Archaeology is the study of our past, from early prehistory onward. Humankind has always been fascinated by the question of who we are, where we came from, and how we used to live. Archaeology is the study of our past, from early prehistory onward, using the material remains of our ancestors and the possessions they left behind. Over thousands of years, evidence of human activity, such as camp fires, rubbish tapes and dwellings become buried. Archaeological teams discover these sites and uncover this evidence by careful excavation. The material is then conserved and studied in order to help the archaeologist piece together a picture of how people lived and died in the past.
Archaeological sites are excavated by layers. Workers remove the top, most recent layer and work down, uncovering older, deeper levels. The studying of these layers and the items they contain is called Stratigraphy.
By revealing features such as ditches, post holes and floors, Stratigraphy gives information about the history of a site and the people who lived there. In urban areas, such as London, surface levels rise as debris is shoveled in to level the ground before rebuilding because it shows a chronological sequence. Stratigraphy was used to date sites before radiocarbon dating was invented.
Archaeological sites are found during building work, through reading historical documents, geophysical surveys (the study of the soil’s structure) and field walking (recording above ground objects).
Horizontal and Vertical lines seen from the air often show medieval strip fields, ancient roads, walls and ditches. Aerial Photography done when the sun is low shows varying surface levels, moisture levels and Vegetation most clearly.
An archaeologist use shovels and handpicks to remove the topsoil. Then smaller hand tools are used, such as dental picks, teaspoons and trowels to excavate delicate objects.
Archaeologists usually draw or photograph the artifacts (objects) to make a visual record. They carefully measure and record the shapes, coolers, decoration and ages of any artifacts or features. This helps archaeologists link and relate different objects and sites.
Buried objects are fragile and decay quickly after excavation. To stabilize them, they are cleaned and conserved. After conservation, an object can be studied. The material of which it is made, its function and its date are recorded. It may then be photographed and displayed in a museum.
Sites beneath the sea or in lakes are more difficult to excavate than those on land because shifting silt or sand causes poor visibility. However, marine sites often preserve materials, such as the wood of the 16th century ship, the Mary Rose, which would usually be lost on dry land. Conservation may involve treatment with water, sealing with chemicals or careful drying.
The greatest field archaeologist of the day, Wheeler (1890 – 1976) set up the institute of Archaeology, London. He developed new excavation methods and made archaeology popular through TV. In 1944, he became Director General of Archaeology in Indian, and investigated the Indus Valley Civilization.
1748: Pompeii discovered
1799: An officer in Napoleon’s army discovers the Rosetta Stone which features 6th century BC hieroglyph.
1812: Abu Simbel discovered
1822: Scholars decipher Egyptian hieroglyph.
1861: Evans and Prestwich confirm the antiquity of humans and humans’ association with extinct animals.
1891: Homo Erectus material found.
1922: Howard Carter discovers the tomb of Tutankhamen.
1931: Louis Leakey begins excavations at Olduvai Gorge.
1940: Archaeologists discover prehistoric Lascaux cave paintings.
1949: Radiocarbon dating is developed.
1974: Donald Johanson discovers Lucy and early hominid.
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