The Grammar of the Archaeological Record

22 Principles of typology of the built environment

3. The elements of the built environment

Giorgio Buccellati – November 2006

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22.3.1: Degrees of specificity: features, aggregates and specific labels

Upstream of the finer typological distinctions which result from an analysis of the built environment, there are the basic categories which are used at the moment of excavation, when the overall picture of the whole is still far from clear.

The basic distinction between features and items is tied to a fundamental typological criterion. Features are elements whose typological identity is tied to a location, whereas the typological identity of items is independent of place. This distinction is simple enough that it can be applied without hesitation in practically every instance. It is especially useful during the first moment of excavation, when other distinguishing characteristics may not be as apparent, or specialists may not be present for identification.

Identifiable structures can be divided into architectural types, depending on a number of criteria. Even if not complete (because not completely excavated or because partly destroyed) the Urkesh Global Record (UGR) describes these structures as “aggregates” (this is the technical term under which they are indexed). The term is intentionally generic as it does not imply any functional explicitness, but refers only to the spatial coherence of the features.

As the analysis proceeds, finer typological distinctions are introduced, which pertain to an analysis of the built environment.

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22.3.2: Typology of elements

As the excavation progresses, and a larger exposure is matched by more comprehensive reflection on the whole, a fuller typology emerges. This is especially evident for units, but even elements can be more finely differentiated in this second stage of the field work.

I use two distinguishing criteria to define the various types of elements: the structural coherence (i.e., the way in which a given feature can be seen to constitute a physical unit) and the manner through which they have come into existence (through human or natural agency). A full list of all types will be found in the main lexicon, where one will find precise definitions – though in many instances the definition correspond simply to common use and common sense. Here I will only highlight briefly the main criteria through which the major types may be established. They are grouped according to the four major depositional categories outlined under stratigraphy.

nature of process example structural coherence as criterion origin (manufacture, etc.) as criterion
deposition floor a compaction, uniform surface and texture plastering, walking
floor c compaction and texture unintended
construction wall ordered arrangement of bricks and/or stones, reaching a vertical height laid according to recognizable rules
disaggregation brickfall collapse of standing wall, with direction of fall intentional in view of reconstruction or accidental resulting from abandonment
brickmelt erosion of brickfall through rain or wind abandonment
discard fill disaggregated material contained within defined space intentional dump of material no longer used

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22.3.3: Isolated elements

Elements that are assumed to be part of a complex but are isolated and cannot be linked to others, in other words, cannot be actually seen as part of an identifiable structural whole, must remain just that, isolated and mute witnesses of a truncated unknown.

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22.3.4: Specific labels

The terms used in the chart presented above for the examples (floor, wall, etc.) are the same that occur in the Urkesh Global Record (UGR) as specific labels for features.

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22.3.5: Notation

The specific label notation is used, with a circumflex sign (^) used as prefix, e.g., ^wall1.

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