Feature (archaeology)

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A photographer taking a record shot of a horse burial in a Roman ditch re-cut. A re-cut is a type of feature.

A feature in archaeology, specifically excavation, is a collection of one or more contexts representing some human non-portable activity.[1] Features are an indication that the area in which it was found has been interfered with in the past, usually by humans.[2]

Features are distinguished from artifacts in that they cannot be separated from their location without changing their form. Artifacts are portable, while features are non-portable.[3]

Features and artifacts differ from ecofacts. Ecofacts are natural remains, such as plants and animals.[4]


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.[5]

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.


A saxon pit, another type of feature
A lynchet is a type of archeological feature. They are terraces formed on the side of a hill.

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:

  1. Cuts
  2. Re-cuts
  3. Pits
  4. Post holes
  5. Stake holes
  6. Construction cuts
  7. Robber trenches
  8. Walls
  9. Foundations
  10. Ditches
  11. Drains
  12. Wells
  13. Cisterns
  14. Hearths
  15. Stairs and steps
  16. Enclosures
  17. Lynchets
  18. Graves
  19. Burials
  20. Middens
  21. Pit-houses
  22. Fire pits

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Emery, Katy Meyers (2011-10-04). "Archaeology 101: Artifact versus Feature". MSU Campus Archaeology Program. Retrieved 2020-07-21.
  2. ^ "Archaeological Process". www.alexandriava.gov. Retrieved 2020-07-21.
  3. ^ Jones, James (November 1993). "ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES" (PDF). Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  4. ^ "What is Archaeology?". Society for American Archaeology. Retrieved 2020-07-21.
  5. ^ "What is Archaeology?". archaeology.elpasotexas.gov. Retrieved 2020-07-21.
  • The MoLAS archaeological site manual MoLAS, London 1994. ISBN 0-904818-40-3. Rb 128pp. bl/w