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Definition seriation dating

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Archaeological Perspectives on Three Cemeteries of Old New York Even without excavation, cemeteries and especially the gravestones they contain provide an unusual laboratory for the archaeologist.Along with the predictable information found on them--a name, a date, and possibly an epitaph--archaeologists have been able to reach beyond the stones themselves.

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Decorations on the tombstones--and the transition from the motif of the death's-head to the cherub to urn-and-willow designs--followed the lenticular pattern previously assumed for seriation dating.There is a general archaeological assumption that different systems of belief will generate different artifact forms.It is also assumed that these forms will change through time.This study provided data similar to that produced by Deetz and Dethlefsen and other archaeological studies of gravestones.The New York cemeteries, however, include one additional and important class of information.Particular artifact types can be used to identify individual membership in subgroups defined on the basis of sex, age, religion, and so on.

In attempts to test these archaeological assumptions, to study the ways in which artifacts may vary through time, and to place these variations in a cultural perspective, historical archaeologists James Deetz and Edwin Dethlefsen pioneered the archaeological study of Early American gravestones during the 1960s.

But cultures are defined in terms of languages and shared systems of belief--elements not available for direct archaeological observation.

Archaeology's inevitable focus on artifacts and other physical remains thus places it one step away from the actual subject of its concern, and forces it to bridge somehow the gap between the material manifestations and their cultural source.

Grave markers are essentially "documents in stone," and for the archaeologist these relics of Early America have proven fertile ground for an analysis of how artifacts may have changed over time.

Archaeology's reliance on artifacts and the material manifestations of culture give it a unique and long-term perspective not available to other disciplines that rely solely on living informants or written historical sources.

The same reliance on "the material" that provides archaeology with its strength, however, also accounts for archaeology's greatest weakness.