Exploring Stratigraphy and the Law of Superposition at Fort Louis
Math, models and multidimensionality were the words that flitted in and out of Colleen Tamblyn’s talk on the 24th August at St. Luke’s, a former church now largely a community centre. Her talk, entitled “Archaeological Ups and Downs: Exploring Stratigraphy and the Law of Superposition at Fort Louis” focussed on introducing the preliminary ideas and concepts that will serve as the foundation for her dissertation.
As Colleen explained, the crux of the story is how, when, and why something was used, as well as how, when, and why it was discarded. Over the centuries, Placentia has witnessed the comings and goings of countless groups. The discard patterns that have developed over this time have, in turn, formed depositional layers with the oldest at the bottom and the most modern at the top. Each layer is distinguished by a complexity of colour, texture, and also smell, something Colleen added is another distinctive quality some may miss.
Archaeology is, by its nature, a destructive undertaking and science. Hence, archaeologists are prolific note-takers. The abundance of notes and different typologies are then used to form what is known as a Harris Matrix, after the man who first conceptualised the idea, Dr. Edward Harris.
The Harris Matrix is based on what archaeologists know as the Law of Superposition—the layers at the bottom are the oldest while those at the top are the newest, provided they are undisturbed. The Harris Matrix, Colleen notes, “reflects the relative position and stratigraphic contacts of observable stratigraphic units, or contexts.” It’s a standardised framework, she says, for additional research which allows one to use the layers to determine when something was occurring.
Offering a vertical timeline based on the excavated record, the Harris Matrix means one can assign years to artefacts without relying on historical records. After all, with the Harris Matrix, the archaeologist knows where certain ceramics or other items are located in relation to others. So, it’s either older or younger dependent on where an item is located in the Harris Matrix.
Remember Colleen’s 5 fs? Form, From, Function, Fragility, and Faïence. These will come in handy when assigning points to specific ceramic pieces. Afterwards, this will go on to pave the way for the construction of two dimensional, three dimensional, and multidimensional models.
Using the Harris Matrix, Colleen can compare specific types of ceramics across the entire site in two dimensions by using the 5 Fs. The end result will permit her to create stacked bar graphs that can also allow inter-event comparison.
In three dimensions, it’ll be possible to have the Harris Matrix down one side with the site map across the top to create a form of diorama. This will allow an archaeologist to get an overall sense of how items are being used and then discarded.
For a multi-dimensional model, interpretation lies between data points, yielding something referred to as meta-data or data about data. Using mathematics, it will be possible to prove the existence of wealth patterns that Colleen can see, but she can’t yet prove. By assigning points of value to each of the 5 Fs and similarly assigning points of value to the ceramic pieces, she can create meta-data. The meta-data, in turn, can shed light on methods of wealth that Colleen could only previously indicate with images.
Ultimately, the idea will be to understand how the three models express data and how this also varies amongst them. There is a considerable amount of work left to do in order to hone the techniques Colleen will be using, but thus far, she is confident they hold much promise for her work.
In her conclusion, Colleen confirmed what many sought to hear. As she notes, Placentia, in her words “is so culturally dense. There is so much here that I am amazed that nothing’s been done except put it in a box. So there will be people who come after. I am the first of many.” Her words were no doubt music to the ears of everyone listening.