Archaeology defined:

Archaeology is the study of past cultures through the examination of material remains of human activity remaining in the ground. Archaeology involves locating archaeological sites, or places where material evidence of past human activity is present, and recovering those remains to improve our understanding of the past. The location of archaeological sites is known as archaeological survey, and the recovery of remains from a site through digging is called excavation.

The study of archaeology is essentially multidisciplinary. The study of material remains involves:

for example, determining the chemical signature on the interior of an ancient ceramic vessel to discover what kind of food, animal or vegetable people cooked on it
radiocarbon dating organic remains to learn the age of a site
identifying the plant and animal remains from an excavation
describing the strata of an archaeological site to learn how the deposit containing the site was formed, and under what conditions this happened

Archaeology is important for several reasons:

It is the only way we can learn about the past in those periods when no written records were left. Some such times are the time of the Paleolithic, when Neanderthals and other early humans lived, or during more recent times in areas such as South America, where there is a rich "history" of civilizations, but there were no written documents before the advent of the Europeans.

Archaeology is also important in the study of the historically known past because archaeology's focus on material remains provides a record of the lives of ordinary people, which is often left out of the historic chronicles.

Finally, archaeology is a way of preserving the physical remains of the past so that we may use these objects to enhance our appreciation of the past. Without the efforts of archaeologists, many museums would have nothing to show of the great achievements of our ancestors.


Many people think of archaeology as nothing more than the discovery of great treasures. Mostly it is not. Archaeology is normally the examination of bits and scraps of people's behavior from the past. From these pieces of discard, archaeologists try to learn of the things that happened in the past. By patiently piecing together the information from site after site, a picture emerges about life in the past.

Try some exercises! (1st grade - 3rd grade)(6th grade - 9th grade)

For more information, contact Dr. Michael Michlovic

Back To: Anthropology and Earth Science Home Page