What is Archeology?
Archeology is the study of past human cultures, with emphasis on the ways in which people and their societies have changed over time. Like all anthropologists, archeologists deal in the key concept of culture – the system of shared meanings that people learn from their society for use in interacting with their surroundings, communicating with others, and coping with the world. However, because it is the study of past human activities, archeology relies on the analysis of the material remains of culture – artifacts, features, and other indicators of human presence in the past – to first reconstruct, and then interpret the archeological record. By reconstructing the archeological record, archeologists build models of prehistory – the daily lives, customs, and behaviors of past societies. Archeologists then attempt to interpret the reconstructed past and explain changes in societies and cultures over time.
… the most humanistic of the sciences and the most scientific of the humanities. – Alfred L. Kroeber.
With one foot in the sciences and the other in the humanities, archeology offers a rather unique perspective on human history and culture. As a science, archeology seeks to explain why events and processes unfolded as they did in a specific time and place. Like knowledge claims in other scientific disciplines, these attempts at explanation are testable and subject to peer review, and ideas that are not correct are discarded and replaced by new explanations. Archeology is also humanistic and interpretative, attempting to identify meaning – the emotional, artistic, and experiential side of the past – in the archeological record. Such interpretations are also subject to peer review and public critique, and often reflect not only scientific viewpoints, but those of descendent communities and the modern public. In including alternative explanations and interpretations, archeology also serves as a ‘bridge’ between the past and present, encouraging respect for cultural differences and the preservation of our ancient heritage not only for science, but for the realities of modern peoples’ relationship with the archeological landscape.
Finally, archeology is a truly multidisciplinary, and often interdisciplinary, science. Many other sciences are used in archeological field work and analysis. In fact, there are few questions about the past that do not benefit from the help of other sciences, which is why archeology routinely draws on geology, geochemistry, geomorphology, geophysics, botany, biology, cultural anthropology, physical anthropology, epidemiology, nutritional science, medical science, forensic science, geography and cartography, and chemistry, to name a few.
The links on the right explore more specific aspects of archeology, including the basics of what archeologists do; the types of archeology practiced in the Southwest; the history of archeological thought, theory, and practice in the Southwest; the definition of archeological sites, specific site types, and site importance; definitions of common artifacts and features; the importance of context in archeological investigations; and current methods employed in Southwestern archeology. A glossary is also included for important terms that may not be defined in the text, or that necessitate further explanation. Use the links at the bottom of the page or on the top right to navigate to other topics within Archeology.