Matrix & Provenience
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Matrix consists of the mass of material or physical substance that surrounds a find (clay, gravel, mud, sand, or water). Water and soil constitute the matrix in most archaeological sites. The matrix at any archaeological site has resulted from any number of possibilities including the result of cultural, chemical, and physical activity. The formation of soil results from the interaction of organic matter, rock, climatic conditions, and time. 

Different climatic conditions produce varying soil conditions through calcification, lateralization, and podzolization. Calcification refers to the build up of calcium and magnesium salt deposits in the soil. Lateralization refers to the process of producing laterite a red, porous deposit containing large amounts of aluminum and ferric hydroxides, formed by the decomposition of certain rocks subjected to leaching as a result of rainfall. Podzolization refers to the slow decomposition of organic matter over highly leeched soil producing a type of relatively infertile soil found typically in forest lands and consisting of a thin, ash-colored layer overlying a brown, acidic humus.

Provenience and Three-Dimensional Control

Field excavators must retain strong three-dimensional control to record the provenience of finds thereby facilitating their analysis. Provenience, of course, refers to the location of an object in situ. The three-dimensional method of recording fixes the location of artifacts and structures as they were found in the archaeological record. Objects are recorded in their horizontal and vertical position with reference to the site grid i.e., on an x, y, z axis. This permits three-dimensional mapping for analysis.

Law of Superposition

The geological layers of the earth lie stratified or superimposed one upon another like layers of a cake wherein the lower strata are earlier than upper strata. The Law of Superposition states that in any deposit with a known top and bottom the order of succession from bottom to top constitutes the order of deposition. This does not mean that the bottom layer has claims as the oldest, e.g., inverted layers exist in the archaeological record.

Stratigraphic Excavations in Tells and Settlements

The Wheeler–Kenyon Method (earth layers analysis) emphasizes the vertical dimension through analysis of earth layers and their contents. Vertical control comes from the use of the balks separating grid squares. Horizontal control comes from keeping the working surface of the square level for any given locus and proper three-dimensional recording. This method bares the name of the two archaeologists credited for developing it— Mortimer Wheeler and Kathleen Kenyon. The Albright–Wright Method (architectural approach) emphasizes the wide-scale exposure of complete architectural units. Both the architectural and earth-layers approaches come from a tradition of archaeology as more of an art than a science.

The prevailing Levantine approach emphasizes a combination of the earth layers analysis and the architectural approach wherein excavations proceed through earth layers analysis including the exposure of complete architectural units through grid squares and balks. This approach supports both processual an postprocessual archaeological research although the latter prevails in contemporary Levantine sites. A criticism of the approach consists of the problem that exposure of complete units does not leave the ability for re-excavation with improved techniques by subsequent generations.

Page last edited: 01/25/06 05:05 PM

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