What Is Archaeology?

In its most basic sense, archaeology is the study of humanity’s past. It gleans insights into how people belonging to past cultures lived, worked, spoke, worshipped and interacted with others and their environment when they were still alive. Archaeologists—the experts in this field—are able to do this by examining that culture’s material remains. Thus, their work also entails recovering the tools and other materials they used and even excavating sites where their dwellings and other places of activity once stood. Archaeologists may also study paintings left on caves or records of their history carved on very old and fragile manuscripts to be able to get a clear picture of the way of life of these cultures. They also study human remains to learn more about how people of that culture lived and died.

Archaeology has played a great role in helping us understand the events that have occurred at various times and places in humanity’s history and even in its period of prehistory. Because archaeology looks at the artifacts, materials and other physical evidence of the existence of these groups of people, the field goes beyond simply defining the dates of the various time periods that mark the existence of humanity.

Rather, they are able to understand how these groups lived and even see their contributions to the evolution of human society. Their implements, drawings and even their mortal remains provide vital clues not only to what they did when they were alive but even to how they died. It is a field that allows people in the present day to understand what life was like even before there was any written record of events and a culture’s history.

The study of archaeology can focus on many different things so it helps to understand the types of archaeology and what their areas of concentration are. The study of past cultures that don’t have any written record of their existence is known as prehistoric archaeology. In this area, archaeologists rely mainly on the physical pieces of evidence that are left behind to understand the kind of life they led back then. The archaeology that deals with the study of cultures that are already part of recorded history is known as historical archaeology. This includes biblical archaeology which tries to find the physical evidence to the stories detailed in the Bible, such as that of Noah’s Ark and proof of the existence of personalities mentioned therein.

Archaeology is not just focused on land. There is also underwater archaeology which looks at human remains that are submerged on bodies of water. These include underwater cities or towns and pyramids as well as other artifacts. Archaeologists seek to understand the events that led to the immersion of these remains in their watery grave. A subfield of underwater archaeology is known as maritime archaeology and deals with the study of shipwrecks. There are still other types of archaeology that focus on other areas of the field. These include ethnoarchaeology, experimental archaeology, industrial archaeology and urban archaeology, among others. Another type of archeology worth mentioning is Cultural Resource Management (CRM) archaeology. It is the kind of archaeology that basically protects archaeological sites from being destroyed by human activity like the construction of public infrastructure such as dams and buildings.

Career Spotlight: Archaeologist

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