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Stratigraphy (archaeology)

Study of archaeological sedimentation for dating purposes / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Stratigraphy is a key concept to modern archaeological theory and practice. Modern excavation techniques are based on stratigraphic principles. The concept derives from the geological use of the idea that sedimentation takes place according to uniform principles. When archaeological finds are below the surface of the ground (as is most commonly the case), the identification of the context of each find is vital in enabling the archaeologist to draw conclusions about the site and about the nature and date of its occupation. It is the archaeologist's role to attempt to discover what contexts exist and how they came to be created. Archaeological stratification or sequence is the dynamic superimposition of single units of stratigraphy, or contexts.

Archaeological stratigraphy at the Iron Age site of Goosehill Camp on Bow Hill, West Sussex in Southern England.
Neat stratification in Athens (Ceramicus Cemetery).

Contexts are single events or actions that leave discrete, detectable traces in the archaeological sequence or stratigraphy. They can be deposits (such as the back-fill of a ditch), structures (such as walls), or "zero thickness surfaciques", better known as "cuts". Cuts represent actions that remove other solid contexts such as fills, deposits, and walls. An example would be a ditch "cut" through earlier deposits. Stratigraphic relationships are the relationships created between contexts in time, representing the chronological order in which they were created. One example would be a ditch and the back-fill of said ditch. The temporal relationship of "the fill" context to the ditch "cut" context is such that "the fill" occurred later in the sequence; you have to dig a ditch before you can back-fill it. A relationship that is later in the sequence is sometimes referred to as "higher" in the sequence, and a relationship that is earlier, "lower", though this does not refer necessarily to the physical location of the context. It is more useful to think of "higher" as it relates to the context's position in a Harris matrix, a two-dimensional representation of a site's formation in space and time.