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(For a glossary of proper names in California prehistory, including periods, complexes, ethnolinguistic groups, projectile point types, ceramic types, etc., see the SCA webpage.)


The following list contains the definitions of some of the technical terms utilized in, or important to, this website.

Altithermal: A warm, dry climate period during the mid-Holocene, dated circa 8000-2900 B.P. (Moratto 1984:585).

Antler Flaker (Tiner): An implement made from an antler tip or tine and used in pressure flaking (Jennings 1974:373).

Archaeological Resources: All evidences of past human occupations which can be used to reconstruct the lifeways of past peoples. These include sites, artifacts, environmental and all other relevant information and the contexts in which they occur. Archaeological resources are found in prehistoric and aboriginal sites, as well as historic Indian and European areas of occupation and activity (McGimsey and Davis 1977:109).

Archaeology: The scientific discipline responsible for recovering, analyzing, interpreting, and explaining the unwritten portion of the historic and prehistoric past (McGimsey and Davis 1977:109).

Artifact: Any product of human cultural activity; more specifically, any tools, weapons, artworks, etc. found in archaeological contexts (Moratto 1984:585).

Asphaltum: A black to brown petroleum- or bitumen-based semi-solid mineral pitch used as an adhesive for hafting purposes and for applying decorations on objects (after Jennings 1974:373).

Assemblage: The complete inventory of artifacts from a single, defined archaeological unit (such as a stratum or component) (Moratto 1984:585).

Awl: A bone or stone tool tapered to a point and used to pierce holes or make decorations (Thomas 1979:456).

B.P.: Before the present. As used in radiocarbon and other archaeological dating, the present is defined as A.D. 1950.

Background Studies: Any of a wide variety of investigations to support primary archaeological research. Such studies might include vegetation studies, pollen or soil analyses, reconstruction of past environments, linguistic reconstructions, or other detailed analyses.

Base Camp: A site occupied by several families or more on either a year round or seasonal basis. Identified archaeologically by primary and secondary tools (that is, tools used in the manufacture of other tools) and a variety of other artifacts, as well as floral and faunal remains from subsistence activities. Characterized by extensive scatters and quantities of debris such as potsherds, fire-cracked rock, whole and broken flaked stone tools, chipping waste, charred bone, milling tools, house structures, hearths, rock rings, and sometimes rock art or burials. A well-developed midden is usually a component of this type.

Bedrock Mortar: A mortar cup in a bedrock outcrop (Moratto 1984:586). See "Mortar."

Biface: Any stone artifact worked (flaked) on both the obverse and reverse faces. Most projectile points are bifaces (Moratto 1984:586).

Bioturbation: The disturbance created by burrowing rodents, insects, roots, etc.

Bipolar Flaking: A distinctive type of percussion flaking in which a blow is struck against the top of a pebble or core resting on a hard "anvil" stone; this causes simultaneous flaking from both ends and results in flakes and flake scars peculiar to the method (Moratto 1984:586).

BRM: An abbreviation for Bedrock Mortar.

Catchment: The resource area around an archaeological site which is within convenient walking distance (Thomas 1979:457).

Centimeter: See "Metric Measurements."

Charmstone: According to Moratto, a charmstone is "an elongate ground- and often polished-stone artifact, normally 5-20 cm in length, fashioned in a spindle, ovoid, phallic, plumb bob, or other shape; may be grooved or plain, perforate or imperforate; often found with burials. The prominence of charmstones in marshy regions has been noted. Their function as hunting charms, bolas stones, shamanistic gear, and so forth, is uncertain" (Moratto 1984:587).

Chert: A flintlike rock composed of chalcedony with variable amounts of clay and other impurities; commonly selected as a raw material for flaked-stone tools (Moratto 1984:587).

Chopper: A large, often crude pebble, cobble, or core tool percussion-flaked to form an axe-like cutting edge along part of its margin; used for diverse chopping and cleaving work (Moratto 1984:587).

Complex: A patterned grouping of similar artifact assemblages from two or more sites, presumed to represent an archaeological culture (Moratto 1984:588).

Component: A site or stratum within a site representing the activities of one cultural group during a relatively brief interval of time. (An exception would be a component resulting from interaction of two or more groups at a single site.) Similar or related components within a locality or region comprise a phase (Moratto 1984:588).

Conservation: An approach to archaeology based on a philosophy stressing the protection, preservation, and/or managed use of the cultural resources base for future generations. Protection of representative sites and preservation of data through scientific study are major aspects of this approach. It differs from salvage archaeology which stressed the immediate recovery of material from threatened sites (McGimsey and Davis 1977:109-110).

Core: A stone from which flakes have been removed to make implements. A prepared core is one which has been purposefully worked so that the shape of flakes or blades can be controlled (Jennings 1974:375).

Cultural Affiliation: The known, projected, or hypothesized cultural, ethnic, or tribal group (e.g., Hopewellian, Mississippian, Puebloan, Eskimo, Apache, historic Anglo, etc.) with which archaeological remains may be identified on the basis of careful scientific study (McGimsey and Davis 1977:110).

Cultural Resource Management (CRM): The development and maintenance of programs designed to protect, preserve, and scientifically study and manage cultural resources (including evidences of prehistoric, protohistoric, historic, and recent remains) and the natural resources that figured significantly in cultural systems.... The goal of such programs should be the conservation of cultural values and the maximum effective conservation and utilization of these resources for the public good (McGimsey and Davis 1977:110).

Cultural Resources: Districts, sites, structures, and objects and evidence of some importance to a culture, a subculture, or a community for scientific, traditional, religious, and other reasons. These resources and relevant environmental data are important for describing and reconstructing past lifeways, for interpreting human behavior, and for predicting future courses of cultural development (McGimsey and Davis 1977:110).

Culture History: The archaeological sequence of cultural activity through time, within a defined geographic space or relating to a particular group (Moratto 1984:588).

Cupules: A form of rock art generally consisting of a series of small pits carved or pecked into the face of a boulder.

Datum Point: A reference point on an archaeological site from which measurements are taken and to which all finds are related by way of horizontal and vertical mapping (Moratto 1984:588).

Debitage: Lithic refuse or debris produced during flaked-stone tool manufacture ( Moratto 1984:588).

Dialect: The variety of a language spoken by all members of a speech community; languages may include many, mutually intelligible dialects (Moratto 1984:589).

Diffusion: The transmission of concepts or artifacts from one cultural setting to another without population movement; the principal mechanism by which a culture acquires new traits (Moratto 1984:589).

Earspool: A spool-shaped stone ornament worn in the ear lobe.

Ecofacts: The nonartifactual remains found in archaeological sites such as seeds, bones, and plant pollen (Thomas 1979:459).

Ecotone: The juncture between two biotic communities (e.g., grassland and forest). Ecotones offer more biotic diversity than "pure" communities at the interface--the "edge effect." Ecotones were ideal places for aboriginal settlement because they afforded optimum resource exploitation (Moratto 1984:589).

Ethnographic Resources: All evidences of identifiable ethnic lifeways dating to historic or protohistoric periods which may be used for describing, reconstructing, and interpreting cultural systems. These include sites, artifacts, ethnographic records, documentary records, informants, environmental data, and all other relevant information. Ethnographic resources are cultural resources and may be considered archaeological resources when they provide needed information relative to the scientific study of archaeological resources (McGimsey and Davis 1977:110).

Ethnography: The direct anthropological study of living human groups or the study of recent, historically documented groups (Moratto 1984:589).

Ethnohistorical Resources: Data on historic and contemporary societies. These include documentary sources and the study of material culture from these groups which are relevant to the study area (McGimsey and Davis 1977:110).

Excavation: The scientifically controlled recovery of subsurface materials and information from an archaeological site. Recovery techniques are designed to produce maximum knowledge about the utilization of the site, its relation to other sites and the natural environment, and its significance in the maintenance of the cultural system. Recovery techniques may include the use of heavy equipment (e.g., backhoe, etc.) and specialized instruments (pollen coring tools, etc.) (McGimsey and Davis 1977:110).

Faunal Analysis: The study of animal remains from archaeological sites to illustrate past hunting and dietary practices (Thomas 1979:460).

FCR: See "Thermally-altered Rock."

Feature: A large, complex artifact or part of a site such as a hearth, cairn, housepit, rock alignment, or activity area (Moratto 1984:590).

Flakes: Lithic fragments (usually debris) resulting from the manufacturing of stone tools. Sometimes the flakes are merely waste from a core; in other cases, flakes themselves can function as tools (Thomas 1979:461).

Flotation: The use of fluid suspension to recover tiny plant and bone fragments from archaeological sites (Thomas 1979:461).

Gram: See "Metric Measurements."

Ground Stone: Stone artifacts manufactured by pecking and abrading techniques. Usually included in this category are grinding and pounding implements such as the mano, metate, mortar, and pestle, as well as pipes and statuary pieces (Jennings 1974:376).

Haliotis: The genus of abalone.

Hammerstone: Usually a hard, tough, fist-sized rock used as a hammer to work flint, drive wedges, break shells, splinter bones, etc. Hammerstones in central and southern California tend not to be shaped except by battering while in use (Moratto 1984:590).

Hearth: A feature containing ash, charcoal, burned rock, or other evidence of fire kindled by people (Moratto 1984:590).

Hematite: An earthy iron oxide, usually red to brown in color, used by the Indians in graves and as a pigment (Moratto 1984:590). See "Ocher."

Historic Resources: All evidences of human occupations that date from historic (i.e., recorded history) periods. These resources include documentary data (i.e., written records, archival material, photographs, maps, etc.), sites, artifacts, environmental data and all other relevant information. Historic resources are cultural resources and may be considered archaeological resources when archaeological work is involved in their identification and interpretation (McGimsey and Davis 1977:111).

Holocene (Recent): The post-Pleistocene geologic epoch characterized by fluctuating but generally moderate climates and modern faunal assemblages; dated circa 11,000 B.P. to the present (Moratto 1984:590).

Impact, Direct: The effects an action will have on environmental resources as a direct and immediate result of construction or development. This includes destruction of archaeological sites and their environment by earth-moving, plowing, flooding, or building construction. These effects are not limited to the localities modified by the project but also include features such as access roads, construction crew camps, etc., which are ancillary to the project (McGimsey and Davis 1977:111).

Impact, Indirect: The effects on the environment which are not an immediate and direct result of an action, but which would probably not occur without it. Indirect impact is the extent to which a project or action exposes resources, either within or adjacent to the development, to such adverse effects as accelerated erosion, intensified agriculture, construction of private homes or commercial buildings, road-building, increased vandalism, modification of ecological relationships, and other disturbances attendant to the project (McGimsey and Davis 1977:111).

In Situ: A Latin phrase meaning "in place." Archaeologically it refers to an artifact or object being found in its original, undisturbed position (Jennings 1974:376).

Intrasite Relationships: The spatial relationships of artifacts and their contexts that are used for developing greater understanding concerning past human behavior within a single site (McGimsey and Davis 1977:111).

Kilograms: See "Metric Measurements."

Kilometers: See "Metric Measurements."

Lithic (Lithics): A general term used to refer to chipped stone artifacts or debitage. Can include chert (flint), obsidian, basalt, jasper, or a wide variety of other materials used in tool making.

Mano: From the Spanish la mano ("hand"), a loaf-shaped handstone used for grinding seeds, pigments, and so forth, on a metate or millingstone (Moratto 1984:592).

Metate: A stone slab upon which corn and other grains are milled with a mano (worked with a push-pull motion) (Moratto 1984:592). See "Millingstone" and Milling Slick."

Metric Measurements: The metric system is used throughout this website. Conversion factors are as follows:

Kilometer3,280.8 feet or 0.62 miles
Meter39.38 inches or 1.09 yards
Centimeter 0.39 inches (2.54 centimeters to the inch)
MillimeterOne tenth of a centimeter (25.4 millimeters to the inch)
Kilogram2.20 lbs
Gram0.035 ounces (28.5 grams per ounce)

Microwear: Patterns of edge damage and use on lithic materials (Thomas 1979:463).

Midden: A deposit marking a former habitation site and containing such materials as discarded artifacts, bone and shell, food refuse, charcoal, ash, rock, human remains, structural remnants, and other cultural leavings (Moratto 1984:592).

Millimeter: See "Metric Measurements."

Milling Slick: A metate fashioned from a large, immobile slab of rock. See "Metate" and "Millingstone."

Millingstone: An amorphous or roughly shaped stone slab upon which seeds and other plant products are ground with the aid of a mano. The milling basin may be ovoid to round, depending on the elliptical or rotary motion of the handstone (Moratto 1984:592). See "Metate."

Mortar: A stone or wooden bowl-like artifact in which seeds, berries, meat, and other products are ground or pulverized with a pestle. Mortars occur in bedrock outcrops or as portable items (Moratto 1984:592).

Mytilus: The genus of mussel.

Obsidian: Natural volcanic glass. This was one of the primary materials for chipped-stone artifacts in California; it was obtained from no less than 25 separate sources (Moratto 1984:592).

Obsidian Hydration Dating: A method for determining the age of obsidian artifacts or débitage by measuring the thickness of a specimen's hydration rim (layer of water penetration) and comparing the rim depth with the established hydration rate for the particular climatic-geographic area (effective hydration temperature) and type of obsidian (Moratto 1984:593). Where no hydration rate has been derived, this technique is used to compare hydration rind values from different pieces.

Ocher: A ferruginous clay or earth ranging from yellow to brown, used as a pigment. Red ocher (hematite) is very often used for ceremonial purposes (Jennings 1974:377). See "Hematite."

Olivella: A genus of marine univalves, found on the North American Pacific Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico, whose shell was widely used as money and for making necklaces (Jennings 1974:377).

Percussion Flaking: The manufacture of stone artifacts by removing flakes with blows struck by a stone, antler or bone "hammer" (Moratto 1984:593).

Pestle: An elongate, often cylindrical stone or wooden artifact used to pulverize food products and other stuff in a mortar (Moratto 1984:593).

Petroglyph: A design or motif pecked or scratched into a rock surface; usually unpainted rock art (Moratto 1984:593).

Phase: An archaeological construct possessing traits sufficiently characteristic to distinguish it from other units similarly conceived; spatially limited to roughly a locality or region and chronologically limited to a relatively brief interval of time (Thomas 1979:465).

Phytolith: The tiny silica particles contained within plants; sometimes these fragments can be recovered from archaeological sites, even after the plants themselves have decayed (Thomas 1979:466).

Pictograph: A design or motif painted on a rock surface; painted rock art (Moratto 1984:593).

Plant Macrofossils: The preserved or carbonized plant parts recovered from archaeological sites (Thomas 1979:466).

Pothunters: Those who vandalize archaeological sites for their own collections or to obtain artifacts for sale or trade. It is illegal under California Penal Code § 622.5 and other statutes.

Pressure Flaking: The technique of removing flakes from a stone by pressing a blunt, pointed implement of antler or bone against the edge being worked. This method permits greater control over the size and direction of the flakes removed than does percussion flaking (Jennings 1974:378).

Projectile Point: A sharp tip (usually stone) affixed to the business end of a spear, lance, dart, or arrow (Moratto 1984:594).

Projectile Point: A sharp tip (usually stone) affixed to the end of a spear, lance, dart, or arrow (Moratto 1984:594).

Quartzite: A compact, granular rock composed of quartz, used for chipped stone implements (Jennings 1974:378).

Radiocarbon Dating: (Also known as Carbon-14 or C-14 dating.) A method by which a carbon-containing organism or compound may be dated. Radiocarbon is present in the atmosphere in relatively stable, although small, amounts. All living organisms in equilibrium with the atmosphere maintain a small natural concentration of radiocarbon. When the organism dies radiocarbon is no longer replaced, and the initial concentration begins to decrease. By knowing the initial concentration of radiocarbon, the decay rate, and the present amount, an age can be assigned to the specimen (Gillespie 1984).

Regional Information Center: A series of regional facilities originally established by the Society for California Archaeology in conjunction with the California Department of Transportation. The Regional Information Centers are funded by the California Office of Historic Preservation and by users. Within each region, the facilities house survey reports, site records, maps, and other data pertaining to cultural resources and their management. Current professional standards require consultation with the appropriate Regional Information Center(s) for cultural resource management projects.

Rock Art: Inclusive term referring to both pictographs (designs painted on stone surfaces) and petroglyphs (designs pecked or incised into stone surfaces) (Thomas 1979:467).

Saxidomus: The genus of Washington clam.

Scraper: A stone implement used to remove fat from the under side of a skin, to smooth wood, to scrape leather, etc. Different types are described in terms of the shape and/or position of the cutting edge: side scraper, end scraper, snubnosed scraper, thumbnail scraper, scoop scraper, etc. (Jennings 1974:378-379).

Settlement Pattern: The distribution of human populations throughout their habitat (Thomas 1979:468).

Site: Any area or location occupied as a residence or utilized by humans for a sufficient length of time to leave physical remains or traces of occupancy. Such localities are extremely variable in size, and may range from a single hunting camp to an extensive land surface with evidence of numerous settlements and activities (McGimsey and Davis 1977:113).

Soapstone: See "Steatite."

Steatite: Hydrous magnesium silicate, a very soft and easily carved metamorphic rock valued by the Indians as a raw material for bowls, beads, and artwork. Its ability to withstand heat without cracking made steatite an ideal materials for cooking vessels, tobacco pipes, and so forth (Moratto 1984:595).

Stone Boiling: A method of cooking by dropping hot stones or clay balls into a basket or container filled with liquid and/or the substance to be cooked. This method was used when the cooking vessel couldn't be placed directly over the fire (Jennings 1974:379).

Strata: The various layers of human or geological origin which comprise archaeological sites (Thomas 1979:468).

Stratigraphy: An analytical interpretation of the structure produced by deposition of geological and/or cultural sediments into layers or strata (Thomas 1979:469).

Striations: The microscopic scratches on stone or bone tools which often reveal the direction of force an the nature of tool use (after Thomas 1979:469).

Tegula: The genus of turban snails.

Temporary Campsite: A site occupied by a limited number of individuals either seasonally or for short periods. Such a site frequently is characterized by limited activities and specialized tools. Within central California, such sites may result from exploiting specific resources, such as acorns (e.g., camping and processing sites in good collecting areas), seasonal fish runs (e.g., camping and fish processing sites along rivers or streams), or marine resources (e.g., coastal camping and/or gathering sites along the ocean).

Testing/Test Excavation: The preliminary, exploratory and limited excavation of portions of sites or specific features within sites carried out for the purpose of better defining site size (vertically and horizontally), site complexity, chronological span of components at sites, quantity of subsurface materials, state of preservation and other aspects critical to the determination of site significance, problems for investigation, proper research methods, and research time and costs for future studies (McGimsey and Davis 1977:113).

Thermally-altered Rock (also called fire-cracked rock and abbreviated FCR): Rock which has been discolored, cracked or otherwise altered by exposure to fire. This frequently is characteristic of prehistoric occupation sites.

Tivela: The genus of Pismo Clams.

Tradition: A way of life or consistent patterning of technology, subsistence practices, and ecological adaptation which persists through a relatively long interval of time (Moratto 1984:596).

Tribelet: The basic, autonomous, self-governing and independent sociopolitical group in aboriginal California; an aggregation of several villages under the authority of a single chief (Kroeber 1925; Moratto 1984:596).

Trinomial: An archaeological site is usually assigned a trinomial by the Regional Information Center. This consists of the state abbreviation (CA), followed by the county abbreviation (MNT), followed by a number. An example would be CA-MNT-1481. The suffix "H" indicates the resource is historic. The suffix "/H" indicates both historic and prehistoric resources are present.

Uniface: A stone tool that has been flaked only on one side (Thomas 1979:470).

Use wear: The changes or modifications in an artifact resulting from repeated use. Some wear patterns wear are distinctive, and can be associated with specific activities.

Utilized flake: A flake tool which exhibits use wear.

Village: The term "village" refers to a site of previous human occupancy, generally of some size. This term is used in most of the ethnographic reports, but it is almost always undefined; indeed, its usage may vary from author to author. See also "Base Camp."

References Cited

Breschini, Gary S. and Trudy Haversat. 1992. Baseline Archaeological Studies at Rancho San Carlos, Carmel Valley, Monterey County, California. Coyote Press Archives of California Prehistory 36. Coyote Press, Salinas.

Gillespie, R. 1984. Radiocarbon User's Handbook. Committee for Archaeology Monograph No. 3. Oxford University.

Jennings, J.D. 1974. Prehistory of North America. Second Edition. McGraw-Hill Book Co., New York.

Kroeber, A.L. 1925. Handbook of the Indians of California. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 78.

McGimsey, C.R. III, and H.A. Davis. 1977. The Management of Archeological Resources: The Airlie House Report. Special Publication of the Society for American Archaeology.

Moratto, Michael J. 1984. California Archaeology. Academic Press, Orlando.

Thomas, D.H. 1979. Archaeology. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York.

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