What is Archaeology?
Archaeology is the science of studying past human activity by examining material cultural evidence and the environment or context in which that evidence is found. For most people, archaeology means excavation. Actually archaeology uses many, many different methods, including highly sophisticated technology, to learn about humans in the past. Excavation is done rarely these days and many things are considered before an archaeological site can be excavated. Archaeological investigations take many forms; however, all archaeological study is guided by a research design.
The work that archaeologists do today falls into three broad categories:
- Fieldwork – This aspect of the job looks for and identifies cultural artifacts, features and other traces of the past. The relationships of these cultural remains to one another and the surrounding environment are carefully recorded during the fieldwork.
- Analysis – Artifacts, features and sites, otherwise known as cultural remains, are thoroughly studied. Artifact catalogs and special studies are created and archaeological data about site activities and chronology can be analyzed with this information.
- Documentation – Documentation gathered from fieldwork and analysis is used to reconstruct past events. This information can be applied to important archaeological research issues such as the interrelationship of environment and human behavior or the adaptation of cultures to historical changes.
How is Archaeology in the Field Done?
There are two primary archaeological fieldwork methods.
Archaeological surveys are structured to discover, map, and record cultural resources as they appear on the ground. An archaeological survey can provide the data to answer many important research questions while preserving the resources in place.
Archaeological excavation is a destructive investigation methodology and should only be legitimately used when guided by a carefully designed research plan. Unfortunately, the activities of people and development often necessitate that archaeologists conduct salvage excavations to preserve the archaeological data in a curatorial or museum facility. Preservation and protection of archaeological sites in their environmental setting is always the preferred alternative.