An Introduction to Archaeology

Thanks to cseeman via Creative Commons

So my interests have taken a turn towards something I have dabbled in throughout my childhood; the past with an emphasis on cultural histories (potential Indiana Jones’s among you, rejoice!) And I thought I’d begin with an introduction to Archaeology as a little fanfare or prelude to what more is to come.

I am a forager for knowledge, well, more like a burrower or an explorer (whichever sounds more epic/heroic) and I figured that the discipline of archaeology provides one with the tools for the ultimate ancient forensic investigation which requires the use of reasoning along with calculated inference to produce a weighted and logical account of past settlements and cultural practices. Plus it is fun to dig in the dirt for old stuff and heck, I’ve always been a Harrison Ford fan (I just need the hat!)

A quick definition of Archaeology courtesy of Wikipedia: “Archaeology is the study of human society, primarily through the recovery and analysis of the material culture and environmental data that they have left behind, which includes artefacts, architecture, biofacts and cultural landscapes.”

Archaeology focusses on human history but via interpretation of archaeological evidence (with some support from literary sources or documents from that time). But what makes archaeology so enticing is that it successfully combines to be both considered a humanity and a science (eh voila, geography and biology synthesised with a strictly human focus *happy dance*). It can therefore be considered to be a “jack of all trades”.

What makes archaeology so crucial in our understanding of past societies is that 99% of the history of humanity has occurred within prehistoric cultures within prehistoric cultures who did not make use of writing and therefore left no written records about themselves that we can study today. It is only from the material remains – settlement foundations, pottery remains, DNA traces etc that we can determine anything about these people.

Why are we interested in studying that far into the past?

Many important developments occurred during prehistory such as the evolution of humanity in the Palaeolithic period where we effectively evolved from the common ancestor with which we share with other primates (namely Chimpanzees – 98% of our DNA shared and Bonobos) through to the modern day humans (homo sapiens). Understanding past settlements can help us determine the path our ancestors took to reach where we are today. In understanding the past we can gain a greater understanding of what we are.

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