To follow up on my previous post, I was somewhat taken aback by this:
They call each layer of a different type of dirt a “context“. (Yes, they’ll know what you mean when you say layer, but you get bonus points for saying “context”.) Don’t worry if you can’t see any difference between the different contexts – many of the undergraduates can’t see any difference, either – a lot of it has to do with consistency of the dirt and touching it. Good questions to ask are “How old is this context you’re in?” or “How long have you been digging in this context?” or “How many contexts have you pulled out of this trench?”
Really? Each layer is a context? I have never seen “context” used to describe what are essentially analytical units. I can understand how sites have multiple contexts, but this is something different. Even in multiple component sites, the contexts are interpretive frameworks, not units of analysis.
I mentioned this on Twitter and briefly discussed with with @JustinRoby and @stekosteko. There were a lot of good comments that helped me think this through, but it was decided that this is too complex a topic to discuss fully on Twitter.
And so, dear readers, I’m putting this up on the blog. Who uses context in this way, and why?
As an aside, I’ve come to realize that CRM archaeologists dealing with pre-contact sites in North America tend to flatten palimpsests to a single context, thus describing the site in synchronic terms. So, how do we correct this in our interpretations? Does it even matter?