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Archaeology

Archaeology

The word Archaeology comes from the Greek words archaia, meaning "ancient things," and logos, meaning "theory." Archaeology involves the study of material evidence from past human cultures, including pottery, tools, machinery, jewelry, burial chambers, and manmade dwellings. Archaeologists study, describe, and classify these artifacts in an attempt to better understand the history of mankind. Sometimes archaeologists supplement and enrich historical knowledge with their findings. Most archaeological studies provide information about artistic and technological developments, but occasionally they provide insight into a particular culture's values and beliefs.

Interest in archaeology can be traced back to the 15th and 16th centuries, when Europeans began to collect artifacts from ancient Rome and Greece. However, the collecting was not done in a disciplined scientific manner. The excavations of the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum in the 18th century, however, marked the beginning of archaeology as a formal discipline. By the late 1800's, several excavations in Greece had helped provide insight into this ancient culture's origins.

Egyptian archaeology traces its origins to Napolean's invasion of Egypt in 1798. In 1822, Jean-Francois Champollion was able to use the Rosetta Stone and other Egyptian writings to decipher the Hieroglyphic symbols used by the Egyptians. Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon uncovered the tomb of Tutankhamen in 1922, one of the most well-known discoveries of Egyptian artifacts.

By the 1800's, archaeology had become a scientific pursuit, due in part to the development of. sophisticated dating techniques. Eventually, prehistoric time was divided into four time periods: the Stone Age (which includes the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods), the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age. By the 20th century, prehistoric findings had occurred in Europe, the Near East, and the Mediterranean, and other locations throughout the world. The discovery of tools and skeletal remains by L.S.B. Leakey in Tanzania, dating back two million years, are among the most sensational archaeological finds.

Archaeologists locate sites by doing fieldwork, which may be conducted on the ground or in the air. Fieldwork usually includes studying old maps, historic documents, or locations near established archaeological sites, all for the purpose of locating possible new sites. Aerial photographs also play a significant role in this procedure. Clues such as variations in soil color and vegetation density, which can only be seen by the air, help pinpoint potential sites. Potential locations are then investigated in more detail. Ground probes (which act as periscopes), electrical conductivity tests, and magnetic disturbance tests help identify irregularities that suggest the presence of items of possible archaeological interest.

Some sites are discovered completely by chance. Four French schoolboys discovered the Upper Paleolithic cave of Lascaux in southern France in 1940. During the construction of a road in north Brittany, a contractor stumbled upon a series of prehistoric burial chambers. Fortunately, the construction project was halted in time to save one of the most remarkable prehistoric burial sites ever found in Western Europe.

After a site has been located, the excavation process begins. These excavations are usually planned and carried out with great care and patience. Brushes, penknives, and other small tools are commonly used. When an excavation is complete, archaeologists are faced with the task of analyzing, classifying, dating, and making a historical interpretation of the material remains. The older the remains, the more difficult it can be to interpret the information.

You can get more information about archaeology from ArchNet , a worldwide web virtual library on the topic of archaeology, hosted by the University of Connecticut.