Introduction Archaeology is the study of past cultures through the material (physical) remains people left behind.
What is a site? A "site" is a place archaeologists wish to explore. At the site, archaeologists literally dig, looking for the remains of ancient civilizations. That is why they call the site at which they are working a “dig”.
Remains can range from small artifacts, such as arrowheads, to large buildings, such as pyramids - anything people created or modified is part of archaeological record.
The remains are used to re-create all aspects of past culture. Often, these objects are buried and have to be carefully uncovered or excavated before they can be studied.
Functions of Archaeology Helps us appreciate and preserve our shared human heritage. Informs us about the past. Helps us understand where we came from. Shows us how people lived, overcame challenges, and developed the societies we have today.
Material Culture Artifacts are smaller, more portable objects that help us understand the behavior and beliefs of groups of people.
Features are remains that cannot be moved, such as large buildings.
Depends on the type of materials (organic, which deteriorate more quickly, and inorganic) and the environmental conditions to which they are exposed. Preservation of Material Culture
Prehistoric Archaeologists - deal with time periods before the invention of writing. Historical Archaeologists - can examine both physical remains and texts. Industrial Archaeologists - study buildings and remains that date to the period after the Industrial Revolution. Types of Archaeology
Classical Archaeology - civilizations affected by the Greeks and Romans. Egyptian Archaeology - deals with Egypt. Mesoamerican Archaeology - focuses on cultures in Central America and Mexico. Archaeologists generally tend to focus on a particular culture that often is associated with a chronological period:
Ethnoarchaeologists - study people living today and record how they organize and use objects to help reveal how the people of the past lived. Environmental Archaeologists - help us understand the conditions that existed when the people being studied were alive. Experimental Archaeologists - reconstruct techniques and processes used in the past. Underwater Archaeologists - student material remains that survive underwater. Other types of Archaeologists
Archaeology uses scientific principles to guide its practices. Before beginning a project, an archaeologist needs a reason to dig, and excavation plan, and permission from the government of the place being excavated. The Process of Archaeology
Permission to Dig An archaeologist must receive permission to explore a site. The owner of the land must grant sometimes permission. Sometimes the government of a country must issue permits. Once permission is received, archaeologists work in teams with other archaeologists. A team begins to explore the area. They look for evidence that people once lived in the area. Evidence includes fossils and artifacts
1.Hypothesis creation - excavations are conducted to answer specific questions or resolve particular issues. Archaeologists do not dig randomly in search of artifacts. * They think about what people need to stay alive. Some of those things include access to clean drinking water, a protected place to live, and easy access to trade routes. With this in mind, archaeologists look for remains of civilizations along the banks of rivers and streams. Steps of an Archaeological Project
* They check out reports of artifacts that have been discovered. Artifacts have been discovered by farmers and construction companies while working at their jobs. * They check the land from the air, looking for large depressions that could be the ruins of an ancient living area. * They use scientific instruments like radar and sonar to look for ruins.
2. Survey and site location - Once they have a reason to dig, archaeologists must identify where to dig. Once an excavation site has been located, a detailed map is created before digging begins. Excavation - the most well known part of archaeology. Archaeologists excavate remains buried under the earth. As sites grow, change, are destroyed, and rise again over time, successive layers of soils develop around artifacts. These layers are called strata, and the recording and “reading” of the layers is called stratigraphy (to write or record strata.)
3. Mapping – Before digging the site is divided into squares (grids) using rope & string to keep track of all the features and artifacts. * Each square in the grid must be carefully searched. A record must be kept of anything found, including what was found next to it. * A unit is a square in which an archaeologist has chosen to dig or search for artifacts.
Setting up a unit * Your unit will be a “2x2.” Start with two sides that need to measure 200 cm. Using the Pythagorean Theorem, a2 + b2 = c2, you will find the hypotenuse to be 283 cm., your measurement from corner to corner across the middle. Using this method you can be sure all sides of the unit will be 200 cm
Tools of the Trade The tools they use are sometimes very simple. Tools include trowels, a shovel, measuring tape, paint brushes, spoons, dental picks, nail file, sieves, saws, dustpans, a pencil, clippers, and wheelbarrows. They search each grid very carefully. Digging at a site is slow and careful work.
First using shovels and spades, you need to remove the plow zone, which reaches about 25 cm below the surface. Keep your eyes peeled for artifacts such as flakes that can be found in the plow zone! Removing the Plow Zone
Once the plow zone is removed, you may find changes in the soil color. These are called stains. Once a stain is found, you can be sure you have discovered a feature within the unit. There is a chance you will find artifacts below this…
Working at a dig site… To begin excavating your feature you will need to CAREFULLY remove the soil 5 cm. at a time. Each 5 cm of soil is called a level.
The MATRIX!!! Before you begin troweling away each 5 cm level, you need to take a matrix or sampling of soil. This is done using your trowel to “chunk” the soil out of the level.
The matrix is taken back to MVAC where it is dried and then rinsed through screens for items like small bones or flakes or charcoal. This can help give more information about the site and the people who once occupied it.
Any soil you remove from a feature is screened. That way any artifacts too small to be seen or mixed in with the soil you excavate don’t get away!!!
Certain artifacts will need to be left “in situ” as they may continue into the next level. Some may need to be left in the dirt underneath it and then map it. Then you will need to use your handy paintbrush to remove the dirt. Even though you may be tempted to just “yank that puppy out of there” – DON’T DO IT!!!!!!!!!! Removal of an artifact needs to be done very carefully!!!!!!
4. Data Collection and Recording - Records - including photographs, drawings, and detailed notes - are made of all artifacts and their surrounding before they are carefully removed for further analysis. * Ancient objects that have been preserved underground or under-water for years have to be cared for appropriately once they are exposed to air. Conservators are specialists trained to preserve and restore delicate or damaged objects.
Finding artifacts After you remove an artifact, you need to put it into a correctly labeled plastic bag. The artifacts will be taken back to MVAC to be washed and cataloged.
5. Laboratory - Once objects are labeled and removed from a site, they are taken to a lab, relabeled, and placed into a database. Archaeologists use this information to put together pieces of the past. * Interpretation - Once excavation is completed, the features and artifacts have been conserved and analyzed, and the archaeologist is responsible for interpreting the findings and explaining the story of the site and the significance of the finds to the people of the past.
6. Publication - The end result of excavation is the publication of all the finds, plans, and photographs along with an interpretation of the site.
Destruction of Cultural Heritage Unfortunately, fascination with the past does not always translate to careful scientific study. Often sites are destroyed by people interested solely in finding objects to collect or sell for profit. Sometimes, sites can also be damaged by well-meaning tourists who touch or take pieces of objects, art, or architecture.
Most archaeologists are actively involved in the conservation and preservation of cultural heritage. They try to ensure that there are adequate laws to protect and preserve archaeological remains and devise plans to save sites that are being destroyed.