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Archaeology 101

An Introduction to the Study of Archaeology


There are a lot of carefully crafted definitions of archaeology in the literature, but they boil down to pretty much the same thing: archaeology is the study of the human past. An archaeologist uses a suite of tools to develop information about the history of the world.

An Archaeological Toolkit

These tools include, but are in no way limited to
• the trowel,
• the library card,
• the backhoe,
• the scanning electron microscope, and
• the tape recorder.

The archaeologist gathers information
• by reading,
• by survey,
• by excavation,
• by laboratory analysis, and
• by oral history

and then synthesizes that information into a story about the past. Archaeology is at once among the most exciting, difficult, and deadly dull occupations on the planet.

Archaeology's Ultimate Goal

The ultimate goal of the study of archaeology is to add to the understanding of World History. It's probably best to think of each archaeologist as a freelance reporter working for the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Earth Volume; and "mostly harmless" isn't going to cut it. Each reporter's area of expertise may not fit into a neat category, but each report should contribute in one way or another to the comprehension of our collective human history. If you give this serious thought, you'll recognize that archaeology is among the most important sciences there are.

Because of this, archaeologists have an awesome set of responsibilities, beginning with the responsibility to interpret the data they recover to the best of their abilities. They must comply with state, federal, and international laws. They must consider the effects of their interpretations on the people and places they study, and they must consider the environmental impact of the processes that they do on the world at large.

The Voyage Begins

This essay marks the beginning of a voyage through the study of archaeology, called Archaeology 101. Together we will investigate:
• the methods of archaeology,
• the ethics of archaeology, and
• the results of archaeology.

We will tiptoe through World History and Prehistory beginning with Ramapithecus right down to the Garbage Project, and we will discuss the archaeological implications of the results as we go through. While this project cannot be a replacement for a college introductory course or a field school, it will be an introduction that may provoke you into taking one of those.

Sharpen up your trowel, and let's get started!

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