Archaeology

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Archaeology or archeology (American English) is the study of human cultures through the recovery, documentation and analysis of material remains, including architecture, artefacts, biofacts, human remains, and landscapes. The goal of archaeology is to shed light on long-term human prehistory, history, behaviour and cultural evolution. It is the only discipline which possesses the method and theory for the collection and interpretation of information about the pre-written human past, and can also make a critical contribution to our understanding of documented societies. Other subfields of anthropology supplement the findings of archaeology, especially cultural anthropology (which studies behavioural, symbolic, as well as material dimensions of culture) and physical anthropology (which includes the study of human evolution and osteology). Other disciplines also supplement archaeology, such as paleontology (the study of prehistoric life), including paleozoology, paleoethnobotany 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: in England, archaeologists have uncovered the long-lost layouts of medieval villages abandoned after the crises of the 14th century and the equally lost layouts of 17th century parterre gardens swept away by a change in fashion. In downtown New York archaeologists have exhumed the 18th century remains of the Black burial ground.

Archaeology has been described as a craft that enlists the sciences to illuminate the humanities.

Subdisciplines[edit]

Biblical Archaeology[edit]

Focuses on the period of the bible, but embracing all of the ancient Near East and was originally concerned with validating historical events and personages from the bible.

Classical Archaeology[edit]

Focuses on the Classical World (Greece, Rome, and the Mediterranean).

Historical Archaeology[edit]

Focuses on the most recent half millennium of human existence, particularly the expansion of European powers into the rest of the world and the impacts of the industrial revolution. Although this has become the standard meaning of historical archaeology, there are many situations where archaeology works as only one of the tools to discover the past, complementary to written or oral historical traditions. The archaeology of Ancient Egypt, Han China and many other places is also a historical archaeology.

Historic Site Archaeology[edit]

In the Americas, historical archaeology, or more properly, "historic site archaeology" is the term generally used to encompass the archaeology of Euro-Canadian/Euro-American and aboriginal/First Nation sites dating to the period of first European settlement or later. Sites attributable to the era of European exploration from Columbus to the advent of first settlement are often deemed to be "proto-Historic" in age and may be further categorized as being either pre-, post-, or proto-Contact in nature (the time of "Contact" between European and aboriginal/First Nations peoples being locally or regionally defined).

Near Eastern Archaeology[edit]

Focuses on the Ancient Near East (the early civilizations that arose in the area known as the fertile crescent).

Mesoamerican Archaeoloy[edit]

Study of the pre-columbian societies inhabiting much of Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, parts of El Salvador and Honduras. This area comprises shared cultural traits and were made up of many complex sites over thousands of years. Most famously, this area includes the ancient Maya, the Olmec, and the Aztecs.

New World Archaeology[edit]

Focuses on the Americas. Very broadly defined, this includes the study of all cultures from North and South America, including the many culture areas such as Mesoamerica, Amazonia, the Andes, the American Northeast, Southeast, Northwest and Southwest. Inuit and Native Canadian Archaeology is also part of this very broad term.

Prehistory[edit]

Focuses on the period before written history

Underwater and Maritime Archaeology[edit]

The specialty field of conducting archaeological investigations in submerged and maritime environments. This can include prehistoric sites, shipwreck sites, and other nautical/ maritime related contexts.

Zooarchaeology[edit]

The study of animal bones recovered from archaeological sites. Zooarchaeological research involves the identification and interpretation of animal bones recovered from archaeological contexts in the effort to gain information on the diets and patterns of animal exploitation of the people whose activities resulted in the formation of the site(s) under study.

Zooarchaeology involves much more than just the creation of so-called 'laundry lists' of animal species represented among the food remains recovered from an archaeological site (usually listed by taxa in order of abundance), although that was typically the limit of the extent to which the zooarchaeological data was cited in many archaeological reports until relatively recently. While such lists can be extremely useful to both archaeologists and zoologists, in more recent times zooarchaeological data has been used in the reconstruction of diet, seasonal scheduling of hunting/fishing activities, hunting and fishing methods, methods of butchery and food preparation, the use of animal bones and related materials for the production of tools and other artefacts (see: w:osteodontokeratic industry), the process of animal domestication and use, and much more.

Dating Techniques[edit]

Dendrochronology[edit]

As trees grow they create annual growth rings, which can be counted to determine the age of the tree when it was cut. The thickness of these rings is determined by annual climactic factors, and certain distinctive ring patterns found in several pieces of timber can be used to verify their contemporaneity.

Obsidian Hydration[edit]

Obsidian is a volcanic glass used by many cultures in tools and weapons. When a fresh surface is exposed (during the flintknapping process, for example), it attracts water from the surrounding atmosphere. This water diffuses into the obsidian and creates a hydration rind on the exposed surface. This rind can be viewed using a microscope, and its thickness can be used to determine how long ago the surface of the tool or weapon was produced by flintknapping.