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What is archaeology?
Archaeology is the study of human past – but it’s so much more than history! And it isn’t just digging and finding things underground either. Archaeology uses a huge range of evidence to help us tell stories about our ancestors and find out about their everyday lives.
Humankind is almost 4 million years old, but written records have only been made by people for about the last 5,000 years. Archaeology helps to fill in the huge gaps in human history before writing, and it can add more detail to the historical record even after writing was invented.
Archaeology is all about questions. Where did people live in the past? What did they wear? What did they eat? How did they die? What were their beliefs? What tools did they use, and how? And many, many more.
The evidence that archaeologists use to answer these questions is often found during excavations, or digs. The evidence can include objects like pottery, jewellery, building materials, coins, weapons and tools. Soil samples from archaeological sites can reveal information about past environments, like what kinds of plants were growing. Features like ditches, pits, post holes and the remains of walls can help archaeologists piece together what buildings looked like and what they were made of. The ways that people were buried tells us about past beliefs, and the skeletons themselves reveal information about people’s health in the past and the types of diseases and injuries that killed them. Scientific experiments on teeth can even show where people came from!
So archaeology is about answering questions; but it is important to remember that the answers are not always obvious, and in many cases there can be several different answers (or interpretations) using the same evidence. Archaeologists are a bit like detectives. They use the evidence to try to work out the most likely answers and then try to explain why they think their answers are right!
If you have a question, why don’t you Ask the archaeologist?
What is YAC?
The Young Archaeologists’ Club (YAC) is the only UK-wide club for young people interested in archaeology. At our network of local clubs 8–16 year olds can get their hands mucky doing real archaeology. Each club is run by a team of adult volunteers. Find out how to join your local club.
Our YAC website is the place for all young people to find out more about archaeology. Explore our website for ideas of Things to do and Places to go. Check out our What's new blog for loads of information about archaeology and Ask the archaeologist if there’s something you’ve always wanted to know about archaeology.
If there is anything that you want to read about on the website – or, better still, if you want to write for our website about somewhere you’ve visited or something that you’ve discovered – please contact us!
How old do I have to be to join YAC?
You need to be aged 8–16 to join a local YAC club. Search for your local club here.
What sorts of activities could I do with YAC?
Our YAC clubs do all sorts of archaeological activities. You could find yourself visiting and investigating archaeological sites and historic places, trying out traditional crafts, taking part in excavations, and lots more. Each club has a different programme of activities. Contact your local club to find out more.
Check out our Things to do to try out some YAC activities yourself at home.
How can I get involved with a dig?
One of the best ways to get involved with a dig is with your local YAC club. We also run competitions to spend a full day working with archaeologists on real sites. Keep visiting the website and reading our blog to find out about our Dig It! competitions, and sign up to our free e-newsletter at the bottom of the page too.
Some local archaeological societies and community archaeology groups may also be able to help you get experience on digs near where you live. Try searching online for groups near you. The annual Festival of Archaeology organised by the Council for British Archaeology (which runs YAC too!) also provides some opportunities for people to get involved with hands-on archaeology. The Festival takes place for two weeks every July, and you can find out more and search for events on the Festival website.
I want to be an archaeologist, what should I study at school?
There is no rule that says you must study particular subjects at school to become an archaeologist, or to study archaeology at university. Archaeologists use loads of different skills in their jobs, so a good range of subjects is perfect. Science and maths are really useful, so are English, history and geography.
Where can I find a work experience placement?
We don’t currently offer work experience placements at YAC HQ, as most of our work is behind the scenes! To find an archaeological work placement, a good place to start would be your local museum. You could also try your local council archaeologist or an archaeological unit.
How old do I have to be to volunteer with YAC?
You can volunteer as an Assistant Leader with your local YAC club from the age of 16. YAC clubs usually meet once a month, so you will need to be able to make a regular commitment. By volunteering with a local YAC club, you will develop loads of great skills to put on your CV or university application forms. You will be part of a team of other adults, overseen by a volunteer Branch Leader, and will help to plan and deliver archaeological activities, and to supervise the young people in the club. To find out more about volunteering, read the Branch Assistant role description our Leaders’ Area, or contact us.