Archaeology events allow people of all ages to learn more about archaeology. These activities can include archaeological laboratory open houses, simulated digs, lectures on archaeological topics, and more.
Every artifact and feature found on a site has a defined location, known as its context. This is recorded by archaeologists in order to understand how the artifact was used.
Archaeologists dig at a site to learn about the past from the objects people made and used (artifacts) and features of their environment, like houses and rubbish heaps. These sites form when people do daily activities over time, such as building and repairing buildings, digging and removing plants, eating, and disposing of their waste in rubbish heaps.
Before digging, archaeologists carefully plan their site using surveying techniques, such as a grid system. This ensures they are recording as much of the original landscape as possible before it is destroyed by excavation.
After planning, archaeologists use a variety of techniques to excavate the site. They may use mechanical excavation to remove all the soil from a phase of the site at a time, or they might excavate in a method called stratigraphic excavation. This involves removing phases of the site one at a time, and recording the sequence of contexts to create a Harris matrix for analysis.
Archaeologists survey (measure) sites before digging to locate artifacts and features. They set up a site grid with string held by stakes or large nails, or use modern GPS surveying equipment. This allows them to accurately record the location of excavation units (squares) within a site, and it helps to maintain the provenance of artifacts (their history of where they came from).
Archeologists also study a site’s stratigraphy (its soil layers), which may have formed over long periods of time through erosion, gardening activities or trash dumping; or over shorter periods of time by construction, demolition or land-filling. This helps them determine how to approach a dig, since each layer of soil represents a different period in time.
Before beginning to excavate, archaeologists write and submit a research design, or plan of work. This document outlines the “who, what, where, when and how” of the project, and it must be reviewed and approved by the State Historic Preservation Office in the United States, or by the appropriate agency in other countries.
Archaeologists take care to record every aspect of a dig. They know that digging up a site destroys it, so any information they fail to record will be lost forever. In addition to excavation records, archaeologists create an accession catalog for each artifact they find during a dig.
The process of recording a site begins before the archaeologist starts digging. They establish a datum point (a reference point) on a map and then draw a rectangular grid over the entire site. Each square in the grid is a unit, and the archaeologist records the exact horizontal and vertical location of each one.
Many of the artifacts are categorized according to their material, such as stone tools, ceramics, and glass shards. Other categories include food remains, such as seeds and nuts; tools for hunting, fishing, and agriculture; and buildings. Then, there are the artifacts that tell a story of human culture, such as arrowheads, pottery, and other items used in warfare and daily life.
Archaeologists analyze the objects they find, asking questions about how people lived. They might study million-year-old fossils of our ancient human ancestors or 20th-century buildings in modern cities. Archaeologists count, weigh, sort and categorize the materials they find to figure out how people in the past did things such as make food and cloth, build houses and hunted for fish and game.
Archeologists also examine how styles changed over time, as in the way that clothing styles and automobile designs change from year to year. They do this by comparing similar artifacts from different layers of the site, known as stratigraphy.
Throughout the fieldwork process, archaeological researchers try to work with local communities. This has benefits for both sides. Tribal elders can help prevent the excavation of areas that they consider sacred, and the archaeologists get a better understanding of how to interpret their findings. This method is known as ethnoarchaeology. Other specific archaeological sub-disciplines include maritime archaeology, feminist archaeology and experimental archaeology, which aims to improve the scientific rigor of archeological research by developing more highly controlled observation techniques.