A feature in archaeology, specifically excavation, is a collection of one or more contexts representing some human non-portable activity. Features are an indication that the area in which it was found has been interfered with in the past, usually by humans.
Features are categorized by the time period, as either historic or prehistoric. Prehistoric archaeology refers to the time in history before human life was recorded or documented, while historic archaeology refers to the time period where there was a documented human past.
In relation to site stratigraphy, features generally have a vertical characteristic, such as pits, walls, or ditches. On the contrary, elements that have horizontal characteristic, such as a layer, dump, or surface, is not a feature. General horizontal elements are part of the stratigraphic sequence.
Features tend to have an intrusive characteristic or associated cuts. This is not definitive as surfaces can be referred to as features of a building and free standing structures with no construction cut can still be features. Middens (dump deposits) are also referred to as features due to their discrete boundaries. This is seen in comparison to leveling dumps, which stretch out over a substantial portion of a site. The concept of a feature is, to a certain degree, fuzzy, as it will change depending on the scale of excavation.
Features specific to certain architecture types or eras such as trilithon for the purposes of this article are not considered generic. Generic features are feature types that can come from a broad section in time of the archaeological record if not all of it. Generic types can include:
- Post holes
- Stake holes
- Construction cuts
- Robber trenches
- Stairs and steps
- Fire pits
- Archaeological association
- Archaeological context
- Archaeological field survey
- Archaeological plan
- Archaeological section
- Cut (archaeology)
- Fill (archaeology)
- Harris matrix
- Relationship (archaeology)
- Single context recording
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