An assemblage is an archaeological term meaning a group of different artifacts found in association with one another, that is, in the same context. As defined by one of the standard contemporary archaeological textbooks (Renfrew and Bahn), an assemblage is a "group of artifacts recurring together at a particular time and place, and representing the sum of human activities."
As defined in the archaeology text Linking to the Past (Feder), "One can speak of the artifact assemblage for a particular site and by that mean all the artifacts. One can also refer to a specific type of artifact. For example, one can refer to the stone tool assemblage or ceramic assemblage, that is, the array of stone tools or ceramic objects found at a site, in a region, or dating to a particular time period."
Assemblages of sites being destroyed was an issue in early archaeology. Archaeologists, being funded by rich donors or governments, would remove artifacts from their sites and bring them back to the archaeologist's country. By removing the artifact from the site the assemblage was destroyed because the artifact was being taken out of its context. Some pieces would even become parts of private collections, which would completely remove them from the public eye. If the artifact is looked at as a scientific component of its site it can be seen that the overall scientific understanding of the site would be compromised. As a whole, artifacts, or scientific components, can shed light on the behaviors of a particular place and time. An example of this is the tomb of Tutankhamen and the Egyptian government requiring that artifacts found within the tomb stay in Egypt. The government wanted each artifact to stay within the country, and therefore with its assemblage, instead of being removed and shown in museums or stored in private collections."
It was previously accepted that assemblages represent cultures when they are found within a limited time period and area, but it is not as accepted anymore. Archaeologists know that it is nearly impossible to distinguish cultures and ethnic differences based on assemblages alone. Assemblages can be used to identify cultures, but they are not the most reliable indicators by themselves. Where the content of the assemblages relates only to one product, they are more correctly termed an industry.
- Archaeological culture
- Archaeological field survey
- Artifact (archaeology)
- Chronological dating
- Seriation (archaeology)
- Small finds
- Renfrew & Bahn 2008: 578
- Feder 2008: 93
- Renfrew, Colin; and Paul Bahn (2008). Archaeology: Theories, Methods, and Practice (originally published ©1991, 5th updated ed.). London: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 978-0-500-28719-4. OCLC 441377624.
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