Archaeology is technically defined as the study of human civilization through excavation and study of material remains. Every time humans interact with the planet, evidence is left of their presence. Archaeologists are tasked with finding these pieces of evidence and figuring out what the people who left this evidence behind were like. What did they eat? How did they live? What was important to them? Even the smallest area with the least amount of evidence has the ability to tell us so much about someone or a group of people.
When places like this are found, it becomes a site. A site can be a whole city, a cultural landscape, or something as simple as a campsite. When we find an object at that site, it becomes and artifact. From there, further analysis- either scientific or historical- is conducted to produce a more cohesive understanding of the site’s past inhabitants.
While there are other ways of studying history- reading manuscripts, studying art, etc.- archaeology opens up so many other options to view our past. History is all too often written by the victors, and our literary evidence, our monuments, our art, can very easily leave out the loser’s side of the story. Archaeology has the ability to study the other side, to open up a door of another possible course of history that might otherwise have remained lost and forgotten- most importantly, every day life.
Regular people are often left out from our picture of history, meaning you and I are very likely to get left out of the textbooks. But archaeology changes that; it makes how we spent our life important. That’s right, how you are living your life right now will help educate everyone in the future as they dig up your old broken iPhone. Archaeology also helps us learn more about prehistoric communities that were not able to write down their momentous occasions, which is essentially 99% of human history. Therefore, it is the only discipline that studies all forms of human history in all areas of the world!
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Looking to Find Out More?
Society for American Archaeology What Is Archaeology?
Colin Renfrew and Paul Bhan, Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practice
Live Science: What is Archaeology by Owen Jarus