What is archaeology?

Archaeologists are thought to have an extremely fascinating profession; unfortunately, lots of people quite often mistake us for the scientists who dig up dinosaur bones… palaeontologists! Archaeologists have absolutely nothing to do with dinosaurs. Nothing. Archaeologists unearth and study remains of human activities, notably the ruins of ancient buildings and the objects left behind, the artefacts. Unfortunately, archaeological evidence discovered during excavations represents only a small fraction of the remains of ancient cultures. Environmental and climatic conditions, ravages of nature, and damage caused by people (whether in ancient or modern times) are to blame for the destruction of the cultural remains.

Have you ever wondered how an archaeological site is formed? Why certain artefacts are so well preserved? Or even how archaeologists figure out where to dig?

Site Formation Processes     Artefact Preservation     Survey Methods

Before the Dig

Archaeologists are not treasure hunters, but detectives who want to find answers to riddles of the past. In order to find out how ancient peoples lived, you need all the clues you can get and you need to dig for them in a scientific manner. However, before archaeologists can pull their trowel out of their back pocket, there are a few things about which they need to think before the dig.

Without a research project, there is absolutely no reason to dig. Without this project proposal, you will not be able to apply for funding or obtain an excavation permit. Evidently, without a dig permit, you can’t dig anywhere.

Research Project     Excavation Permit     Excavation Units

Excavations at the site of Dangeil, Sudan.

Excavations at the site of Dangeil, Sudan.

During the Dig

Archaeologists have the very important task of preserving the past in order to increase our knowledge of human society and past cultures. That actually is a very difficult task… because the archaeological process is very destructive. Several levels of human activity can be located atop one another and in order to reach the oldest one (the one at the bottom), the top layers have to be removed. The removal of these layers means that they will be destroyed. Forever.

Archaeologists are aware of this problem and, for this very reason, we keep detailed records, make copious notes, take several photographs, and make drawings and plans so that later generations can still study these layers even if they are gone. We also leave unexcavated areas so that future archaeologists with newer techniques and different equipment can dig on site as well.

Toolkit     Notebooks & Diaries     Dating Sites & Artefacts     Photography & Drawings

After the Dig

Archaeologists have the moral responsibility to publish their archaeological findings and the results of their analyses to give colleagues the chance to look at newly discovered material. In order to do so, archaeologists will publish articles and books, and present at conferences.

Archaeological publications are technical and specialised writings that present data accumulated during the course of an excavation, often the only documentation available regarding certain stratigraphic layers that have been excavated and are now gone, or about a entire site destroyed by cultivated fields and flooded zones. Knowing that these might be rather tedious for amateurs to read, archaeologists will also write books intended for the general public and students. We know that many people are interested in our work and we strive to share them with you in a variety of ways.

While reading books is a great way to find out about our discoveries, you can also attend public lectures related to archaeology or visit museums where there often are many artefacts on display in permanent galleries and special exhibitions. Think of it as a gift from us to you for taking such an enthusiastic interest in our work.

Scholars are often told “Publish or Perish…” In the world of academe, you have to constantly publish your latest findings because it helps evaluate the quality of your work and prove that you are active in the field.

Articles & Books     Conferences & Talks     Collections & Exhibitions

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