Archaeology ( BE ) or archeology( AE ) is the scientific study of human cultures through the recovery, documentation and analysis of material remains, including architecture , artefacts , biofacts , human remains, and landscapes . Thegoal of archaeology is to shed light on long-term human history and behaviour . It is the only discipline which possesses the method and theory for thecollection and interpretation of information about the pre-written human past. Other subfields of anthropology supplement the findings of archaeology, especially cultural anthropology (which studies behavioural, symbolic, as well as material dimensions ofculture) and physical anthropology (which includes thestudy of human evolution and osteology). Other disciplines also supplement archaeology, such as paleontology (the study of prehistoric life), including paleozoology and paleobotany , geography , geology , history , art history , and classics .
Archaeology is an approach to understanding lost cultures and the mute aspects of human history, without a cut-off date: inEngland, archaeologists have uncovered the long-lost layouts of medieval villages abandoned after the Black Death in the 14th century and the equally lost layouts of 17th century parterre gardens swept awayby a change in fashion. In downtown New York archaeologists have exhumedthe 18th century remains of the Black burial ground.
In the study of relatively recent cultures, which have been observed and studied by Western scholars, archaeology is closelyallied with ethnography . This is the case in large parts of North America , the SouthPacific , Siberia , and other places. In the study of cultures that were literateor had literate neighbours, history and archaeology supplement one another forbroader understanding of the complete cultural context, as at Hadrian'sWall .
Importance and applicability
Most of human history is not described by any written records. Writing did notexist anywhere in the world until about 5000 years ago, and only spread among a relatively small number of technologicallyadvanced civilisations . These civilisations are, not coincidentally, thebest-known; they have been open to the inquiry of historians for centuries, while archaeology has arisen only recently. Evenwithin a civilisation that is literate at some levels, many important human practices are not officially recorded. Any knowledgeof the formative early years of human civilisation - the development of agriculture , cult practices of folk religion, the rise of the first cities - must come from archaeology.
Even where written records do exist, they are invariably incomplete or biased to some extent. In many societies, literacy wasrestricted to the elite classes, such as the clergy or the bureaucracy of court or temple. The literacy evenof an aristocracy has sometimes been restricted to deeds and contracts. Theinterests and world-view of elites are often quite different from the lives and interests of the masses. Any writings that wereproduced by people more representative of the general population were unlikely to find their way into libraries and be preserved there for posterity. Thus, written records tend to reflect the biases of theliterate classes, and cannot be trusted as a sole source. The material record is nearer to a fair representation of society,though it is subject to its own inaccuracies, such as sampling bias and differential preservation .
In addition to their scientific importance, archaeological remains sometimes have political significance to descendants of thepeople who produced them, monetary value to collectors, or simply strong aesthetic appeal. Many people identify archaeology with the recovery of such aesthetic, religious, political oreconomic treasures rather than the reconstruction of past societies.
This view is often espoused in works of popular fiction, such as Raiders of the Lost Ark , The Mummy , and KingSolomon's Mines where the field has become profitable fodder for entertainment. When such unrealistic subjects aretreated more seriously, accusations of pseudoscience are invariablylevelled at their proponents (see Pseudoarchaeology, below). However, these endeavours, real and fictional, are notrepresentative of the modern state of archaeology.
There is still a tremendous emphasis in the practice of archaeology on field techniques and methodologies. These include thetasks of surveying areas in order to find new sites, and digging sites in order to unearth the cultural remains therein, andclassification and preservation techniques in order to analyse and keep these remains. Every phase of this process can be asource of information.
The goals of archaeology are not always the same. There are at least three broad, distinct theories of exactly whatarchaeological research should do. (These are beyond the scope of the present discussion, and are discussed at length below.)Nevertheless, there is much common ground.
Archaeological research is sometimes categorised according to the time period that it studies. Certain civilisations haveattracted so much attention that their study has been specifically named. These sub-disciplines include Assyriology ( Mesopotamia ), Classical archaeology ( Greece and Rome ), and Egyptology ( Egypt ).
The other main division of archaeology is into historical archaeology , which examines civilisations that left behind written records and prehistoric archaeology , which concernsitself with societies that did not have writing systems. However, the term is generally valid only in Europe and Asia where literate societies emerged without colonialinfluence. In areas where literacy arrived relatively late, it is more convenient to use other terms to divide up thearchaeological record. In areas of semi-literacy the term protohistoric archaeology can be adopted to cover the study of societies with very limitedwritten records. One example of a protohistoric site is Fort Ross on the northern California coast, which included settlements of literate Russians and non-literate American Indians and Alaska natives .
Ethnoarchaeology is the study of modern societiesresembling extinct ones of archaeological interest, for archaeological purposes. It is often difficult to infer solid conclusionsabout the structure and values of ancient societies from their material remains, not only because objects are mute and say littleabout those who crafted and used them, but also because not all objects survive to be uncovered by scholars of a later age.Ethnoarchaeology seeks to determine, for instance, what kinds of objects used in a living settlement are deposited in middens or other places where they may be preserved, and how likely an object is to bediscarded near to the place where it was used.
Taphonomy is the study of how objects decay and degrade over time.This information is critical to interpretation of artefacts and other objects, so that the work of ancient people can bedifferentiated from the later work of living creatures and elemental forces.
A selective list of sub-disciplines distinguished by time period or region of study is given below.
The following is a list of other sub-disciplines. Some of these are not areas of study in their own right, and are onlymethods to be used in larger projects.
There are also a wide variety of techniques used for post-excavation analysis (see below).
Cultural resources management
Cultural resources management (CRM) (also called heritage management in Britain) is a branch of archaeology that accounts for most research done inthe United States and much of that in western Europe as well. In the United States, CRM archaeology has been a growing concern since thepassage of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 andmost of the archaeology done in that country today proceeds from either direct or related requirements of that measure. In theUnited States, the vast majority of taxpayers, scholars, and politicians believe that CRM has helped to preserve much of thatnation's history and prehistory that would have otherwise been lost in the expansion of cities, dams, and highways. Along withother statutes, this mandates that no construction project on public land or involving public funds may damage an unstudiedarchaeological site.
The application of CRM in the United Kingdom is not limited to government-funded projects. Since 1990 PPG 16 has required planners to consider archaeology as a material consideration in determining applications for new development. As a result, numerousarchaeological organisations undertake mitigation work in advance of (or during) construction work in archaeologically sensitiveareas, at the developer's expense.
Among the goals of CRM are the identification, preservation, and maintenance of cultural sites on public and private lands, and the removal of culturally valuable materials from areas where theywould otherwise be destroyed by human activity, such as proposed construction. This study involves at least a cursory examinationto determine whether or not any significant archaeological sites are present in the area affected by the proposed construction.If these do exist, time and money must be allotted for their excavation. If initial survey and/or test excavation indicates thepresence of an extraordinarily valuable site, the construction may be prohibited entirely. CRM is a thriving entity, especiallyin the United States and Europe where archaeologists from private companies and all levels of government engage in the practiceof their discipline.
Cultural resources management has doubtless mitigated the destruction of the archaeological record by the ever-sprawling worksof Western civilisation, but it leaves something to be desired. CRM is conducted by private companies that bid for projects bysubmitting proposals outlining the work to be done and an expected budget. It is not unheard-of for the agency responsible forthe construction to simply choose the proposal that asks for the least funding. CRM archaeologists face considerable timepressure, often being forced to complete their work in a fraction of the time that might be allotted for a purely scholarlyendeavour.
A modern archaeological project often begins with survey . Regional survey is the attempt to systematically locate previouslyunknown sites in a region. Site survey is the attempt to systematically locate features of interest, such as houses and middens , within a site. Each of these two goals may be accomplished with largely thesame methods.
Survey was not widely practiced in the early days of archaeology. Cultural historians and prior researchers were usuallycontent with discovering the locations of monumental sites from the local populace, and excavating only the plainly visiblefeatures there. Gordon Willey pioneered the technique of regional settlement pattern survey in 1949 in the Viru Valley of coastal Peru , and survey of alllevels became prominent with the rise of processual archaeology some years later.
Survey work has many benefits if performed as a preliminary exercise to, or even in place of, excavation. It requiresrelatively little time and expense, because it does not require processing large volumes of soil to search out artefacts.(Nevertheless, surveying a large region or site can be expensive, so archaeologists often employ sampling methods.) It avoids ethical issues (of particularconcern to descendant peoples) associated with destroying a site through excavation. It is the only way to gather some forms ofinformation, such as settlement patterns and settlement structure. Survey data are commonly assembled into maps , which may show surface features and/or artefact distribution.
The simplest survey technique is surface survey . It involves combing an area, usually on foot but sometimes with the use of mechanisedtransport, to search for features or artefacts visible on the surface. Surface survey cannot detect sites or features that arecompletely buried under earth, or overgrown with vegetation. Surface survey may also include mini-excavation techniques such as augers , corers , and shovel test pits.
Aerial survey isconducted using cameras attached to aircraft , balloons or even kites . A bird's-eye view is useful for quick mapping of large or complex sites. Aerial imaging can also detect manythings not visible from the surface. Plants growing above a stone structure, such as awall, will develop more slowly, while those above other types of features (such as middens ) may develop more rapidly. Photographs of ripening grain , whichchanges colour rapidly at maturation, have revealed buried structures with great precision. Aerial survey also employs infrared , ground-penetrating radar wavelengths, and thermography .
Geophysical survey is the most effective way to seebeneath the ground. Magnetometers detect minute deviations in the Earth's magnetic field caused by iron artefacts, kilns , some types of stone structures, and even ditches andmiddens. Devices that measure the electricalresistivity of the soil are also widely used. Most soils are moist below thesurface, which gives them a relatively low resistivity. Features such as hard-packed floors or concentrations of stone have ahigher resistivity.
Regional survey in maritime archaeology uses side-scan sonar .
Archaeological excavation existed when the field was still the domain ofamateurs, and it remains the source of the majority of data recovered in most field projects. It can reveal several types ofinformation usually not accessible to survey, such as stratigraphy, three-dimensional structure, and verifiably primarycontext.
Modern excavation techniques require that the precise locations of objects and features, known as their provenance or provenience, be recorded. This always involves determining theirhorizontal locations, and sometimes vertical position as well. Similarly their association , or relationship with nearby objects and features, needs to be recorded for later analysis. Thisallows the archaeologist to deduce what artefacts and features were likely used together and which may be from different phasesof activity. For example, excavation of a site reveals its stratigraphy ; ifa site was occupied by a succession of distinct cultures , artefacts from more recentcultures will lie above those from more ancient cultures.
Excavation is the most expensive phase of archaeological research. Also, as a destructive process, it carries ethical concerns. As a result, very few sites are excavated in their entirety. Sampling is even more important in excavation than in survey. It is common for largemechanical equipment, such as backhoes ( JCBs ), tobe used in excavation, especially to remove the topsoil ( overburden ), though this method is increasingly used with great caution. Following this it is usual tohand-clean the exposed area with trowels or hoes to ensure that all features are apparent.
The next task is to produce a site plan and then use it to help decide the method of excavation. Features dug into the natural subsoil are normally excavated in portionsin order to produce a visible archaeological section for recording. Scaled plans and sections of individual features are all drawn on site, black and white and colour photographs ofthem are taken and recording sheets are filled in describing the context of each. Allthis information serves as a permanent record of the now-destroyed archaeology and is used in describing and interpreting thesite.
Once artefacts and structures have been excavated, or collected from surface surveys, it is necessary to properly study them,to gain as much data as possible. This process is known as post-excavation analysis, and is normally the most time-consuming partof the archaeological investigation. It is not uncommon for the final excavation reports on major sites to take years to bepublished.
At its most basic, the artefacts found are cleaned, catalogued and compared to published collections, in order to classifythem typologically and to identify other sites with similar artefact assemblages.However, a much more comprehensive range of analytical techniques are available through archaeological science , meaning that artefacts can be dated and their compositions examined.The bones, plants and pollen collected from a site can all be analysed (using the techniques of zooarchaeology , paleobotany and palynology ), while any texts can usually be deciphered .
These techniques frequently provide information that would not otherwise be known and therefore contribute greatly to theunderstanding of a site.
History of archaeology
Main article: History of archaeology
The history of archaeology has been one of increasing professionalisation, and the use of an increasing range of techniques,to obtain as much data on the site being examined as possible.
Excavations of ancient monuments and the collection of antiquities have been taking place for thousands of years, but thesewere mostly for the extraction of valuable or aesthetically pleasing artefacts.
It was only in the 19th century that the systematic study of the pastthrough its physical remains began to be carried out. Archaeological methods were developed by both interested amateurs andprofessionals, including Augustus Pitt Rivers and William Flinders Petrie .
During the 20th century, the development of urban archaeology and then rescue archaeology have been important factors, as hasthe development of archaeological science , which hasgreatly increased the amount of data that it is possible to obtain.
There is no single theory of archaeology, and even definitions are disputed. Until the mid-20th century and the introductionof technology, there was a general consensus that archaeology was closely related to both history and anthropology. Since then,elements of other disciplines such as physics , chemistry , biology , metallurgy , engineering , medicine , etc, have found an overlap, resulting in a need to revisit the fundamental ideas behind archaeology.
The first major phase in the history of archaeological theory is commonly referred to as cultural, or culture history . The productof cultural history was to group sites into distinct "cultures", to determine the geographic spread and time span of thesecultures, and to reconstruct the interactions and flow of ideas between them. Cultural history, as the name suggests, was closelyallied with the science of history . Cultural historians employed the normative modelof culture , the principle that each culture is a set of norms governing human behaviour. Thus, cultures can bedistinguished by patterns of craftsmanship; for instance, if one excavated sherd ofpottery is decorated with a triangular pattern, and another sherd with a chequered pattern, they likely belong to differentcultures. Such an approach naturally leads to a view of the past as a collection of different populations, classified by theirdifferences and by their influences on each other. Changes in behaviour could be explained by diffusion whereby new ideas moved, through social andeconomic ties, from one culture to another.
The Australian archaeologist Vere Gordon Childe was one ofthe first to explore and expand this concept of the relationships between cultures especially in the context of prehistoricEurope. By the 1920s sufficient archaeological material had been excavated and studied to suggest that diffusionism was not theonly mechanism through which change occurred. Influenced by the political upheaval of the inter-war period Childe then arguedthat revolutions had wrought major changes in past societies. He conjectured a Neolithic Revolution , which inspired people to settle andfarm rather than hunt nomadically. This would have led to considerable changes in social organisation, which Childe argued led toa second Urban Revolution that created the first cities . Such macro-scale thinking was in itself revolutionary andChilde's ideas are still widely admired and respected.
In the 1960s , a number of young, primarily American archaeologists, such as Lewis Binford , rebelled against the paradigms of cultural history. They proposeda "New Archaeology", which would be more "scientific" and "anthropological". They came to see culture as a set of behaviouralprocesses and traditions. (In time, this view gave rise to the term processual archaeology ). Processualists borrowed from the exact sciences the idea of hypothesis testing and the scientific method . They believed that an archaeologist should develop one or more hypotheses about aculture under study, and conduct excavations with the intention of testing these hypotheses against fresh evidence. They had alsobecome frustrated with the older generation's teachings through which cultures hadtaken precedence over the people being studied themselves. It was becoming clear, largely through the evidence of anthropology,that ethnic groups and their development were not always entirely congruent with the cultures in the archaeological record.
In the 1980s , a new movement arose led by the British archaeologists Michael Shanks , Christopher Tilley Daniel Miller and Ian Hodder . It questioned processualism's appeals to science and impartiality byclaiming that every archaeologist is in fact biased by his or her personal experience and background, and thus truly scientificarchaeological work is difficult or impossible. This is especially true in archaeology where experiments (excavations) cannotpossibly be repeatable by others as the scientific method dictates. Exponents of this relativistic method, called post-processual archaeology , analysed not only the material remains they excavated,but also themselves, their attitudes and opinions. The different approaches to archaeological evidence which every person bringsto his or her interpretation result in different constructs of the past for each individual. The benefit of this approach has been recognised in such fields asvisitor interpretation, cultural resource management and ethics in archaeology as well as fieldwork. It has also been seen tohave parallels with culture history.
Post-processualism provided an umbrella for all those who decried the processual model of culture, which many feminist andneo-Marxist archaeologists for example believed treated people as mindless automatons and ignored their individuality.
This divergence of archaeological theory has not progressed identically in all parts of the world where archaeology isconducted. Australian archaeologists have embraced post-processualism, while those in the United States freely combine it witholder approaches and methods.
Much of the early history of professional archaeology was motivated by an attempt to distance itself frompseudo-archaeologists and dilettantes, and to establish itself as a science. While this battle has been won, archaeology has beenand remains a cultural, gender and political battlefield. Many groups have tried to use archaeology to prove some currentcultural or political point. Marxist or Marxist-influenced archaeologists in the USSR and the UK (among others) often try to prove the truth of dialectical materialism or to highlight the past (and present) role of conflict between interestgroups (e.g. male vs. female, elders vs. juniors, workers vs. owners) in generating social change. Some contemporary culturalgroups have tried, with varying degrees of success, to use archaeology to prove their historic right to ownership of an area ofland. Many schools of archaeology have been patriarchal, assuming that in prehistory men produced most of the food by hunting,and women produced little nutrition by gathering; more recent studies have exposed the inadequacy of many of these theories. Someused the "Great Ages" theory implicit in the three-age system toargue continuous upwards progress by Western civilisation. Much contemporary archaeology is influenced by neo-Darwinianevolutionary thought, phenomenology, post-modernism, agency theory, and cognitive science.
Schools of theoretical archaeology
Relations with the public
Early archaeology was largely an attempt to uncover spectacular artefacts and features, or to explore vast and mysteriousabandoned cities. Such pursuits continue to fascinate the public, portrayed in books (such as King Solomon's Mines ) and films (viz. The Mummy , Raiders of the Lost Ark ).
Much thorough and productive research has indeed been conducted in dramatic locales such as Copán and the Valley of the Kings , but the stuffof modern archaeology is not so reliably sensational. In addition, archaeological adventure stories tend to ignore thepainstaking work involved in modern survey , excavation and dataprocessing techniques. Some archaeologists refer to such portrayals as ' pseudoarchaeology '.
Nevertheless, archaeology has profited from its portrayal in the mainstream media. Many practitioners point to the childhoodexcitement of Indiana Jones films and Tomb Raider games as the inspiration for them to enter the field. Archaeologists are also very much reliant onpublic support, the question of exactly who they are doing their work for is often discussed. Without a strong public interest inthe subject, often sparked by significant finds and celebrity archaeologists, it would be a great deal harder for archaeologiststo gain the political and financial support they require.
Where possible, archaeologists now make more provision for public involvement and outreach in larger projects than they oncedid. However, the move towards being more professional has meant that volunteer places are now relegated to unskilled labour, andeven this is less freely available than before. Developer-funded excavation necessitates a well-trained staff that can workquickly and accurately, observing the necessary Health and Safety and indemnity insurance issues involved in working on a modern building site totight deadlines. Certain charities and local government bodies sometimes offer places on research projects either as part ofacademic work or as a defined community project. There is also a flourishing industry selling places on commercial training excavations andarchaeological holiday tours.
Archaeologists prize local knowledge and often liaise with local historical and archaeological societies. Anyone looking toget involved in the field without having to pay for the privilege should contact a local group.
Main article: Pseudoarchaeology .
Pseudoarchaeology is an umbrella term for all activities that claim to be archaeological but in fact violate commonly acceptedarchaeological practices. It includes much fictional archaeological work (discussed above), as well as some actual activity. Manynon-fiction authors have ignored the scientific methods of processual archaeology , or the specific critiques of it contained in Post-processualism .
An example of this type is the author, Erich von Däniken .His Chariots of the Gods ( 1968 ), together with many subsequent, lesser-known works, expounds a theory of ancient contacts between humancivilisation on Earth and more technologically advanced extraterrestrial civilisations. (This theory, known as palaeocontact theory , isnot exclusively Däniken's.) Works of this nature are usually marked by the renunciation of well-established theories on the basisof limited evidence, and the interpretation of evidence with a preconceived theory in mind.
Looting of archaeological sites by people in search of buried treasure is an ancient problem. For instance, many of the tombsof the Egyptian pharaohs were looted in antiquity. The advent of archaeology has madeancient sites objects of great scientific and public interest, but it has also attracted unwelcome attention to the works of pastpeoples. A brisk commercial demand for artefacts encourages looting and the illicit antiquities trade whichsmuggles items abroad to private collectors. Looters not only damage the integrity of a historic site and rob local people oftheir heritage but by removing artefacts from their context, they also deny archaeologists valuable information that would belearnt from excavation.
The popular consciousness may associate looting with poor Third World countries. Many are former homes to many well-knownancient civilisations but lack the financial resources or political will to protect even the most significant sites. Certainly,the high prices that intact objects can command relative to a poor farmer's income make looting a tempting financial propositionfor some local people. However, looting has taken its toll in places as rich and populous as the United States and Western Europeas well. Abandoned towns of the ancient Sinagua people of Arizona , clearly visible in the desert landscape,have been destroyed in large numbers by treasure hunters. Sites in more densely populated areas farther east have also beenlooted. Where looting is prescribed by law it takes place under cover of night, with the metal detector a common instrument used to identify profitable places to dig.
Motivated by a desire to halt looting, curb pseudoarchaeology, and to secure greater public funding and appreciation for theirwork, archaeologists are mounting public-outreach campaigns. They seek to stop looting by informing prospective artefactcollectors of the provenance of these goods, and by alerting people who live near archaeological sites of the threat of lootingand the danger that it poses to science and their own heritage. Common methods of public outreach include press releases and theencouragement of school field trips to sites under excavation.
The final audience for archaeologists' work is the public and it is increasingly realised that their work is ultimately beingdone to benefit and inform them. The social benefits of local heritage awareness are also being recognised with initiatives toincrease civic and individual pride through projects such as community excavation projects and better interpretation andpresentation of existing sites.
In the United States, American Indians tend to mistrust archaeology. This mistrust is well-founded. For years, Americanarchaeologists have been digging up Indian burial grounds and other places considered sacred, and carting away any artefacts andhuman remains to storage facilities for further study. Adding insult to injury, many skeletons were not even thoroughly studied.Furthermore, Western archaeologists' views of the past are different from those of tribal peoples. The West views time as linear;for natives, it is cyclic. From a Western perspective, the past is long-gone; from a native perspective, disturbing the past canhave dire consequences in the present. To an archaeologist, the past is long-gone and must be reconstructed; to a native, it isyet alive.
As a consequence of this misunderstanding, American Indians have often attempted to prevent archaeological excavation of sitesinhabited by their ancestors, while American archaeologists have paid them little heed. This situation is beginning to change.The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA, 1990 ), limits the right of research institutions to possess human remains. Due in part tothe spirit of postprocessualism, some archaeologists have begun to actively enlist the assistance of native peoples likely to bedescended from those under study.
Archaeologists have also been obliged to re-examine what constitutes an archaeological site in view of what native peoplesbelieve to constitute sacred space. To many native peoples, natural features such as lakes, mountains or even individual treeshave cultural significance. Australian archaeologists especially have explored this issue and attempted to survey these sites inorder to give them some protection from being developed. Such work requires close links and trust between archaeologists and thepeople they are trying to help and at the same time study.
While this cooperation presents a new set of challenges and hurdles to fieldwork, it has benefits for all parties involved.Tribal elders cooperating with archaeologists can prevent the excavation of areas of sites that they consider sacred, while thearchaeologists gain the elders' aid in interpreting their finds. There have also been active efforts to recruit aboriginalpeoples directly into the archaeological profession.
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