I. Prehistoric Times > A. Introduction > 2. The Study of Prehistory > e. Analysis and Interpretation
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  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
 
 
e. Analysis and Interpretation
 
For every month of excavation there is at least six months' laboratory analysis—a long process of classifying, analyzing, and interpreting the finds from the dig. Such finds come in many forms. Stone tools, clay potsherds, and other artifacts tell us much about the technology of our forebears. Broken animal bones, seeds, shells, and other food remains, even desiccated human feces, are a mine of information on ancient subsistence, and sometimes diet. All of these finds are combined to produce a reconstruction of human behavior at the site.  1
 
1. Analysis of Artifacts
 
Human artifacts come in many forms. The most durable are stone tools and clay vessels, while those in wood and bone often perish in the soil. Archaeologists have developed elaborate methods for classifying artifacts of all kinds, classifications based on distinctive features like the shapes of clay vessels, painted decoration on the pot, methods of stone flaking, and so on. Once they have worked out a classification of artifact types, the experts use various arbitrary units to help order groups of artifacts in space and time.  2
These units include the assemblage, which is a diverse group of artifacts found in one site that reflect the shared activities of a community. Next is the component, a physically bounded portion of a site that contains a distinct assemblage. The social equivalent of an archaeologist's component is a community. Obviously a site can contain several components, stratified one above another. The final unit is the culture, a cultural unit represented by like components on different sites or at different levels of the same site, although always within a well-defined chronological bracket.  3
Archaeological “cultures” are concepts designed to assist in the ordering of artifacts in time and space. They are normally named after a key site where characteristic artifacts of the culture are found. For instance, the Acheulian culture of early prehistory is named after the northern French town of St. Acheul, where the stone hand axes so characteristic of this culture are found.  4
 
 
 
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

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