To what extent is it possible to identify the functions of past sites from archaeological evidence?

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  • Created by: Cara
  • Created on: 21-05-12 12:16

To what extent is it possible to identify the functions of past sites from archaeological evidence?


The functions of past sites can be indentified through archaeological excavation and the recording of these. However many past sites may have had more than 1 function making it difficult for archaeologists to identify a primary function. The site may have also been damaged by natural or cultural transformation processes. Archaeologists may have difficulties identifying the function of a site if there is 1 sided evidence, for instance there may only be the remains of stone tools left at a site as these survive well in the archaeological record however there may have been organic artefacts that have rotted away.


Boundaries are often used to identify the function of a past site. The size, shape and orientation of these boundaries can often be used to help identify. These boundaries may be room, settlement or ritual boundaries. For example the orientation of the Great pyramid of Giza is built on the 4 cardinal points, showing it’s a ritual site. This may have been symbolic or a focus of attention.

These boundaries may have been used to separate liminal zones which may have been part of a ritual, for example, an interpretation of Star Carr suggests that the unusual range and quantity of material culture may have been the focus of ritual deposition into the open water.


Artefacts discovered during excavation are the most common way of discovering the primary function of a past site. These finds can be carefully recorded and plotted on a 3 dimensional plan of the site, this enabled archaeologists to carry out density analysis, giving a clear view of finds. The density of finds may indicate manufacture of tools or human occupation.

The absence of artefacts may be the remains of deliberate clearing, for example at Star Carr there is



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