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Fall-off Patterning and the Informal/Inherent Partitioning of Space

The term ‘fall-off’ is used to identify a shift from relatively high to relatively low phosphate content.  ‘Fall-off’ patterning can be a function of a decrease in the dispersal of organic material through human movement, or of a conscious effort to contain organic debris.  

Not all boundaries on archaeological sites are marked by constructed features.  These boundaries can indicate where organic debris was consciously retained in one area to keep nearby areas clear of debris through sweeping and other clearing activities, but no constructed feature was present to aid maintenance of the boundary.  Informal/inherent boundaries can also be a product of the transition from areas with higher levels of human activity to areas with lower levels of human activity.  Generally, this patterning will be narrow in character in areas where this shift in use-of-space is actively maintained and broad in character in areas where in resulted from the inherent decrease of human activity as a result of distance from the areas of high activity. 


Pattern Maps and Interpretations

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Fall-off patterning and the informal/inherent partitioning of space at French Azilum

Phosphate concentrations in this area reach levels indicative of human activity but do not suggest intensive use, which would have produced a great deal of organic debris.  The low phosphate levels present along the edge of the study area suggests a fall-off in the intensity of human activity.  The boundary between phosphate concentrations of Level 2 and Level 3 is not defined enough to suggest the presence of a physical, structural boundary.  It is more likely that this patterning is indicative of a gradual lessening of human movement, or fall-off, surrounding areas of more intensive human activity.

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Fall-off patterning between different activity areas at French Azilum

The linear ‘fall-off’ formation of phosphate patterning in this area suggests a shift in modes of land-use and intensity of human activity.  The close proximity of relatively high and relatively low levels of phosphate content in this formation suggests this was a physical boundary.  It is possible that it was not a complete wall, but similar to a small natural or man-made partition because the pattern does not continue along the entire base-level boundary.  It is most likely this boundary was not marked by the presence of a feature.  The area would have had to be fastidiously maintained to stop the spread of phosphate-rich material into the ‘clean’ or ‘cleared’ area.


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Fall-off patterning at the site boundary at French Azilum

This area shows a general lessening of habitual use through a decrease of base-level phosphate content.  It is likely that the decreased phosphate content in this area is a function of a lack of intensive use of the area, rather than a clearing of the area.  This may signify a shift to ‘off-site’ areas not associated with use of the structures identified at French Azilum.

Johanna Ullrich, Ph.D.