Amongst archaeologists there is a paradigm known as Culture-History. In this paradigm the archaeologists believe that any given aspect of culture was developed in one place and was spread out and taught to others. This was the only way they could explain how projectile points and tool kits that appeared to be identical could appear in excavation sites located far from one another. It also explains how they could believe the Egyptians somehow came into contact with the indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica and taught them about pyramid building.

Their method of examining artifacts of a culture is to collect the artifacts, arrange them in some sort of order and then make inferences about that artifact and the culture behind it based on your observations. Seriation was developed by these Culture-Historians as part of the arrangement process of their paradigm. The basic principle behind seriation is that things change with time. There are two primary forms of seriation used in archaeological examinations.

Stylistic seriation is the process of putting artifacts of the same type in order from oldest to newest. This would be like lining up telephones from the first telephone to the newest hand-held cellular. It shows the progression in style and form, and suggests things about the people that used them.

Frequency seriation is a quantitative arrangement of artifacts. This form shows a record of which artifacts were popular at a certain time and which were fading out of popularity. This is generally used when archaeologists are digging through strata, they will record the frequency of artifacts in each layer and the end result will be a chart that can both show popularity and series within similar artifacts but can also be used as a relative dating technique.


References:
All knowledge of seriation came from lecture at the Univeristy of Maryland College Park in the course Introduction to Archaeology taught by Matthew Palus.

Se`ri*a"tion (?), n. Chem.

Arrangement or position in a series.

 

© Webster 1913.

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