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A Historical Sketch on the Concepts of Archaeological Association, Context, and Provenience

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Abstract

The archaeological concepts of association, context, and provenience have been known by archaeologists since the early nineteenth century, but the terms have not been used. Provenience is empirical and absolute; an association and a context are inferential and relative. These fundamental concepts have seldom been the subject of thoughtful discussion except when a particular association or context has implications far beyond the particular instance under study, such as in the context of considerations of claims for a pre-Clovis occupation of North America. Introductory archaeology textbooks published over the past 100 years do not always introduce the terms and sometimes fail to define them. Future discussion of the concepts should include several examples of what qualifies as evidence of an association or context, how the inference of an association or context was derived, and descriptions of analytical techniques used to determine if an inferred temporal association is valid.

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Acknowledgments

Thanks to R. L. Bettinger, C. M. Darwent, G. T. Jones, R. L. Kelly, D. J. Meltzer, L. Nagaoka, and S. Wolverton for taking the introductory textbook survey. Three anonymous reviewers provided thoughtful suggestions on how to improve the discussion.

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Lyman, R.L. A Historical Sketch on the Concepts of Archaeological Association, Context, and Provenience. J Archaeol Method Theory 19, 207–240 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10816-011-9107-2

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Keywords

  • Association
  • Concept
  • Context
  • Provenience
  • Terminology
  • Textbook