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In the second session of this course we looked at the practicalities of archaeological excavation, as well as important concepts which underpin our understanding of archaeological sites. Key amongst these was the concepts of ‘context’ and ‘stratigraphy’.

Context, to quote from the Society for American Archaeology, “refers to the relationship that artifacts have to each other and the situation in which they are found… Context is what allows archaeologists to understand the relationship between artifacts on the same site, as well as how different archaeological sites are related to each other.”

Each individual archaeological context is given an unique number to identify it and is generally recorded on a context sheet. This process is explained in this video by Archaeosoup:

Stratigraphy is “the study of layered sedimentary rocks (called strata) but may also include layered igneous rocks,” and is important to both archaeology and geology. This science follows several fundamental principles (explained in more detail in the linked webpage).

In this short video clip, UNC archaeologist Theresa McReynolds explains how studying stratigraphy helps archaeologists determine the relative ages of artifacts.

A common method of plotting archaeological contexts and their relationships to one another is using the Harris Matrix.