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GlossaryShare

Absolute dating – A collective term for techniques that assign specific dates or date ranges, in calendar years, to artifacts and other archaeological finds. Dates can be determined in a variety of ways—for example, by correlation with historically documented events or objects, through tree-ring dating, or by radiocarbon dating.

Altar – An elevated place or structure before which religious ceremonies may be enacted or on which sacrifices may be offered.

Ancient – Relating to times long past, especially those of the historical period before the fall of the Western Roman Empire (476 CE).

Archaeology – The systematic recovery and examination of material evidence, such as graves, buildings, tools, and pottery, remaining from past human life and culture.

Artifact – An object made or modified by human beings.

Babylonian Talmud – A compilation of discussions on Jewish law and practice carried out in the rabbinical academies of Babylonia between the 3rd and 6th centuries CE. Edited around the early 6th century, the Babylonian Talmud remains a fundamental determinant of Jewish law and is widely studied today. It is essentially an interpretation and expansion of an earlier code of Jewish law, known as the Mishnah, which was edited in the early 3rd century.

Before the Common Era (BCE) – BCE is equivalent to BC ("Before Christ") but is preferred in many non-Christian contexts because it does not carry a religious meaning.

Byzantine Period -

Common Era (CE) – CE is equivalent to AD (Anno Domini, "In the year of our Lord") but is preferred in many non-Christian contexts because it does not carry a religious meaning.

Conservation – The process of preserving, repairing, cleaning, and restoring artifacts.

Culture – The arts, beliefs, institutions, and other products of human work and thought expressed in a particular community or by a particular group.

Data – Facts or figures that an archaeologist uses to formulate conclusions.

Dead Sea Scrolls – A collection of more than 900 manuscripts discovered in caves near the Dead Sea between 1947 and 1956. The documents, which were written in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic between the 3rd century BCE and the 1st century CE, comprise many different types, including the oldest known biblical texts.

Diaspora – The body of Jews or Jewish communities settled outside Palestine or modern Israel.

Ecofact – A naturally produced object found on an archaeological site, such as seeds, animal bones, and soil, that provides information about past environments.

Excavation – The process of digging out or uncovering something.

Feature – An element of an archaeological site that (unlike an artifact) cannot be moved, such as a wall, post hole, fire pit, or floor.

Fertile Crescent – A historical region in the Middle East that is watered by the Nile, Jordan, Euphrates and Tigris rivers. While having an impressive record of past human activity, it is most famous for its sites related to the origins of agriculture. It covers some 400 to 500 square kilometers, an area that corresponds to present-day Egypt, Israel, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and Lebanon and parts of Jordan, Syria, Iraq, southeastern Turkey, and southwestern Iran.

Grid – In an archaeological context, a grid is a series of large squares superimposed on a site by an archaeologist to organize an excavation.

Historian – A writer and recorder of history.

Hypothesis (pl. hypotheses) – An educated guess; in an archaeological context, a hypothesis is an inference that an archaeologist tries to confirm or disprove through further evidence.

Inference – The act or process of deriving a conclusion from facts or premises.

In situ – Archaeological remains found in situ are found in almost the exact same position as they were originally left.

Lamelekh – A Hebrew inscription found on ancient seals that means "belonging to the king."

Land of Israel – The area encompassed by the modern State of Israel has had many names over the centuries—including Judah, Judea, Palestine, and Israel—but for the sake of clarity is, throughout this website, referred to as the “land of Israel.”

Middle East –

Mishnah – A compilation of rabbinic interpretations of Jewish law.

Mosaic – A picture or design made by fitting together pieces of colored glass, stone, or tile.

Pagan – A person or community that follows a polytheistic religion, such as the ancient Romans or Greeks.

Paleontologist – A scientist who studies life forms from prehistoric and geologic periods, mainly by examining fossils.

Palestinian Talmud – A compilation of discussions on Jewish law and practice from the rabbinical academies of the land of Israel. Edited in the 4th century CE, the Palestinian Talmud is less commonly studied than the Babylonian version, which was finalized more than a hundred years later.

Papyrus – A reed found in the Mediterranean region, especially Egypt, that was used to make a kind of paper. It is also the name of the paper and the documents written on it.

Potsherd – A fragment of pottery. Also called a "shard" or "sherd."

Pottery – Pots, bowls, or dishes that are made of clay and hardened by heat.

Relative dating – A general method of dating objects and layers of occupation in relation to other artifacts and strata. For example, archaeologists can often organize the layers or objects at a site in order from oldest to most recent according to the depth at which they are buried.

Sacrifice – The act of offering something to a deity in appeasement or homage, especially the ritual slaughter of an animal.

Screen – A sieve used to separate artifacts and ecofacts from fine particles, such as sand or gravel.

Seal – A signet or die with a raised or incised emblem used to stamp an impression on a soft substance, such as wax, lead, or clay.

Seriation – A relative- dating technique based on the chronological ordering of a group of artifacts or assemblages, where the most similar are placed adjacent to each other in the series.

Shekel – The standard unit of weight in ancient Israel, equal to about a quarter of an ounce..

Site – A place where human activity occurred and material remains were left behind. Archaeologists excavate sites to learn about the people who lived there.

Strata – Horizontal layers of earth that show different time periods.

Stratigraphysee strata

Survey – The systematic examination of the ground surface for the purpose of locating archaeological sites.

Synagogue – A Jewish house of prayer.

Tel – A large mound or hill that contains the layered remains of ancient occupations.

Terrace farming – Farming on earthen terraces created on hillsides. These terraces resemble giant steps down the slope.

Torah – Torah literally means "teaching," but the word usually refers to the first five books of the Bible or a hand-written scroll containing the Hebrew text of those books.

Trowel – A tool with a pointed end used for loosening soil by scraping.


Note: Many of these definitions are drawn from the Riverside Webster’s II New College Dictionary (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1995).