What is Stratigraphy?; The Terracotta Army; Marco Gonzalez Mayan Site, Belize.

What is Stratigraphy?

Stratigraphy helps archaeologists date what they find. It is a formation process that happens over time. Things get covered up and when they do, different layers are formed in the process.

By studying these different layers, and artefacts that are found in the same layers, archaeologists can date what they find – most of the time.

The lower down an artefact is, the older it is, because it has been covered up over time.

Stratigraphy ©Sue Carter 2014
©Sue Carter 2014

The younger artefacts are higher up in the stratigraphy because they are the last ones to be covered up. But in real life stratigraphy is not in neat straight lines – it can look like the following diagram, so you have to be really careful when excavating so you do not accidentally go through an older phase!

How Stratigraphy Looks in Real Life! ©Sue Carter 2014
How Stratigraphy Looks in Real Life!
©Sue Carter 2014

It can get even more complicated when pits have been dug, as they dig through earlier layers and put the soil taken out onto the younger deposits. Imagine throwing your rubbish out in the bin. The older rubbish is at the bottom. If you suddenly realize that earlier in the week you threw away your homework, you would go rummaging in the bin to find it, and all the rubbish would become mixed up. This can happen at archaeological sites where pits have been dug for rubbish or to hold posts. Animals can also spoil the stratigraphy when the burrow down through the earth.

When an older artefact is found with a younger one then it lets archaeologists know that there may have been some disturbance in the area and this creates more work, in finding out how or when this may have happened.

Stratigraphy can become very complicated but with experience you get better at it. All it takes is practice and knowledge!!

Archaeology Wow!! –  The Terracotta Army

The Terracotta Army, also known as The Terracotta Warriors and Horses, and the Spirit City, date from 210-209 BC and were discovered by farmers on 29 March, 1974, at Shaanxi Province, when they were digging a well.

The burial mound is beleived to be that of the First Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang.

Terracotta Army ©Wiki Commons
Terracotta Army
©Wiki Commons

Upon archaeological investigations a burial mound measuring 1,115 square meters was uncovered at the site. Following the first discovery of a few terracotta warriors, 7,500 – 8,000 warriors, 130 chariots, 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, all made of terracotta have been uncovered, as well as a further 87 sets of armour and 43 stone helmets. Weaponry found includes swords, spears, battle-axes, shields, crossbows and arrowheads.

Chariot and Horses ©Wiki Commons
Chariot and Horses
©Wiki Commons

Next to the main area of the warriors, archaeologists have also uncovered terracotta musicians, acrobats and strongmen.

The terracotta army are beleived to have been made in workshops in different pieces, which were then fitted together at the site. The warriors are of different heights, had different styles of uniform as well as different hair styles.

Eight face types have been identified and each warrior had a different expression. When completed, they were all painted with bright colours.

Close up of Warriors ©Wiki Commons
Close up of Warriors
©Wiki Commons

The site is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is visited by hundreds of thousands of people each year. More warriors are being uncovered each year, so the full extent of the site has yet to be uncovered.


Archaeological Site Guide – Marco Gonzalez Mayan Site, Belize

Marco Gonzalez is a Mayan site located near San Pedro in Belize. It was first mentioned in 1984 by Dr Elizabeth Graham and Dr David Pendergast when their guide, who the site is named after, took them to a place known to the locals as being very old.

Four levels of stair risers form front of Str.12. Most formal of site mounds. ©Marcogonzalezsite.com
Four levels of stair risers form front of Str.12. Most formal of site mounds.

The site measures 185 x 355 meters and lies below sea level. It consists of 49 walls and structures, of which there were plazas at the northern end. The buildings all had low platforms ranging from 30 cm to 4.2 meters, however there are no pyramids which are typical at other Mayan sites.

The buildings were constructed of Pleistocene limestone, and shells, and they had plastered floors. Finds from the site include a large amount of pottery, conch shells, human bones and stone tools. Several burial mounds have been uncovered with contents that have been disturbed.

Structure 13 forms the east side of Plaza 1. This could have been the gathering spot for arrivals. ©Marcogonzalezsite.com
Structure 13 forms the east side of Plaza 1. This could have been the gathering spot for arrivals.

The site dates from the Preclassic Mayan period (2,000 BC – AD 250), and was inhabited until around Ad 1400. It is beleived to have been abandoned due to rising sea levels.

Tours are available to the site which is now surrounded by mangroves.


      • Marco Gonzalez Mayan Site http://www.marcogonzalezmayasite.com
      • Guderian. T. H. 2007. Ancient Maya Traders of Ambergris Caye. Alabama: University of Alabama Press.
      • Masson. M. A., & Freidel. D. A. 2002. Ancient Maya Political Economies. New York: Rowman Altamira Press

Great Books to Read…….

Great Web Pages to Look At…….

 Activity –  

2 Comments on “What is Stratigraphy?; The Terracotta Army; Marco Gonzalez Mayan Site, Belize.

  1. Pingback: What is an Open Area Excavation? – Basse Yutz Bronze Wine Flagons, Moselle, France – Hacilar, Turkey | The Young Archaeologist

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