Subject Headings from: The Art & Architecture Thesaurus (AAT)

ANSS Subject and Bibliographic Access Committee

Question/Answer on cataloging issuesNovember 2019

Question: What subject headings can we use from the Art & Architecture Thesaurus (AAT) for archaeological and anthropological works?

Submitted By: Tom Durkin, University of Wisconsin-Madison

The Art & Architecture Thesaurus (AAT) ( is a controlled vocabulary that is used to provide access points for researchers interested in material culture, art, art history, and architecture. Support for the AAT is provided by The J. Paul Getty Trust. AAT terms are used to provide subject access to cataloged physical materials, such as museum objects, however the AAT can be used more broadly. Because of the strong connection between archaeology, anthropology, and the study of material culture, AAT terms can be included in MARC records to enhance the discovery and use of library and archival materials including books. In most circumstances, the terms available from the LCSH will be sufficient for library cataloging, but knowledge of the AAT can potentially expand the possibilities for catalogers and cataloging. The ATT is a structured and faceted vocabulary and is divided into eight facets with associated hierarchical sets of terms. The outline below comes from the “About the AAT” page linked in the “For Further Reading” section.

  • ASSOCIATED CONCEPTS FACET. Hierarchy: Associated Concepts.
    • “Abstract concepts and phenomena that relate to the study and execution of a wide range of human thought and activity…”
  • PHYSICAL ATTRIBUTES FACET. Hierarchies: Attributes and Properties, Conditions and Effects, Design Elements, Color.
    • “The perceptible or measurable characteristics of materials and artifacts…”
  • STYLES AND PERIODS FACET. Hierarchy: Styles and Periods.
    • “Terms for stylistic groupings and distinct chronological periods…”
  • AGENTS FACET. Hierarchies: People, Organizations, Living Organisms.
    • “Designations of people, groups of people, and organizations identified by occupation or activity…”
  • ACTIVITIES FACET. Hierarchies: Disciplines, Functions, Events, Physical and Mental Activities, Processes and Techniques.
    • “Encompasses areas of endeavor, physical and mental actions, discrete occurrences, systematic sequences of actions, methods employed toward a certain end, and processes occurring in materials or objects.”
  • MATERIALS FACET. Hierarchy: Materials.
    • “Physical substances, naturally or synthetically derived.”
  • OBJECTS FACET. Hierarchies: Object Groupings and Systems, Object Genres, Components. Built Environment: Settlements and Landscapes, Built Complexes and Districts, Single Built Works, Open Spaces and Site Elements. Furnishings and Equipment: Furnishings, Costume, Tools and Equipment, Weapons and Ammunition, Measuring Devices, Containers, Sound Devices, Recreational Artifacts, Transportation Vehicles. Visual and Verbal Communication: Visual Works, Exchange Media, Information Forms.
    • “Discrete tangible or visible things that are inanimate and produced by human endeavor…”
  • BRAND NAMES FACET. Hierarchy: Brand Names.

How are AAT Terms Commonly Used in a MARC record?

AAT terms can be used in several MARC subject access fields, listed below. The purpose of this section is not to give a full demo or outline for how to catalog using AAT terms. A few examples are provided for clarity. In each example, the terminal subfield “ǂ2 aat” indicates that AAT terms are in use.

  • 654 – Subject Added Entry–Faceted Topical Terms . The MARC 654 field is the most straightforward option for adding a topical access point to a record for a book or video using AAT. In this example, the term describes the subject content of the material. The term “site protection” comes from the AAT Activities facet and the Functions hierarchy.

MARC Example: 654 1 ǂc k ǂa site protection. ǂ2 aat

  • 656 – Index Term—Occupation The MARC 656 field describes the occupation of the person(s) discused in the contents of the materials being described. The term “archaeologists” is from the AAT Agents facet and the People hierarchy.

MARC Example: 656 7 ǂa archaeologists. ǂ2 aat

Are there other MARC fields that can use AAT terms? Both the 655 field (Index Term–Genre/Form) and the 657 field (Index Term–Function) can contain AAT terms, but the function of those fields is to directly describe a physical object. In other words, the 655 tells us what the work is, not what the work is about. These fields could be useful for describing what certain special collections materials are (for example: 655 7 ǂa Field notes. ǂ2 aat) but are less useful for providing subject access, and so their use is not expanded upon here.

Selected Example Terms

There are a very large number of AAT terms that could potentially be used to provide access points in MARC records for anthropological or archaeological books, videos, archival collections, and other materials. The list of terms below is just a very small sampling intended to give a picture of the extensive potential for finding subject access terms in the AAT. A user can browse the entire structure of the AAT here:

Activities Facet






site location

site protection

underwater archaeology

Agents Facet



Associated Concepts Facet

cultural diffusion

ghost marriage [“Marriage in which one or both parties are deceased. The custom often concerns property or inheritance rights.”]

group identity



social status

Objects Facet

bannerstones [“Carved stones that have been found at ancient and more recent North American sites. They were apparently often part of an atlatl, or spear-thrower.”]

caftans [“Long, coat-like garments, fastened at the waist with a sash, having extra-long sleeves. Originally men’s garments worn in Turkey and other eastern countries.”]

ceremonial masks

effigy mounds (monuments)

mboko (containers) [“Sacred gourds used in Luba villages in Central Africa by diviners to hold natural or manmade objects that are used in divination ceremonies.”]

ritual objects

 Styles and Periods Facet

Jōmon [“Refers to the Japanese period and style that developed around 10,000 to 300 BCE, named for the cord-marked Jōmon pottery discovered at most sites.”]

La Tène [“A Late Iron Age phase and culture of European Celts named for the site at La Tène, Switzerland. It began in the mid-fifth century BCE.”]

Late Bronze Age

Mississippian [“A Native American culture and style evident in North America from around 800 CE to the mid-18th century.”]

Old Kingdom (Egyptian)

Paleo-Indian (Pre-Columbian North American)

For further reading: 

About the AAT: