Criteria and definitions

November 2009 - G. Buccellati
The home for this page is Mozan Sitewide
Constituents: elements, complexes, units
Criteria for elements
Criteria for sub-elements
Criteria for complexes
Criteria for units
   Relatioship of volume and space
   Circulation and access
   Assembly and activity
   Types of units
   Function and perception
The archaeological context

Constituents: elements, complexes, units

     The constituents of the built environment may occur either singly (elements) or in clusters (complexes). To the extent that either is typologically distinctive, it may be considerd a unit.
     Elements are the basic building blocks of the built environment (a wall, a pile of bricks). They may exist in isolation within the archaeological context (a single wall instead of a room), or they may be preserved as part of a larger whole, the complex (a wall within a room). Sequential moments may be identified for individual elements (the original construction of a wall and its subsequent rebuilding). When preserved as part of a larger whole, they can be defined as structural components of that whole.
     A sub-element is a constructional component of an element. As such. it is essentially limited to an architectural context.
     Complexes are ordered clusters of elements (a room, an open square). They are identified on the basis of the structural integrity of the whole and the way in which they define the use of space within them.
     Units are elements or complexes that can be typologically differentiated on the basis of how the use of space actually took place in relationship to them and, to a more limited extent, on the basis of function as well.
     It is important to remember that we are dealing with archaeological data, which are by definition outside the knowledge base of a living tradition. Hence the attribution of specific characteristics to any given entity is particularly problematic. In any case, such attribution must be based on criteria clearly spelled out on the basis of the evidence in the ground, thus remaining often more generic than we would wish. We must also deal not only with identifiable wholes, but also with fragments of these wholes (isolated elements) and more often than not with their collapse.
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Criteria for elements

     The structural criteria for identifying elements are limited to the physical coherence of their parts seen as constituting a single entity. A wall as an ordered pile of bricks, just as much as an unordered pile of bricks, are identifiable on the basis of their physical integrity and may thus be considered as elements – even when the archaeological conditions no longer allow us to see the larger whole to which they belong (the complex).
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Criteria for sub-elements

     Within an element defined as a coherent structural emsemble, we may distinguish sub-elements, which are of two types.
     The first relates to the constructional materials. A single stone is the sub-element of a wall, and may be described as a sub-element because of the way it relates to the element, e.g. the nature of the faces (the one that shows, the ones that are towards the inside of the wall, the two that are at the top and the bottom).
     The second relates to the constructional organization. Portions of the element are seen as constituting an autonomous coherent whole within the larger coherent whole of the element. Thus walls in the service wing of the AP palace consist of three major sub-elements understood as constructional moments: the substructure in stone, a middle portion consisting of red bricks, and a top portion consisting of grey bricks.
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Criteria for complexes

     A complex is an array of elements defined by the structural coherence of its parts. The foundations of four walls joined at their corners constitute a complex. Typically, the factors defining a complex are sufficient to allow it to be qualified as a unit. Thus a space bounded by four walls, with one or more doorways and a roof, can be qualified as a room.
     In the analytical portion of the Urkesh Global Reoord there is a category called "aggregate." This is a generic category, and to the extent that a complex of the built environment cannot be further defined as a unit, it is in effect an aggregate.
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Criteria for units

     The structural criteria for identifying units within an archaeological context are more intricate, and may be described in function of the way in which the spaces are seen to favor or constrain the movement of persons within them. The major factors are as follows.
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     Relationship of volume and space

     Architectural volumes act as frames for spaces that are bound in given configurations. Thus a room is assumed to have bee roofed even if no trace of the roof is found, and it differs to that extent from a courtyard, an iwan is a covered space enclosed only on three sides, with one wide side open to a courtyard, and so on.
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     Circulation and access

     Circulation refers to channeled patterns of movement for human beings and occasionally for animals. Thus, doorways and pathways define the walking trajectories.
     Access refers to the targeted channeling of such movement, whereby circulation is directed towards one or more focal points. A bread oven is so placed as to be accessible from a given direction.
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     Assembly and activity

     Assembly refers to the suitability of a space for the gathering of individuals. Thus, a corridor is only defined by circulation, a hall by the contiguous presence of a larger group.
     Activity refers to what is presumed to have taken place within a given space. Even if typologically undetermined, the presence of a coherent ensemble of installations and/or items suggests the specific activities were taking place.
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     Types of units

     Using circulation/access and assembly/activity as criteria, we may distinguish five types of units.
  1. Structures are spaces bounded by architectural volumes within which it is possible to ascertain circulation/access, assembly and, ideally, activity as well.
  2. Use areas are spaces that are not, or are only partly, delimited by architectural volumes, but which define patterns of circulation and access.
  3. Installations are stationary features that are the target of circulation within a structure or a use area.
  4. Loose materials: quantitywise, most of what is excavated consists of accumulations and fills. They are often bounded by pre-existing structures or installations, and it is only in this regard that they can described in terms of circulation/access or assembly/activity. In the case of accumulations, the degree of compaction is generally the result of extensive circulation and activity.
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     Function and perception

     Ideally, we want to identify the function which any given unit served, and the perception it generated within the living use of the built environment. Such determinations depend not only on the use of space, but especially on the associated presence of identifiable installations and/or items that relate to the service these spaces provided.
     The difference from the more generic concept of activity is in whether or not one can identify the specific nature of these installations and/or items.
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The archaeological context

     In an archaeological context it may be difficult to define such an organic entity, because of uncertainties as to relative dating, partial exposure during the excavations, and substantial ancient damages to the integrity of the system.
     In Mozan we have an uncommon opportunity in this respect, for we have a remarkable coherence in each of the three points just raised.
     (1) The stratigraphic sequence is well understood over the entire span of the monumental urban complex (at least 200 m. wide), and there is a high incidence of contemporaneity of the various sectors, even when the function of some changes.
     (2) The exposure is quite substantial. And
     (3) no damage at all has occurred in the Temple complex.
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