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Archaeolgical Terminology: Features, Fills and Cuts

Just to make sure we’re all on the same page when we’re learning, here are three very important terms to get familiar with when talking about an archaeological site:


A single, or a collection of contexts of human activity that can’t be removed from the ground without altering its form. Artefacts are movable man-made objects; make sure you can identify the difference. Features are generally vertical characteristic in the ground such as a pit, wall, post hole, burial pit, cistern, etc. Horizontal elements such as floors, are normally referred to as features. Features play a large role in the Stratigraphy of a site as features interrupt the horizontal layer.

Image: Feature with examples of fills and slumping


The materials that have been either deposited into a feature, or have accumulated over time. This happens after a feature has been formed and these fills can hold a lot of information. Fills can have their own stratigraphic information associated to them, providing a unique slice into the use of the cut or feature.

The primary fill is the regular debris that accumulates once a cut or feature is made. All other layers build up on top of this. Regular debris can also hint at the feature falling into disuse over time.

Slumping can occur with fills, which is a settling process of all that has built up within the cut or feature. Over time, the fill can consolidate, and as pressure builds up on each layer, it can essentially quasi-collapse on itself creating a dip in the earth.


When archaeological remains are removed from the ground in order to build something new, a cut is formed. Cuts can be a pit, ditch, etc. It is essentially another way for context to be removed from a site. This is called “negative context” as it can still tell us something about the site. You can also have a cut within a cut, indicating further reuse of an area.

Image: Feature with cuts and fills

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Looking to Find Out More?

Urban Archaeology Factsheet: Pits and Slumping

Past Perfect: Cut/Fills


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