What Is A Context?; The Wonders of Sanxingdui; L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, Canada.

What Is A Context?

Context is a word used often by archaeologists. It is the material that they excavate out of the ground, that is – the deposits and layers that they work through. Any layer that represents a past event or a number of events together, is a context.

Context Example ©Wiki Commons
Context Example
©Wiki Commons

Even the smallest stratigraphic unit is a context and  they can be positive or negative.

Positive – deposit over time, an accumulation

Negative – a cut, like a pit, or the removal of material

Contexts are termed either positive or negative when describing its state and this is very important when looking at artefacts which have been uncovered in a certain context. It helps in determining its position in time and space and the artefacts association with other finds around it, giving clues as to what may have happened in the past.

Every context is given a unique identifying number and all artefacts uncovered within it will also be given their own number as well as the context number it was uncovered in. This helps in unravelling the history of a site by looking at the finds, in their contexts, and the other finds and contexts surrounding it – like a snapshot of history!

This system gives value to where artefacts are found. If someone just picks something out of the ground it loses its context – that is, the unique position it was in has been lost and a true history of the artefact cannot then be determined as it has been removed from where it was. This is why it is important never to remove anything when you find it, but to let a professional know of your find and let them assess it first.


Archaeology Wow!! – ; The Wonders of Sanxingdui

The wonders of Sanxingdui refer to a large amount of artefacts uncovered at Sanxingdui in China.

In 1929 some rare and unusual artefacts were uncovered, by a farmer, which belonged to an unknown Chinese culture. Later, in 1986, construction workers uncovered some more items similar to the previous ones. They included more than 200 weapons, jade items, and animal bones, over 60 elephant tusks, monumental bronzes and a lifesize replica of a Chinese nobleman.

Sanxingdui Masks ©Wiki Commons
Sanxingdui Masks
©Wiki Commons

The construction workers also uncovered the remain of a city wall with a circumference of 12 km! All dating back to 1,200 BC.

Jade Mask ©Wiki Commons
Jade Mask
©Wiki Commons

Archaeologists have determined that the artefacts were deliberately destroyed and buried and that they had once been part of a very sophisticated culture of which no written record remains.

Sanxingdui Bronze ©Wiki Commons
Sanxingdui Bronze
©Wiki Commons

This amazing discovery has rewritten part of Chinese history and is sometimes called the 9th Wonder of the World!


  • http://www.bowers.org/index.php/exhibitions/upcoming-exhibitions/190-china-s-lost-civilization-the-mystery-of-sanxingdui
  • http://www.china.org.cn/e-sanxingdui
  • Sullivan. M. 1999. The Arts of China. California: University of California Press.
  • Sanxingdui Masks – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASanxingduimasks.jpg
  • Jade Mask – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A%E7%8E%89_%E9%9D%A2%E5%85%B7_%E4%B8%89%E6%98%9F%E5%A0%86_%E7%8E%89%E8%80%8C%E5%AF%8C_236.jpg
  • Sanxingdui Bronze – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A%E7%8D%B8%E9%A6%96%E6%96%A7%E9%8B%A4%E5%99%A8_%E4%B8%89%E6%98%9F%E5%A0%86_%E7%8E%89%E8%80%8C%E5%AF%8C_581.jpg


Archaeological Site Guide – L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, Canada.

L’Anse Aux Meadows is a very unique archaeological site. It was discovered in 1960 by the Norwegian explorer Helge Ingstad.

Model of L'Anse Aux Meadows ©Wiki Commons
Model of L’Anse Aux Meadows
©Wiki Commons

Ingstad uncovered the remains of a Norse village that had Viking connections and gives definite proof that there was pre-Columbian trans Atlantic contact between Europe and the Americas! That is, 500 years before Christopher Columbus!

Excavations took place between 1961 – 1968 and revealed 8 complete timber-framed turf houses and part of a 9th one. Excavations also took place between 1973 – 1976 by Parks Canada and the remains were reburied to protect and preserve them.

Large Building ©Wiki Commons
Large Building
©Wiki Commons

The history of the site goes back 5,000 years to prehistoric times but the Viking connections are very important as the site is beleived to be that of Vinland, mentioned in the 11th century Viking Sagas, and also thought to be the exploration base of Leif Ericson (c.970 – c.1020), the famous Viking explorer.

The site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and very important in Viking history.


  • Ingstad. H., & Ingstad. A. S. 2000. The Viking Discovery of America: The Excavation of a Norse Settlement in L’Anse Aux Meadows, Newfoundland. St John’s, NL, Canada: Breakwater Books.
  • Cordell. L. S., Lightfoot. K., McManamon. F., & Milner. G. 2008. Archaeology in America: An Encyclopaedia (4 volumes). Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.
  • Model of L’Anse Aux Meadows – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:L%27AnseAuxMeadowsModel.jpg#mediaviewer/File:L%27AnseAuxMeadowsModel.jpg
  • Large Building – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:LanseAuxMeadows_LargeBuilding.JPG#mediaviewer/File:LanseAuxMeadows_LargeBuilding.JPG

Great Books to Read…….

Great Web Pages to Look At…….

Activity –  

3 Comments on “What Is A Context?; The Wonders of Sanxingdui; L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, Canada.

  1. You really make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this topic
    to be really something that I think I would never understand.
    It seems too complex and extremely broad for me. I’m looking forward for your next
    post, I’ll try to get the hang of it!

  2. Pingback: Around the Archaeology Blogosphere Digest #1 | Doug's Archaeology

  3. Pingback: What Do You Do When You Find Something? – Rapa Nui – Mohenjo-Daro | The Young Archaeologist

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