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What is Archaeology

Introduction to ANT 540.

Sarah Surface-Evans

on 13 July 2015

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Transcript of What is Archaeology

Archaeology Below the surface
What is Archaeology
So what is archaeology?
Interpreting the Past
To make sense of the material evidence and context and make the best possible inferences about the past, we have to know something about:
Material Culture in Context
Human Remains
Based on your previous experience, define it in your own words...
You probably said something like:
"Archaeologists study past societies / cultures."
Introduction to ANT 540
But many disciplines study "the past".
What makes archaeology unique?
This course will delve deep into WHAT archaeology is and HOW it is accomplished.

Let's explore further...
Archaeology is concerned with the past as viewed by:
The situation where material culture is found.
Artifacts are
any object made by humans
Manuports are objects that may not have been used or modified.

But do not belong where they were found.
Such objects may have been moved by people.
Ecofacts are objects from the environment.
These include the remains of meals.
And biological and geological evidence of the environment.
Features are human-made creations that cannot be moved.
As Stewart states, the very nature of a a feature "is changed by their excavation" (2002).
Human remains are frequently part of the material record.
The human body is a record of an individual's life.
Age at death
Health during life
Factors affecting lifestyle
* But any study of human remains must be done with permission of descendants
& conducted with respect.
This is a part of research Ethics, which will be a big part of this course.
Context provides meaning that is not inherent to the artifact (Stewart 2002).
Context contains three different characteristics:
Where is it?
How is it positioned?
What is around it?
What is its chronological placement?
What behaviors does it represent within the society that made/used it?
Spatial Context has
Multiple Scales
Intra-site (within site), Inter-site (between sites), Regional, Multiregional
Temporal Context also Varies
by Scale
Diachronic =
through time.
Synchronic = a single point in time.
Ultimately archaelogists want to infer the
responsible for creating the material record. We want to know:

What people were doing?

The trickiest part of what we do is figuring out what BEHAVIORS are responsible for the PHYSICAL & MATERIAL signature found in the archaeological record.
Culture & Nature
is a comparative & holistic study of human social systems, or culture.

Culture is “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.” -Sir E. B. Tyler

Archaeologists also draw heavily on the natural sciences to study:
Past environmental conditions through soils and geology, botanical remains, and faunal remains.
Understand environmental processes.
Pick an object from your backpack (don’t make it too personal).
Place it in the center of the table & then trade your table's artifacts with another table's.
Now examine and describe the object you received & answer the following questions:

Let's interpret an “Artifact”
How is the object used?
Does it contain meaning/symbolism beyond its function?
What can you infer about the culture that created it?
What can you infer about the person who used it?
How does knowing its context help you in these interpretations?
How do we study the past,
We cannot observe past people’s behavior first hand, or ask past people about what their perceptions & thoughts.
We also can't observe past natural processes first hand.
So that leaves us with studying
material remains
of past cultures and environments.

What is Science?
Science is a philosophy, or way of thinking about the world.
Science is based on some shared assumptions:
There is a "real world" that we can observe.
Scientific knowledge can change.

are built by "testing"
, or statements of observations.
are overarching models of how scientists think the world works.
Scientific "truths" (also called Theories) are tempered by culture, history, data, & experience.
Scientific Method: Steps of Investigation
Archaeology is rarely this straightforward...
Key characteristics of Culture:
Culture is shared.
Culture is learned.
Culture encompasses behavior, thought, and material products.
Culture is composed of many different facets, institutions & systems.
Levels of Archaeological Theory
– Observations/interpretations that emerge from field and lab work
How data created from objects
e.g.) What are the characteristics of this object?

– Hypotheses that link observations with human behavior or natural processes
e.g.) How was this object used by humans?

– The larger “why” questions
e.g.) How do hunter-gathers use tools to
adapt to environmental conditions?
Addresses the BIG questions about human nature.
Science versus Pseudoscience
is “a process of understanding the world around us through the application of logical thought” (Feder 2006:5).
Strives for replicable experiments that others can verify.

… abandons logic” and offers only unverifiable claims (Feder 2006: 5).
Cannot be substantiated or verified.

How do we achieve replication in archaeology?
Obviously, the past only happens once.

Additionally, you can only excavated it once. The very nature of excavation is destructive.

Due to these reasons, archaeologists strive to excavate
, while
recording all contextual details
Learning systematic methods of data collection is the focus of this course!
It's probably obvious that humans are affected by and have affect on the environment.

The environment also impacts the material record in many ways.
Archaeologists have to determine the difference between cultural & natural processes that contribute to the material record.
Why do archaeologists also study the Natural Environment?
Archaeologists compare living cultures to past cultures in order to:
Develop expectations, or
, to interpret the material record.

Understand the cultural processes responsible for the material record.
How are behaviors patterned?
What is the material signature of values & cultural ideas?

We can only infer, or make educated guesses, about how people felt, what their values were, and how they behaved.
Our guesses are guided by the scientific method.
You will learn ways of recording & studying natural processes in this course too!
Much of what we do in this course is learning how to study material culture & ask the right questions in order to interpret it...
In the coming weeks, you will:
Learn how to ask research questions & implement research design.
Learn how to collect & analyze data in order to interpret dynamic past human societies from the static archaeological record.
Put all of this knowledge into action to complete a research project & report.
Goals of Archaeology:
past cultures & determine when & where people once lived.
how people once lived.
the underlying processes of cultural change & continuity. Why do people do things the way they do?
limited & precious cultural resources.

the results of this work with others.
You will learn how each of these levels of theory are implemented...
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