Archaeological Basics - Context
by Matt Law
A context, also known as a stratigraphic unit, is the basic unit of archaeological excavation and recording. A context can be defined as a single event which is preserved in the archaeological record. Contexts can be negative, such as the digging of construction cut in which a wall is to be built; or positive, such as the wall itself, or the subsequent backfill around the wall.
Contexts are used by archaeologists to create a chronology of events on the site, through interpreting their stratigraphic relationship (i.e. the sequence in which the events from which the contexts result took place). Different contexts are often distinguished by changes in colour or composition of the sediment or soil being excavated.
The most common types of context are deposits, cuts, fills (of cuts), skeletons, coffins, masonry, and timber. Artefacts are not usually regarded as contexts in themselves, rather they are seen as being contained within a (positive) context. Some archaeologists also regard animal bone groups (for example, articulated animal skeletons) as contexts in ther own right.
Anon, no date. Excavating the site. [Electronic document http://www.villa-magna.org/manual/methods-excavating-the-site retrieved January 4th, 2008].
MoLAS, 1994. The MoLAS Archaeological Site Manual. London: Museum of London.
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