones high, would be have three courses.
See Krater.
Cyclopean Wall
Wall of massive stones; irregular and closefitting. The stones are so huge that, as the ancient Greeks said, none but the Cyclops could have built the wall!
Cylinder Seal
A cylindershaped object (most often of stone) incised to produce a seal impression when rolled over moist clay.


Data Processor
The staff member responsible for inputting handwritten excavation data into the computerized database.
See Bench Mark.
Datum Line
Fixed line in a balk with a known level. It is used for drawing to scale.
Bits and pieces left over from a manufacturing process; i.e. “flint debitage,” the flint flakes left over from toolmaking.
Debris composed of loose, disintegrated rock and mudbrick.
Diagnostic Sherds
Sherds from rims, bases, and handles; or with decoration or special form. They are used as chronological indicators or to provide insights into the potterymaking industry.
A painted inscription.
A megalithic burial above ground level made up of two or more upright stones with a capstone.
Frame of a door opening, the vertical edge of a doorway.


Earth Layer
A homogenous deposit of earth that can be separated from other layers above and below.
A drawing of a wall face. It is not the level of a feature above sea level (see Level).


Powdered quartz, covered with glaze; used primarily for Egyptian(style) amulets and figurines.
See Votive Deposit.
A decorative “safety pin” used to hold clothing in place; it is usually made of bronze, rarely of bone.
A sector or area of excavation made of a group of squares, and is identified by a capital letter (for example, Field A). Excavation is supervised by an experienced archaeologist called a field supervisor.
Field Notebook
The Field Notebook includes the Handbook, Introduction page, locus sheets, supplementary sheets, top plans, and daily and weekly Summaries.
A small model of a human or animal.
Debris used to level or elevate an area for subsequent construction activities.
Very hard stone, often used as raw material for making tools; cf. Debitage.
The pottery reconstructor.
Foundation Trench
A trench dug as part of wall construction into which the foundation for the wall is laid. Archaeologically, it is treated as a pit.
Founding Level
The bottom level of a wall’s foundation.
Painting on wet plaster; a type of wall decoration.


Ghost Wall
A “robbedout” wall from which the stones have been removed, leaving a filled robber trench.
The “glasslike” slope of beaten earth, often covered with lime, outside the fortifications.
Figures or inscriptions informally scratched or painted onto a surface.
The general surveying organization of a site, based on a grid with the lines oriented to true north and, at MPP sites, 6.00 m apart. This forms excavation squares 6 ï‚´ 6 m each.


Roughlysmoothed building stone, not polished, but clearly worked in antiquity.
A small, handheld pick (aka, “mankush”) used in primary excavation.
A wall stone, the longitudinal axis of which, is perpendicular to the line of the wall. In construction, they may be associated with “stretchers.”
An open, uncovered cooking pit; often characterized by burnt debris and charred stones.
A group of small objects (such as coins) found together.
A squared or pointed tool used for scraping or moving loose dirt.
Arabic term for soft, chalky, white limestone.
The property of some materials (such as wood, etc) to absorb water.
A Roman period heating system, often in baths, which consisted of hot air circulated through a subfloor. The heat radiated through the floor and into the room.


In phase
The condition wherein all the remains visible in a square or field are part of the same occupational phase.
In situ
Finds are in situ when they are found in their original location. In situ finds have not been moved and then replaced.
Indicator Sherds
See Diagnostic Sherds.


A special, industrial oven which was used for baking pottery or reducing lime from limestone (for plaster).
Hebrew term for a loculus or burial niche.
A large bowl often with handles.


Lapidary script
The writing style on a stone monument.
Lapis Lazuli
A gemstone of intense blue color.
Large pick
A large, handheld primary excavation tool used for loosening debris quickly. It is only used when it has been clearly established that an earth layer is so thick that no finds will be destroyed.
A distinctive earth deposit distinguished by identifying characteristics: color, texture, soil type, etc.
A verbal descriptor for a small earth layer that thins (lenses) out and disappears. It is usually considered a part of a layer.
The measurement of the altitude of a feature in meters and centimeters above mean sea level; it is obtained from onsite bench marks established by surveyors.
Finely crushed limestone with particles seldom larger than sand grains, and not cemented into plaster.
In architecture, the horizontal piece over doorways.
A burial niche in a tomb; cf. kohkim.
The basic unit of the recording system. It is any item, real or artificial, which can be isolated, defined, and related to other loci (or features), such as earth layers, walls, pits, etc.
Locus Number
An arbitrary arabic number assigned to a particular locus. In each square the loci are numbered in a sequence that is not repeated as long as the square is excavated.
Locus Sheet
A form, completed by hand in the field, which organizes the descriptive data of a particular locus or burial. There are three varieties: earth, architectural, and installation sheets.
Locus Summaries
Inclusive data summaries produced by the computer from locus sheets and specialist reports. Ideally, these summaries provide complete data and crossreferencing.


Main Balk
See Balk.
Hebrew term for a standing stone. Often associated with cultic activities.
A single, large stone. Walls and buildings made from megaliths are called megalithic.
A single, upright megalith, apparently for commemorative purposes.
Meter stick
A ruled rod, often one meter long, used as a scale in photographs.
A very small flint tool typical of the Epipaleolithic period.
A refuse or garbage heap.
A single, large, hewn stone.
A floor or wall design made of small cubed stones (tesserae).


The central chamber of a temple.
Very soft limestone which breaks up easily, pieces of which can sometimes be broken off with the bare hand; often described as “decayed” limestone. Crushed nari originates from this soft limestone and is the easiest limestone surface to make and maintain. It is therefore frequently encountered, especially in thin, laminated surfaces which represent repairs made on the original surface. Crushed nari can have many particle sizes in its texture, including pebblesized grains.
The central portion of a basilicatype building.
Lit. “dead city;” a cemetery.


Objects are artifacts with possible museum interest and are handled differently than other artifacts. They are registered with the government, photographed, and drawn.
Object Registrar
Specialist who controls and operates the object registration process by registering each object with the government, describing them in detail on object forms, and conserving them as necessary. The registration numbers assigned by this person are entered onto the locus sheet in the “OBJECTS” section.
Usually a large, thinly hewn stone, often used in walls placed upright on one of its thin edges.
A small, stone box used for secondary burial of human bones; primarily Roman period.
A potsherd with inked, painted, or inscribed writing.
A closed structure used for baking; distinguished from a hearth by being closed.


A specialist who studies ancient botanical specimens.
A chronological term referring to a cultural horizon. It is sometimes used as a subdivision of an Age, or may refer to the dominant people group; for example: MB II period; Roman period; etc.
A distinct stage of habitation or development as determined by excavation. It is normally a subdivision of a stratum, but is also used by us to designate temporary stratification before a final set of strata are assigned.
Pilgrim Flask
A ceramic vessel with flat, spherical body (like a lentil), usually with one or two handles.
A large, ceramic storage container (jar).
A plan (or top plan) is a drawing of a locus or loci as viewed from above.
Lime which has been cemented into a fairly hard material; it is usually used for coating walls, often in water storage facilities. In such cases it is rarely more than 2 or 3 cm thick and seldom less than 0.25 cm thick.
Pollen sample
An earth sample collected in order to detect the spectrum of plant life (by pollen).
A secret, semihidden gate in a city wall.
A broken piece of pottery; most often abbreviated as “sherd.” Its British form is “pot-shard.”
Pottery Identification Tag
A form which is attached to every pottery pail in order to identify the original location of the pottery.
Pottery Pail
A bucket, properly tagged, into which collected pottery sherds are stored in the field prior to cleaning, analysis, and registration.
Pottery Reading
An afternoon activity at which pottery sherds are chronologically identified by specialists.
Pottery Registrar
The staff member who registers pottery and directs selected sherds to various other stations for analysis, including the ceramic technician, and the formator.
Pottery Registration
The process during which the pottery registrar registers pottery and conducts preliminary analysis, including inking the registration numbers on publishable sherds, sawing them, and photographing selected sherds.
Pottery Washing
All pottery recovered is washed in the afternoon to prepare the sherds for pottery reading.
Probe Trench
A small, exploratory excavation, often not larger than 1 ï‚´ 1 m. It is dug in order to test stratigraphy prior to larger excavation.
Provenance (provenience)
Place of origin.
Greek term for a small, squat, cylindrical ceramic vessel.


The lower millstone upon which grain is ground.
(pronounced “koin and peer”) is a method of stone wall construction in which uncut field stones (quoins) are “wedged” between vertical ashlar pillars (piers). Also called a-telaio. The piers are often at intervals of two-to-four meters with the intervening spaces filled with unhewn or semi-hewn stones.


A wall built below a step or vertical face of a bank (terrace) to prevent slippage or to maintain a level surface.
Ancient or unauthorized modern digging into earlier remains.
Roof Tiles
Ceramic roofing materials.
A single line of stones in a wall course.


A seal and/or amulet resembling a dung beetle (scarab) which was sacred to the ancient Egyptians.
Sealed Locus
A locus which is stratigaraphically situated so as to be inherently free from contamination by later or intrusive loci. Usually, this means it lies below an undisturbed locus.
A vertical cut through any locus or loci. The term is also used for drawings of such cuts. A balk drawing is an example of a section drawing.
See Pottery Sherds.
The screened tool for separating objects from dirt. Also the process of that recovery. Sometimes called “sift” or “sifting.”
Significant Sherds
See Diagnostic Sherds.
A thin, outer layer of liquid clay applied to pottery prior to firing.
A single excavation unit, usually 6 ï‚´ 6 m (including balks), and is identified by the grid designation to which it corresponds. Several squares make up a field. Excavation is supervised by a square supervisor, in consultation with a field supervisor. The north and east balks are integral components of the square.
Stela (or stele), pl. stelae
An upright stone, often with an inscribed or sculptured surface.
Stratigraphic Context
The scientifically verifiable archaeological setting in which an object, installation, or locus is found.
The relationship of loci and phases to each other.
An occupational level of a site in terms of architecture (contemporaneous buildings) and associated earth layers. It includes three stages of activities: 1) preparation of the site, 2) use of the buildings and associated surfaces, and 3) deposition of destruction or abandonment debris.
A wall stone laid so that its long axis follows the line of the wall. In construction, they may alternate with headers.
Subsidiary Balk
A balk temporarily left standing to clarify the relationship of one locus to another when one of the main balks cannot be used.


The Arabic term for a baking oven; it is usually made of clay and shaped like a beehive; see tannur.
The debris formed by dry accumulation at or near the bottom of a slope.
The Arabic term for an oven which is larger than a tabun.
Arabic term (formerly spelled tell; tel in modern Hebrew) referring to a mound of ruined cities, or strata, stacked one on top of the other, like a layered cake.
The sacred area of a temple.
Terminus a quo
“Point from which,” that is, the earliest possible date (=terminus post quem).
Terminus ad quem
“Point to which,” that is, the latest possible date (=terminus ante quem).
Terminus ante quem
“Point before which,” see terminus ad quem.
Terminus post quem
“Point after which,” see terminus a quo.
Terra sigillata
A type of fine Roman pottery covered with a thick red slip; often called “Roman red ware.”
Baked clay, ceramic.
Terre pisee
French term for beaten earth surface.
Small, individual stones or ceramic cubes used to make mosaics.
The sill under a doorway.
The surveying instrument used to establish levels.
A triangularbladed, handheld primary excavation tool which cuts or scrapes the earth during removal. It is very sensitive and can be used for delicate excavation and trimming.
An ancient grave mound.
The study of the ways in which genres (or types) of objects or features change and develop through time by classifying and sorting them.


A casual abbreviation of “undeterminable;” it is used for any object or feature which does not display enough diagnostic characteristics to define it.


Votive Deposit
An object or group of objects left in a sacred place. Also called a favissa.
Download PDF Manual I. Procedures of Excavation II. Handbook of Recording Procedures

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