Archaeology is the science of unearthing sites containing remains of ancient habitation, with the goal of learning about culture, society, ecology, intellectual life and beliefs; modern archaeology employs the tools of history, anthropology, geology, and biology to recover the hidden past. Archaeology studies ancient peoples and cultures by analyzing their artifacts, inscriptions, monuments, and other remains. Archaeology comes from the Greek archaiologia, meaning the discussion of antiquities. An archaeologist studies former cultures and societies by examining the material things they left behind. This normally involves digging, either on land or the sea bed, and observing what is discovered, where it is found, and what is near it.
Begun in Europe during the Renaissance, archaeology was used to explain chance discoveries of artifacts in biblical or classical terms. During the 1860s, the emphasis changed to the study of human development during the time before documented records and the use of excavation and field study begun Excavation of sites such as barrows, mounds, and kitchen middens unearthed multiple levels of artifacts. Scientific analysis of these times led Danish archaeologist Christian Thomsen to classify cultures according to the principal materials used for weapons and tools: stone age, bronze age, and iron age.
Reconnaissance techniques. Excavation sites may be determined from aerial photographs, old pictures, maps, documents, or ground features. Some sites - mounds, temples,forts, roads, and ancient cities, may be easily visible at ground level. Aerial photographs may be taken from planes, balloons, or satellite by cameras with remote sensors, infrared film, etc. The high viewpoint reveals outlines of submerged buildings, roads, and fields. Archaeologists check for clues such as variation of soil color, ground contours, or crop density. Archaeologists may probe the ground with radar to look for structures or hollows. A periscope (probe) may be inserted into the ground to locate walls or ditches. Electron or proton magnetometers or even mine detectors force currents through the earth to detect unusual features beneath the soil. Magnetometers may be dragged through the sea to locate sunken ships or structures.
Archaeologists excavate (dig) under ground or water looking for pots, bones, coins, jewelry, buildings, settlements, monuments, tools, weapons, and any other signs of human habitation or passage. They also look for agricultural clues such as seeds or field boundaries. Archaeologists carefully remove layers of soil at a site, using trowels or small tools when there's a chance of uncovering an object. Removing the soil covering a broken pot is like peeling away layers of time. Each small fragment helps to build a fuller picture of the past.
Their first task is to describe, classify, and analyse the objects. The location and orientation of the objects at the site can provide important information. They measure, record, and analyse everything and try to preserve it if at all possible. An important principle is stratification: older objects are usually buried deeper than newer objects.
There are two main branches of archaeology:
- classical, or historical,
- anthropological, or prehistorical
Classical archaeology explores the records and artifacts of ancient civilisation, e.g. the early cultures of the Mediterranean and Near East, esp Greece, Rome, Persia (now Iran), and Mesopotamia (now part of Iraq), also ancient China, the Indus River valley in Pakistan, and South East Asia<.
Anthropological archaeology focusses on prehistory - the time before written records.
The British archaeologist HowardCarter_ (1873 - 1939) discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun - one of the most sensational discoveries ever. Tutankhamun was a boy king who ruled in Egypt 3,500 years ago. The sarcophagus (coffin) was remarkably well-preserved. Nearby lay gold treasure and beautiful furniture.
In the 1930s Louis and Mary Leakey made major discoveries about human origins. They showed that human life existed 1,750,000 years ago in Tanzania (Africa).
Radiocarbon dating, invented in 1948, provides absolute dating up to 45,000 years; subsequent developments extended this much further.