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Understanding Archaeology


Archeology involves study of past human activities. These activities are used by archaeologies to try to describe the evolutionary history of man (Renfrew and Bahn 2008). This study is done by studying fossil records of ancient man, the tools used by ancient man, and the environment where those materials were recovered. Materials such as the architecture, artifacts, cultural landscape, and biofacts are studied in archeology. This study employs a variety of procedures that are both scientific and humanistic. Through the study of archeology, one is able to understand the evolutionary history of humans from the time when simple stone tools were developed to present day technology. Archeology therefore has several goals including: understanding human cultural history by studying cultural evolution from old cultural practices to the modern day practices (Renfrew and Bahn 2008). This results to detailed understanding of human evolutionary history. Archeology is therefore a branch of anthropology, which deals with the study of prehistoric human beings and their ways of life (Renfrew and Bahn 2008).

The scope of archeology

The study of material remains of the past human life offers a peep in to the past. It is completely different from oral traditions and written records. Archeological records date back to 2.6 million years ago. It is therefore one of the oldest history record of human life. This paper tries to give an insight in to the fundamentals of archeology and its application in the current world. Archeology provides knowledge of past events in human life, which play a major role in planning for the future (Renfrew and Bahn 2008). Although other sources of information about the past of human life are available, they are unreliable because they date back to very few years in the past such as written record. They also depend on eyes and ears of very few people and may therefore be prone to human errors. It is hard to manipulate material remains of past human lives. Archeology offers knowledge about the past that is independent of human manipulation. It is also a detailed study of past human life from the humbled beginnings of human existence. Archeology offers a less biased record of the whole humanity.

Archeological study is carried out through interpretation and documentation of material remains of past humans. These remains are normally buildings, shipwrecks, domestic trash, roads, rock art, stone quarries, food residues, and tombs among many other things that were used by humans in the past. For archeologists to fully carry out their studies they employ other sources of information about the past such as texts, photographs, architecture and art, oral traditions and memories from people that are alive (Renfrew and Bahn 2008). Through the study of archeology new sources of information about the past is obtained. Experts obtain new research questions, which help in interpretation of the remains from the past.

Contributions of archeology in understanding human past

Archeology is a historical discipline. Its major role is to help us understand the past of human life. Archeologist must locate, document, and preserve archeological remains of past human activities. An archeological record contains the material remain and the context in which the material occurs. These records have geographical sites of origin from where they are identified. Sometimes an archeological record may only be an artifact that is distributed over a certain geographical region (Renfrew and Bahn 2008). Several methods are used to locate archeological records. Such methods include remote sensing such as ground penetrating radar and satellite images, pedestrian surveys, and documentary sources such as oral testimony and old maps. Some archeological records are accidentally discovered. These archeological records need to be documented for future reference. This is done by use methods such as photography, mapping, standard record forms, narrative descriptions, and drawings. Preservation of these archeological records needs to be done once they have been discovered. Some of the methods used to preserve these archeological records include: burial, cleaning, artificial catalogs, avoidance, architectural stabilization, and storage.

Once the archeological records have been established, interpretation process follows which effects their use. A detailed study of the functions of the material remains must be carried out. This will enable understanding the meaning of the record. Interpretation involves the form, analogy and associations of the record (From the Pillars of Civilization to the Pillars of Law. 2007). The form details the shape, decoration, and  material composition helps in detailed interpretation. Additional clues are provided by looking at the environment where the artifact was found, including other artifacts found together with the artifact of interest (Renfrew and Bahn 2008). The use of analogy is a very common tool employed in archeology. It enables the archeologist to predict what the artifact was used for, what it meant in the past, and how it is related to the people that used it. Through analogy, experiments are done that try to recreate the tool and replicate its functions. Observations are done to enable the archeologist to record information about how living people use the artifact.

Cultural history interpretation is now done using the information gathered from the artifacts collected. Other sources of information such as written records and oral testimony is also used during cultural history interpretation (The International History Project 2003). This is done by carrying out journalistic question of what, who, when and where. The use of methods such as tree ring dating, radiocarbon dating, and written documents in an effort of answering the question of when. Research into specific events in history associated with the artifacts is use in answering the question “what”. Issues of race, ethnicity, sex, occupation, migration, social class and status, and gender are dealt with when answering the question of “who”. For archeologists to answer the question of “where”, research on geographical limitations of social and cultural areas such as chiefdoms, states, world-systems interactions, and trading and exchange networks.

The question “why” is answered by looking for explanations in agency or process. Procedural explanations use principles that are not limited by cultural boundaries or time. Such cases such as site formation processes are focused on when trying to answer this question. Development of cultural and social patterns also need to be interpreted while answering this question (The International History Project 2003). Such cases include urbanization, world systems, and large-scale economic interactions. Agents such as goal seeking individuals are also used in answering this question.

Archeology is a very large field and therefore there are specializations carried out in the study of archeology. Fields such as time periods, cultural tradition, geographical region, and methodology. Prehistorians have the longest periods of time because they study past human life dating back to the hominids. Most recent events in archeology is researched on by the historical archeologists. They limit their time to most recent events in history dating back to a few hundreds of years (The International History Project 2003). They therefore base their research using abundant written records found within this period. An archeologist may specialize in a specific geographical region such as Africa, America, oceans, and the Mediterranean. The ancient remains of the Roman and Greek civilizations are studied by classical archeologists. The ancient remains of the Mayan civilization in Mexico is studied by the Mayanists. In ancient china the archeological remains are studied by the sinologists. Geonologists apply knowledge such as sedimentology to the interpretation of the material remains from the past. Zooarcheologists use their biological knowledge to study animal remains associated with archeological region. Iconographers interpret any available physical knowledge such as symbols and signs.

Archeology as a discipline it does not work on its own. It works hand in hand with other disciplines. Its origin was based on speculations and antiquarianism (The International History Project 2003). Before complete development of archeology in to what it is now, knowledge about the past was limited to available written records and unwritten records. These included the Bible, classical tales, cultural traditions, and folklore. In the present world, scientific methods have been incorporated into archeological studies. A scientific study that involves the use of human senses is employed here. A specific structure of inquiry is used when analyzing this data. A scientific method is more appropriate in this field of archeology because it involves a process that can be expanded and is open to future corrections (The International History Project 2003).

Archeology is therefore a historical science. It applies knowledge from geology and biology. Most of archeological researches are not experimental. In some cases, experiments are applied in order to develop an analog on a specific artifact.  Archeology has been developed as a branch of anthropology, a social science. Currently both archeology and anthropology employ both scientific and humanistic approaches in an effort to understanding the human past.

Archeology is developed as a specialization of history. It is therefore an important source of information in the field of history (The Cahokia Mounds. 2008). Archeology utilizes material remains to come up with an image about human ancestors, where they lived, when they lived, how they changed over time, and their ways of lives. Archeological studies therefore include scientific, anthropological, humanistic, and historical approaches in its application (The International History Project 2003).

The twentieth century came up with increased studies about human past. These are the times when archeology emerged as a profession. Many universities, colleges, museums, governmental agencies, and other private businesses employ archeologists as professionals. Most professional archeologists are found in the field of anthropology.

To understand humanity and what it means to be a human being, it is important to understand the past. These can well be done through archeological studies. With the advent of modern technology in the scientific study of humanity, such as the DNA technology, in-depth understanding of humanity is possible. Genetic evidence is used in relation to the past to understand so many things about human beings and their surroundings (Cell Press 2010). Archeological and linguistic studies incorporated with modern technology has made it possible to understand humanity. For instance archeological researchers in Kenya and Ethiopia have come up with evidence that proves the early humans who lived there were scavengers. They struggled for so many years with crude stone tools. 

An archeological study tries to bring all people on earth together. This is possible because it offers people a past study of humanity and origin. It also tries to explain the origin of available diversities amongst human populations. Archeology therefore offers a global story on humanity origin. This story is applicable to all communities. This gives all humans a reason to integrate as they all share a common origin. Human life is believed to have started about 70 thousand years ago in Africa (Clapham and Rowley-Conwy 2007). This is the point where modern human beings started to exist after evolving for so many years from their ancestors, ape-like creatures. The diversification that occurred was due to environment and isolations that took place between the early humans. They developed their cultural beliefs in isolation. This explains why every community has its own myth about its origin.

Knowing the past ensures humans learn from the past then plan well for the future. The knowledge on humans past is well elaborated using archeological studies. Human migrations and their migration patterns, reasons why they migrated explains the diversity of human genetic makeup (Cell Press 2010). Humans had to adjust to the new environments to survive in to the future. As humans occupied new environments, new cultural diversifications resulted. They also started to live a sedentary life evidence seen from the types of structures that built. They also started practicing farming in an effort to ensure food security, surplus food resulted to trade. Trade started in form of batter trade where goods and services were exchanged for goods and services. This proves that for humans to reach where they are today they have come far. Some archeological evidences show that natural selection forces eradicated some people. This shows that in understanding what led to their eradication humans are in a position of preventing a repeat of history.

Archeology also offers detailed evidence that proves that evolution is real. It proves that humans are improving for the better. Humans are undergoing evolutionary changes. They started from simple creatures to the complex and most intelligent creatures on earth. It shows that over the years all the humans evolved from a common ancestry. This knowledge is use in explaining the origins of humans and gives a glimpse in to the future. The study of archeology therefore hives human populations hop for a better future.

Humans can use archeological study as an instrument of preaching peace. This can be made possible through informing all the human of the common ancestry they share. Through highlighting effects that war brought in the past, humans can be convinced to coexist peacefully. The past study of ancient civilizations and what might have resulted to those developments indicates availability of peace and unity of purpose. This can be used to help humans have a united front in an effort to achieve greater things.

Archeological studies indicate that all humans originated from Africa and migrated to their present homelands (Clapham and Rowley-Conwy 2007). This can be used to eliminate racism. Since it explains that humans are different due to divergent evolution to adapt to the environment. They belong to the same species and the differences are only physical. This will enable humans to treat each other equally and hence respect one another irrespective of skin colour. The discovery of many different cultures from the archeological records helps human beings to appreciate diversity. Archeology has documented the origins of these different cultures and their developments of the diversities. This fosters appreciation of one another, exchange of ideas from different cultures, and continuity of traditions.

Through in-depth archeological study, modern-day societies gain knowledge from their predecessors (SamSocks 2009). This is made possible by applied archeology. In this case, archeological research is made educational and of practical significance to the modern communities. Archeologists reconstructed systems of canals and elevated fields used by ancient farmers in potato farming in Peru and Bolivia. Farmers from those regions have applied the technology. The technology has been very successful. Other information from ancient societies helps in planning. Old city plans like in New York and London is very useful in modern city planning.


When archeology was introduced in the 20th century, it was an academic oriented social science. It was conducted in the colleges and universities only. In the modern world, archeology is a profession with very high academic qualifications. Archeology has gained numerous applications with increased in-depth understanding of archeology. This has resulted to government agencies and private organizations like the environmental protection bodies recruiting skilled archeologists to work with them. The future of archeology is bright with most archeologists focusing on monitoring and evaluation of archeological records rather than making discoveries. This will help achieve the dream of every archeologist, which is protecting and preserving the world and humans’ biological and cultural heritage for the generations of the future (SamSocks 2009). 

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