How does all that stuff get underground?
Drawing demonstrating the cultural deposition of artifacts.
Drawing showing a person picking up a culturally deposited artifact.
Drawing showing a bulldozer disturbing an archeological site.
Before archeologists can meaningfully encounter the archeological record, they must understand the important transformations that have moved the objects, features, and residues from their behavioral interactions and deposited them into the sites we investigate today. Archeological sites are formed through transformations that include deposition, reclamation, and disturbance.
Cultural deposition processes are the main factor in archeological site formation. A cultural deposition transforms materials from a systematic context—that is, used by people in a behavioral system—to an archeological context. For example, when a dish is broken and discarded on a trash heap, it has ceased to function in a behavioral system and becomes incorporated in its new archeological context (Thomas 1998:264).
Reclamation processes transfer materials from the archeological context back into the systematic context. Examples include the reuse of scavenged artifacts such as bricks from an abandoned structure or a discarded projectile point being found and reused, and archeological excavation itself (Thomas 1998:265).
Disturbance processes transform materials within the archeological and systematic contexts. Disturbance changes the contexts of materials within the site itself, moving and mixing materials from and between strata. Examples of disturbance are farming, heavy construction, rodent burrowing, and natural forces such as floods.
Try it yourself
Watch a movie to learn about the process of stratification, from the University of California at Santa Barbara.