Archaeologists discover things in the ground that give us clues to the past. So why is archaeology important? Archaeology is a quest for knowledge. We can learn from the past and use it to inform our present and future. Archaeology is central to our heritage and identity. We should protect our heritage for future generations.
Archaeologists work in many places all over the world to understand how people lived – their government, culture, religion, art, science, technologies and daily social life, such as what they prepared, cooked and ate.
Archaeologists are not all like Indiana Jones in the movies; they are not treasure hunters. Rather, they are ‘dirt detectives’ who use items they find in the ground, technologies and techniques to help solve the mysteries of the past.
So how do archaeologists find their evidence? They dig into the ground and this digging is called excavation. He or she identifies a site that may be large or small. A site is simply a place where there is evidence of human activity. The archaeologist lays out a grid system of squares so that they can record where they find each item. The site is then excavated in a careful, measured and scientific way. This is done in layers known as stratigraphy.
Sadly, many of the things we used in the past are perishable: organic materials like food and clothing usually decay and disappear over long periods of time. So archaeologists find the things that remain: pottery, ceramics, glass, beads, metals, bones, shells, seeds and so on. These are called artifacts and they provide the clues for understanding the past. Archaeologists rarely find whole objects buried in the ground but sometimes they find broken artifact fragments that can be pieced together like a puzzle.