The study of the past through identification and interpretation of the material remains of human cultures. A comparatively new science, involving many academic and scientific disciplines, including anthropology, history, paleography, and philology, it makes use of numerous scientific techniques. Its keystone is fieldwork.
Archaeology was born in the early 18th century. There were some excavations of Roman and other sites, and the famous Rosetta Stone, which provided the key to Egyptian hieroglyphs, was discovered in 1799 and deciphered in 1818. In 1832 archaeological time was classified into three divisions: Stone Age, Bronze Age, and Iron Age; though this system is now more commonly used for cultures of primitive man.
However, it was not until the 19th century that archaeology graduated from its amateur status to become a more systematized science. Schliemann, Arthur Evans, Woolley, Carter, and others adopted an increasingly scientific approach in their researches.
Excavation is a painstaking procedure, as great care must be taken not to damage any object or fragment of an object, and each of the different levels of excavation must be carefully documented and photographed. The location of suitable sites for excavation is assisted by historical accounts, topographical surveys, and aerial photography.
Dating is accomplished in several ways. First, of course, is comparison of the relative depths of objects that are discovered. Analysis of the types of pollen in an object can provide an indication of its date. The most widespread dating technique is radiocarbon dating, incorporating the corrections formulated through discoveries in dendrochronology.
Home • Copyright © The Worlds of David Darling • Encyclopedia of Science • Encyclopedia of Alternative Energy • Contact