Archaeology Information: Methods And Practices

Explore the vast methods of how an archaeologist analyzes, dates and discovers valuable sites and artifact findings.

Archaeology is a scientific discipline and branch of social science that studies information on human history. Within the field of archaeology, the subject covers a time period of at least 3 million years, from when it is believed that humans first appeared and the present day. With the help and contributions of many specialists like chemists, physicists, zoologists, botanists, geologists, mineralogists and others, an archaeologist can analyze and compare findings in different excavated sites to determine dating. Not only do archaeologists play a critical part in assessing the findings in a site, they offer their assistance in discovering sites that could have valuable archaeological finds.

Many sites are unearthed quite accidentally when for example fields are being plowed or foundations for buildings are being constructed. Erosion of the land causes layers of soil to sometimes expose various findings. Just certain indications on the surface of the earth can suggest to an archaeologist that there are valuable finds buried below. The archaeologist will many times study various historical records of places or investigate folklore in an area to lead him closer to discovering an archaeological site.

Once the site is found, it must be excavated to examine various aspects of the remains and artifacts that are found there. The archaeologist is able to analyze the structure and the dimensions of the terrain through various methods and combining horizontal and vertical cross sections. Some of the common methods utilized mostly in oil exploration and geology studies include 1) Seismic reflection and refraction, 2) gravity, 3) magnetics, 4) electrical and 5) radioactivity used in exploring radioactive minerals. These methods are often quite laborious and many sites have to be dug by hand with a shovel and trowel. Machines for digging are generally used only for the upper layer of the soil. Data is cataloged and is recorded as it is uncovered. After the exact location of each find is registered as precisely as possible, the objects can be removed from the site, cleaned, analyzed and stored for safe keeping. The next task of the archaeologist is to evaluate and interpret the results of the find.

One of the critical problems in archaeology is dating and therefore two different types of dating have been devised. One is called absolute chronology, which is the actual calculation of the object in years. The other is called relative chronology, which refers to the dating in relation to other phenomena in chronological sequence. One can say it is older that another object but cannot determine its actual age. For example in prehistoric Europe and Africa no written dates existed before the arrival of the Romans. Thus, a date cannot be assigned. A major problem for an archaeologist is to date the prehistoric world. Thus, relative chronology is used.

Although it may take many decades to explore a given site and resources are sometimes limited, archaeology and the persistent work of archaeologists has revealed the well-dated record of the material past. We know, for example that humans have existed for over 3 million years and Homo sapiens (Cro-Magnon man) have been in existence for 50,000 years. It has been determined from archaeological study that humans moved from being hunters, fishers and food gatherers into more complex urban societies and cultures. Although it is not possible to excavate all sites and there are many challenges, archaeology continues to be an important study of the material remains of humankind.

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