Functional analysis of the built environment

November 2009 - G. Buccellati
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Internal configuration
Associated items
associated installations
Primay and secondary functions


     The specific use for which a unit of the built environment was designed is not always easy to determine in the archaeological context. In the process of identification, one meets with different degrees of specificity, depending on the amount and nature of the information available.
     It is important to state explicitly the factors on the basis of which a given function is inferred. There are three main criteria.
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Internal configuration

     The internal configuration of a unit will most often suggest a preliminary functional interpretation. This is generally based on comparative evidence either from other archaeological contexts or from modern ethnographic evidence.
     It is such prima facie identification that provides the first, and in some cases the only, possible functional interpretation. The following cases will serve as examples.

structures room size; nature of the bounded space; location within a larger structure; the way in which it conforms to circulation within the building, etc.
use areas open area within settlement the way in which it relates to houses around it
installations bin in the corner of a room
pit place of storage in an open area
loose materials fill subfloor
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Associated items

     Items generally have a higher degree of specificity than the built environment. To the extent that they are closely associated with units, they can therefore assist greatly in attributing them their proper functional character.

structures abi the interpretation of the Urkesh underground shaft as a necromantic pit (abi in Hurrian) is based primarily on certain types of animal bones; once this is established, peculiar aspects of the structure itself can be understood as distinctive (the antechamber, the steep staircase)
wardrobe (?) room C1 in the service sector of the Royal Palace AP contains a number of burnt logs in a neutral matrix; a very tentative interpretation (J.L.Walker) is that they may have bee used to cure furs and wool garments, in which case the room may be interpreted as a wardrobe
use areas industrial zone an open area with pottery kilns and large amounts of kiln waste
installations grave this is the most obvious of identification, when human bones (especially an articulated skeleton) as well as a certain assemblage of objects are presented.
clay bin the bin in room C2 of the service sector of the Royal Palace AP contains several layers of pure clay: while a specific indicator in and of itself, no conclusive interpretation is possible
loose materials subfloor fill the presence of ash suggests the intention to reduce humidity
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Associated installations

     Installations are often quite specific in their morphology, and thus they may lend specificity o the structures and use areas with which they are associated. They are generally not associated with other installations or with loose materials.

structures abi the presence of very shallow pits, with ash and bones inside, suggests the performance of rituals
cella a free-standing block against one wall of a room is interpreted as an altar
use areas domestic open areas the presence of tannurs in an open area within the settlement, suggests the extension of domestic activities beyond the confines of the house
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Primary and secondary functions

     A stratigraphy of functions, as it were, may ne observed in a number of situations. Typical is the case of a pit, originally dug for storage, but then filled with debris once its original function was no longer in force.
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