LAB 1 stratigraphy handout

Anth 140
Summer 2007
This exercise is designed to introduce you to basic techniques used in determining the age of
archaeological materials and sites.
One of the most fundamental principles of archaeology is the Law of Superposition. The law
states that strata that are younger will be deposited on top of strata that are older, given normal
conditions of deposition. This law is the guiding principle of stratigraphy, or the study of
geological or soil layers. Stratigraphy is still the single best method that archaeologists have for
determining the relative ages of archaeological materials.
Stratigraphy is the study of strata, or layers. Specifically, stratigraphy refers to the application of
the Law of Superposition to soil and geological strata containing archaeological materials in
order to determine the relative ages of layers. In addition, stratigraphy can tell us much about the
processes affecting the deposition of soils, and the condition of sites and artifacts. These are
called postdepositional processes.
Courtesy of:
Anth 140
Summer 2006
This illustration represents a stratigraphic profile (i.e. you are looking at a vertical cut into the
earth) in which you can see four burials, seven ceramic artifacts, and the remains of a building.
Remember that the terms "earlier" and "older" mean further in the past, and “younger” and
“later” are closer to the present.