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  What is Archaeology | Features & Structures | Artifacts & Art Collection | How is Archaeology done | Process | Types  
  What is Archaeology

Sure, Indiana Jones and Lara Croft top the list, dashing through the jungle foliage, liberating artifacts from a maze of death traps, and that hat! How can one ever forget that battered hat of Indy’s! Fun as it is to blaze away at baddies and monsters, Lara and Indy are really bad archaeologists, they actually destroy more of the past than aid in the recovery of it. So just what exactly is archaeology and who belongs to this mysterious fraternity?

Archaeology is the study of the past - the human past, through material remains or artifacts. Archaeology is NOT the study of dinosaurs nor fossils, they belong to a separate discipline of Paleontology. Archaeology is basically about three things: objects, landscapes, and what we make of them. Again, archaeology is simply the study of the past through material remains. Archaeologists are more like investigators of the past, weaving together the story of human kind over the ages.

Artifacts, Ecofacts, Features & Structures

Archaeology is not only about the uncovering artifacts. In ‘Archaeologese’ an artifact is anything that has been manufactured, modified or worked by man and generally refers to those items that are portable. At an archaeology dig, flora and fauna remains provide clues to the environment and dietary subsistence of the past, such remains are oft times referred to as ecofacts. Archaeology is not just about finding artifacts to be bagged away for analysis in the laboratory, features such as wells, hearths, rubbish pits, latrines and ash deposits all tell their tales. Structures are essentially large architectural features, such as walls, a road, building foundations, to the enormous pyramids at Giza.

Artifacts, Art Collection, and Context

Most artifacts found at art houses and museums are indeed pretty to look and marvel at, however often they tell little or nothing at all save for the aesthetics of the displayed object. Artifacts are but only an element of the archaeological record, archaeology is the careful recovery, description, and analysis of the relationships between and among artifacts – the Context. An aesthetically pleasing artifact is worthless to our understanding of the past if we do not know where did it came from, how it was made, who made it, and how it was used. It is like viewing through an album of glossy and spectacular photographs but having no captions to explain the identity of the individuals and whereabouts of the picture.

From the context and relationship between the associating artifacts, it is possible to find out how the peoples of the past live their lives; what was their diet, what was the environment like, how was the trade economy, how was the socio-political structure organized, most important how did this particular artifact relate to the rest of the artifacts found at the site, area, and region. By only selecting only the most aesthetically and visually pleasing artifact as in art collecting, we have taken the artifact out of context with its surrounding and perhaps lost the ability to comprehend the relationships the artifact played in the past. This philosophy behind context is what distance archaeology from mere art collecting.

So How is Archaeology Actually Done?

Archaeology is a meticulous and to some a somewhat tedious process (yes, we have all been there, it really takes quite a bit of effort to be excited about that millionth piece of potsherd). Often the image comes to mind of a crew of dust encrusted guys and gals digging away in a pit or trench, pulling up pieces of pottery, bone and bits of unidentifiable material which archaeologists lovingly term as artifacts. However, the digging process of archaeology or excavation albeit rather romantic is not the only and primary task of archaeology.

As a social science studying human social systems of the past, archaeology develops its research designs and questions in the following manner known as the Scientific Method:
i Hypothesis
ii Model Building
iii Data Collection
iv Analysis of Data
v Evaluating Results

Archaeology Processes

All archaeology begins with the scientific method in mind as a framework, and an archaeologist first set out with questions and develops his/her research design in an attempt to answer the query.
i. Questions Asked
ii. Preliminary Research – Library Research
iii. Research Design
iv. Site Survey – Surface, Remote Sensing, Mapping
v. Test Pit Excavation
vi. Full Phase Excavation
vii. General Laboratory Processes – Washing, Sorting, Conservation, Labeling, Illustration, Photography, Cataloging
viii. Laboratory Processes – Material Composition Analysis, Dating, Computer Modeling
ix. Analysis of Findings
x. Reexamination of Research Design & Findings
xi. Publication & Education

The archaeological process is a long one, often an archaeologist may spent his/her entire life seeking answers to questions that only appear to proliferate with each new discovery. The general rule of thumb for each day of excavation, a week is spent in the laboratory sorting and analyzing the collected data.

Types of Archaeology

Archaeology is truly a multidisciplinary study, for the discipline cuts not only across the known historical and prehistorical time line of modern man, but also incorporates a wide variety of other sciences and studies into its work. Here’s a quick sampling of the myriad umbrella of archaeology:

Classical (Greek & Roman) Archaeology
Colonial Archaeology
East Asian Archaeology
Experimental Archaeology
Historical Archaeology
Industrial Archaeology
Mesoamerican Archaeology
Mesopotamian Archaeology
Military Archaeology
Near Eastern Archaeology
Pacific Island Archaeology
Rescue & Salvage Archaeology
Southeast Asian Archaeology
Underwater Archaeology
Urban Archaeology