What is archaeology?
Archaeology is the study of our 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.
It's all about evidence
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!
By Nicky Milsted
If you have a question, why don’t you Ask the archaeologist?
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