The Grammar of the Archaeological Record

11 Principles of stratigraphic analysis


Giorgio Buccellati – August 2009

The term “stratigraphy” is ubiquitous in archaeological discourse, but the concept is not generally as rigorously defined as one might wish. In a loose sense, it is often used to refer to a variety of concrete field situations where different elements overlay or intersect each other. At its simplest, one thinks of layers that are horizontally placed one on top of the other, and a layer cake is the most commonly used metaphor for this situation. In point of fact, the situation is generally more complex, and, even more importantly, one must more sharply differentiate the two constitutive and very different aspects of stratigraphy, emplacement and deposition.

These two aspects interact with each other as, respectively, the static and the dynamic moments of one and the same situation. Emplacement is static in that it refers to the collocation of things in the ground. Deposition is dynamic in that it refers to the process whereby such collocation has come into existence.

Another fundamental aspect pertains to the way in which correlations can be established to an absolute space and time. We can accordingly dimension things as they are placed in measurable volumes (volumetry) or as their reciprocal and cumulative impact establishes a chain of events (sequencing).

The following chart summarizes the relative aspects of emplacement and deposition on the one hand, and of volumetry and sequencing on the other (the numbers refer to the order in which they are treated below):

/ static dynamic
descriptive 1. emplacement: internal characteristics and reciprocal contacts of things as they are in the ground. 3. deposition: inferences about how things have come to be placed where they are.
dimensioning 2. volumetry: metric measurements of things in space. 4. sequencing: relative intervals in time.

A full discussion of the concept of stratigraphy as used in the Urkesh Global Record is found in Chapter 5 of the Grammar (cf. also the companion website CAR). Here, only a few key points are summarized to help understand the presentation of the data.

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