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An introduction to the methods, theories, and ethics of studying the human past.

Clayton Meredith

on 3 October 2012

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Transcript of Archaeology

Archaeology The study of past human cultures, and behaviors based on the analysis of material remains Why do we study the remains of the past? Understanding our past as well as our relationship with the past Preservation of cultural heritage Understanding long term processes that are not observable in any other scientific field Resolution of dispute Archaeology appeals to the public (and professionals alike) as an interesting subject History of Archaeology Antiquarianism
Some parallel developments in different regions
Age systems Ancient Chinese Archaeology Early recognition of 4 ages: stone, jade, bronze, iron
Artifacts used as templates for cultural revival
Shen Kuo (1031-1095) Islamic Atiquarianism 10th to 16th centuries
Attempts to decipher hieroglyphics Roman Antiquarianism Textually based
Preservation of customs
Trading in Greek art
Akin to antiquing Ole Worm
(1588-1655) Danish Antiquarian
Organizes artifacts into categories reflecting material type Stone tools at this time often attributed to natural or supernatural phenomena rather than past human action Observations of people using similar technology during age of exploration challenges this view Advances in Geology Nicholas Steno 1669
Principle of Superposition
James Hutton 1788
Antiquity of the earth
Charles Lyell 1830
Uniformitarianism Christian Thomsen Recognizes that Worm's categories represent different time periods based on superposition Stone Artifacts Bronze Artifacts Iron Artifacts Evolutionary Archaeology Racially motivated interpretations
Used to justify colonialism
Natural progression through stages culminating in Western European culture
Attribution to "civilized peoples" Modern Examples Theory in Archaeology Archaeological investigations are influenced by the theoretical background archaeologists employ. What questions are being asked? How are interpretations made? Culture History 19th century to 1950s
Emphasizes describing different cultures based on material remains
Explains change through diffusion and migration Processualism aka "New Archaeology" Attempts a more scientifically minded archaeology
Middle Range Theory
Sought theories applicable to all humans Post-Processualism Gains momentum in 1970s and 1980s
Emphasizes the need for multivocality
Interpretations emphasize the role of human action and agency over environmental determinism Types of Evidence Sites
Manuports The term "site" is contextually specific Angkor Wat Mockingbird Gap Sites encompass a range of scales from lithic scatters to entire cities. Often cultural resource management firms will have arbitrary designations for what constitutes a site. Artifacts Features Any culturally modified material that cannot be removed from an archaeological context Postholes Architecture Culturally modified materials that can be removed from their archaeological context Ecofacts Materials that inform us about the ecological conditions pertinent to archaeological investigation Plant microfossils Faunal Remains Manuports Objects not modified by humans, but transported by them How do we know things were moved? Rocks out of their geologic contexts
Shells on land Makapansgat pebble
Dates between 2.5 and 2.9MYA
Unmodified stone
Not consistent with local geology
Found in context with A. afarensis remains Identifying Archaeological Sites Archaeological sites are often found by chance. Some sites are never truly lost. Folklore
Natural processes
Rodent burrows etc.
Chance encounters
Cultural Resource Management Survey The identification, characterization, and description of archaeological sites based on materials present on the surface Must be systematic!
Covers large area
Cheap Usually consists of walking transects across site. How? Remote Sensing Archaeologists use a variety of techniques to characterize sites without needing to excavate. Aerial photography Photos taken from planes or satellites providing large aerial views of archaeological sites It's cheap! Different perspectives Vegetation, frost, raking sunlight, and spectral measurements reveal unseen details LIDAR 3D Scanning
Aerial LIDAR Resistivity Current is run between probes measuring the resistance between them. Architectural features may be more or less resistant to electrical current and are revealed when many measurements are taken on a grid pattern. Magnetometry Burned features have slight magnetism that interferes with earth's magnetic field. Measuring anomalies can identify bricks, hearths, and burned soils. Ground Penetrating Radar Requires ideal conditions
Requires training to interpret images
Provides image representing vertical slice through landscape detecting changes in density This plane nicknamed "Glacier Girl" crashed in Greenland in 1942 and was subsequently buried under 268 feet of ice. Fifty years later, GPR was used to locate the plane. A hole was melted in the ice, the plane was disassembled, and the pieces brought to the surface. The plane now makes appearances at air shows. It still flies! Excavation Excavation is the controlled demolition of an archaeological site. The goal of excavation is to recover artifacts with as much contextual information as possible. Grid Systems Archaeological excavations are carried out with reference to a datum and a grid system. This allows for measurement of provenience (the three dimensional position of an artifact or feature within the site), and helps the excavator adhere to a sampling protocol. Stratigraphy Excavators make careful notes and considerations of stratigraphy (the relative position of artifacts and features in the vertical dimension. Sequence of deposition
Relative dating Dating Methods Relative Dating Methods Absolute Dating Methods Methods that provide dates relative to other things (i.e. pot A is older than pot B but younger than pot C)

Seriation Methods that provide a numerical date for archaeological materials (i.e. this object is 600 radiocarbon years old ±25 years)

Paleomagnetic Reversals
Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL)
Uranium Series Stratigraphy Artifacts found at greater depth are older than those found near the surface.

Secondary deposits
Intrusive material Seriation Styles Change Through Time Popularity grows to a peak then declines Problems
Retro styles
Long lived trends
Deposits covering long time periods Best materials for seriation are styles that are wildly popular only for a brief period of time Absolute Dating Methods Dendrochronology Width of individual rings reflects climate The sequence of alternating widths can be aligned to create a long record. The bands in wood recovered from an archaeological context can then be compared against the known record to establish when the tree grew. Problems Record is specific to a region
Record can only be established for the last 11,000 years (in the best conditions)
Dating requires large pieces of well preserved wood
Life of tree may not reflect time of use Radiocarbon Dating Most commonly employed absolute dating method
Dates organic materials (charcoal, wood, collagen etc.)
Useful for materials less than 50,000 years old How does it work? C14 forms high in the atmosphere due to cosmic radiation
C14 levels in the atmosphere are relatively stable
C14 is unstable
C14 decays at a predictable rate
Half life is 5,730 years Problems After 50,000 years not enough C14 exists to be accurately measured
Calibration curves must be known
Old carbon pools (in some instances)
Contamination Paleomagnetic Reversals Earth's magnetic field periodically reverses itself. This seems to be of little consequence unless you have a time machine and a compass except that some materials are capable of recording the direction of the magnetic field. Liquids and materials at high heat can be aligned by an incident magnetic field
This alignment can be examined in ancient materials
Based on the difference between the angle of the current magnetic field and the field when the material was heated, materials can be dated. Problems
The last reversal was 780,000 years ago
Only useful for paleoanthropology Uranium/Thorium Dating Uranium is unstable and decays through a series of intermediaries to lead
This process is suitable for dating the age of very old rocks
U/Th ratios can be used to date travertine and cave deposits up to 500 kya
Based on solubility Particularly useful for environmental reconstructions Luminescence Methods Radioactive decay introduces crystal defects
Crystal defects can be "reset" by heating or exposure to light
When the materials are reheated or exposed to light once more, these defects are eliminated and energy is released as light
Optically stimulated luminescence (OSL)
Useful for minerals to determine their last exposure to light
Useful for dating the last time ceramics were heated Problems
Using OSL requires collecting samples in complete darkness
Context must be considered Materials Studied by Archaeologists Ceramics Fired clay objects
Remarkably stable styles
Ceramic spheres indicative of different cultures
Sourcing of temper and clay Lithics Stone tools
Includes tools as well as debitage
Created by pecking, grinding, abrading or chipping Textiles Formed from fibrous plant materials
Preserves only in extremely arid, cold, or waterlogged environments Skeletal Materials Preserves well except in acidic or wet soils
Human bone
Faunal bone
Utilized bone Metals Produced through smelting of ores
Retains signature of manufacturing techniques Middens Archaeological garbage heaps
Yield tremendous amounts of information
William Rathje Analysis Techniques in Archaeology XRF Examines elemental content of samples Commonly used for sourcing lithic raw materials Chemical Analysis Techniques LA-ICP-MS
Stable Isotopes
Residue Analysis Ethics in Archaeology
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