less detail

3. Site (de)formation

3.1 Filters on the site information

The nature of the sites is one of the archaeological correlates used for the economy in the Meuse Valley Project. The relationship between the artefacts found by archaeologists on a (surface) site and the activities executed there in the past, has long been an important and controversial subject in archaeology. There is a great deal of literature about the establishment of a site, where theoretical and experimental arguments are discussed. Three filters can be distinguished: site formation processes, post-depositional processes and research factors.

The first distortions in the nature of the sites are caused by the site formation processes. What has been incorporated in the soil is not, by definition, equal to past activities. To demonstrate the fact that there need not be a one-to-one relationship between artefacts and activities, we may mention:

  • activities without material remains
  • preparation of tools for activities elsewhere (Binford 1979)
  • reuse of the same site for different activities
  • reuse of the site by other communities in later periods

As a result of these site formation processes, we only rarely find an archaeological site where the debris provides an original picture of activities at the time (Pompeii premise, Binford 1981). Usually the motto is: what ends in the soil, does not correspond completely to the activities at the time.

Post-depositional processes are also a distorting factor in a site-typological analysis. It is the second filter whereby the artefacts now found on a site do not reflect past human activities completely. Decay, erosion and sedimentation may also have changed the artefact composition of a site. What is left in the soil now does not completely represent the original deposition.

Thirdly, research factors play a part as well. Archaeological material collected in field surveys is a not very reliable reflection of the artefacts in the soil. Accidental circumstances such as, for example, the degree and depth of ploughing determine the number and nature of the archaeological finds. In a later survey, both the number and the character of the artefacts found may differ considerably. Much of the qualitatively mediocre Neolithic pottery will have disappeared after a period of frost and under certain light conditions the smaller flint artefacts in particular will be highly visible. The decisions in the Meuse Valley Project in favour of certain sources in literature (macro region) or amateur archaeologists (core region) determine which data have been recorded about a site. The data in our files do not exactly match past discoveries or indicate future ones.

[Filtering information]
Fig. 34 The information about the settlement pattern passes through three filters - site formation, post depositional processes and the influence of archaeological research - before it becomes our distribution map


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Last updated: Wed Feb 25 1998