What is Archaeology?

When people say archaeology, most people think of buried treasure and Indiana Jones. Archaeology isn’t about fame and danger, but about learning about people in the past.

Archaeologists try to learn who lived in the past, where they lived, what they ate, what they believed and the effect they had on their environment. Archaeologists learn this through looking at the physical remains left by these people. Artefacts, such as pottery, tools, weapons and jewellery, help archaeologists create a picture of the past. Buildings, evidence of farming and plant remains are also useful to understand how our ancestors lived.
Archaeologists only deal with the human past. Dinosaurs became extinct 65 million years ago and the earliest humans only begin to appear 2 million years ago, so archaeologists do not study dinosaurs. Instead they look at how humans lived from the beginning of the human race up until the 21st century.

At DIG you can become an archaeologist. Which type of archaeologist would you prefer to be?

A Landscape Archaeologist searches for traces of ancient sites in the landscape.
An Archaeological Surveyor plans and records earthworks, buildings, and excavated sites.
An Excavator uncovers and records evidence of the past in excavations.
A Conservator ensures that the artefacts are preserved for the future.
A Finds Specialist dates, analyses, identifies and interprets archaeological artefacts.
An Archaeological Illustrator prepares drawings of objects and plans for publication, and designs and typesets books.
An Environmental scientist provides information about diet, health and living conditions.
A Human Bones Expert identifies and interprets human skeletal remains.
A Finds Curator organises the long term storage and after-care of objects.

Do archaeologists just go round digging holes into the ground?

No. Although excavation is an important way for archaeologists to gain information, there are other ways that archaeologists can find out about the past. Field walking is a careful search of the land to find objects brought to the surface through farming. Surveying is used to locate earthworks. By using aerial photography, archaeologists can find sites that are only visible from the air, since crops will form different patterns if they grow over buried features. Archaeologists can locate features underground by measuring electrical resistivity or the magnetic field.