The Grammar of the Archaeological Record
11 Principles of stratigraphic analysis

2. Emplacement

Giorgio Buccellati – August 2009

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11.2.1: Concepts

Emplacement refers to the way things are in the ground. In particular, it aims to observe, document and describe:

  1. the individual elements in terms of the nature and internal disposition of their inner components (e.g., alignment of inclusions)
  2. their reciprocal localization in terms of the different types of direct contact.

The description of the elements looks at emplacement statically, i.e., in the way each element is constituted and configured internally. The description of their reciprocal localization looks at the elements dynamically, i.e., in the way in which they interact one (the subject) with the other (the object).

The term “emplacement” is not current in the literature, nor are some of the categories I use to define the elements and their interrelationship. I will introduce here the major ones as they will be applied to the discussion of the specific data from the current book.

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11.2.2: Elements

The defining criterion is the manner of alignment of the components, i.e., the manner in which the constitutive structure of the element, as seen in place, appears to us. On this basis we can distinguish the following major types (for depositional correlations see under deposition; for the typological definition see under typology):

category criterion: manner of alignment example
(typological definition)
1. horizontal
compaction or juxtaposition along a single plane earthen floor, pavement, etc.
2. layering or
    gradual build-up
horizontal alignment of inclusions within an inert matrix, and with inclusions generally having a horizontal angle of repose lens, accumulation, etc.
3. amorphous
random alignment of inclusions fill, brickfall, etc.
4. ordered
patterned organization of components, along a horizontal and a vertical axis wall, oven, etc.

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11.2.3: Types of contact

The different ways in which elements may occur in their spatial interrelationship are described by a specific and limited set of depositional verbs. The situations defined by these verbs determine the relative temporal sequencing within the stratigraphic context. At this stage, attention is focused on the emplacement proper, i.e., on how the elements are in contact with each other in the ground.

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11.2.4: Data presentation in the UGR

In our recording (the Urkesh Global Record, UGR), emphasis is given to the most generic definition for any given feature. This is the category that will be found in the overview given for each excavation unit in the synthetic portion (on the left-hand side) of the UGR page under “emplacement”. Under each of the four categories listed above, one will find the major types of element, given ccording to their typological definition.

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11.2.5: Relevance for documentation

The main reason why it is crucial that the distinction be closely maintained is that only emplacement can be properly observed and documented, while deposition can only be inferred (and hence cannot be documented). Since documentation is the main task of proper field work, it will be clear why the two must be kept rigorously distinct, even though it is impossible to deal with one without dealing at the same time with the other. In other words, it is not a matter of being blind to either one or the other, but rather to keep the levels of analysis separate, all the while invoking both at one and the same time.

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