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Archaeological Glossary

A short vocabulary to help you with some difficult words
Blocks with the letters forming the word





  • An amphora is a type of container with a pointed bottom and characteristic shape and size which fits tightly (and therefore safely) against other amphorae in storage rooms and ships’ cargo holds, tied together with rope and delivered by land or sea. Amphorae were used in vast numbers for the transport and storage of various products, both liquid and dry, but mostly for wine and oil. They are most often ceramic, but examples in metals and other materials have been found. Through their shape they can be assigned to a particular geographic area and chronology and therefore they are a good dating indicator.


  • Something that serves to ward off and frustrate an evil influence

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  • In this course the word barbarian (coming from βάρβαρος) is used in its ancient greek meaning of a “foreigner” (from the perceived βαρ-βαρ (bar-bar) sounds incomprehensible to Ancient Greeks and spoken by foreigners).

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Cura Annonae

  • Cura Annonae (“care of Annona”) was the term used in ancient Rome, in honour of their goddess Annona, to describe the importation and distribution of grain to the army located in the frontier areas of the Empire and the residents of the cities of Rome and, after its foundation, Constantinople. The most important sources of the grain were Roman Egypt, North Africa (21st century Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco), and Sicily. The logistics of moving the grain by sea from those places to Rome required many hundreds of ships, some very large, and an extensive system for collecting the grain and distributing it inside Rome itself. It is unknown when the Cura Annonae ended. Some form of it may have persisted as late as the 6th century for Rome, but far less grain was shipped compared to earlier periods. In Constantinople it lasted as late as the 7th century.

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  • Dendrochronology (or tree-ring dating) is the scientific method of dating tree rings to the exact year they were formed. As well as dating them, this can give data for dendroclimatology, the study of climate and atmospheric conditions during different periods of history from wood as well as dating wooden elements in archaeological contexts such as roof beams.

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  • Geodesy is the science of mathematically determining the size and shape of the Earth and the nature of the earth’s gravity field. The practical role of geodesy is to provide a network of accurately surveyed points on the Earth’s surface, the vertical elevations and geographic positions of which are precisely known and, in turn, may be incorporated in maps.


  • Geomatics is an applied science concerned with the collection, integration, management, and analysis of geospatial data. These data come from many sources, including earth-orbiting satellites, air and sea-borne sensors and ground based instruments.

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  • LiDAR is an acronym of “light detection and ranging” or “laser imaging, detection, and ranging” and is commonly used to make high-resolution maps, with applications in surveying, geodesy, geomatics, archaeology, geography, geology, geomorphology, etc. The method consists of determining ranges (variable distance) by targeting an object with a laser and measuring the time for the reflected light to return to the receiver. LiDAR has many uses in archaeology, including planning of field campaigns, mapping features under forest canopy, and overview of broad, continuous features indistinguishable from the ground. LiDAR can produce high-resolution datasets quickly and LiDAR-derived products can be easily integrated into a Geographic Information System (GIS) for analysis and interpretation.
  • LiDAR can also help to create high-resolution digital elevation models (DEMs) of archaeological sites that can reveal micro-topography that is otherwise hidden by vegetation. The intensity of the returned LiDAR signal can be used to detect features buried under flat vegetated surfaces such as fields, especially when mapping using the infrared spectrum. The presence of these features affects plant growth and thus the amount of infrared light reflected back.

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  • A speleothem is a geological formation by mineral deposits that accumulate over time in natural caves due to carbonate dissolution reactions. Their chemical composition, gradual growth, and preservation in caves make them useful paleoclimatic proxies.


  • A summarion is the written register that accompanied the cadastral maps. It includes details of the ownership, the tenure, the dimensions (and area), the cultivations if rural, and the value of individual parcels of land.

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  • A toponym is a place-name used to indicate, denote, or identify a geographic locality such as a town, river, or mountain. We can divide Toponyms into three categories:
  • Environmental toponyms, derived from local morphological characteristics. They include Phytonyms (derived from vegetation), Hydronyms (derived from rivers), Oronyms (derived from the forms of reliefs) and Zoonyms (derived from the presence of animals);
  • Onomastic toponyms, derived from the names of characters or families connected to the site;
  • Agiotoponyms, derived from the cult of a saint or from the memory of a religious event. They generally indicate the location of a church.



  • A varve is an annual layer of sediment or sedimentary rock and is one of the smallest-scale events recognised in stratigraphy. Varves are one of the most illuminating elements in studies of past climate change.

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© Università degli Studi di Padova
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Enlightening the Dark Ages: Early Medieval Archaeology in Italy

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