Archaeological Survey (Archaeologists Toolkit)


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Archaeological Advances of the Last 50 Years

Stratigraphy can determine the relative age of soil layers and artifacts and can help us understand the order of events. But if an artifact of known age such as a coin with a mint date is found in a soil layer it can tell us when something occurred. Tree-ring dating, or dendrochronology, is one of the oldest dating methods used by archaeologists.

It is based on the principle that trees produce growth rings each year and the size of the rings will vary depending upon rainfall received each year. Archaeologists have built up long sequences of rings from tree trunks that extend back centuries. In the American Southwest, tree ring dating goes back to 59 BC. Radiocarbon C14 dating is the most popular method to date objects made of organic matter.


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Potassium-argon dating can date ancient objects—up to , years old. Obsidian hydration can date artifacts made from volcanic glass.

ISBN 13: 9780759100176

This is only a sample of the many physical and chemical dating methods that archaeologists use to date archaeological sites and artifacts. Artifacts are important sources of information for archaeologists.

Artifacts can tell us about the diet, tools, weapons, dress, and living structures of people who made and used them. Archaeologists wash, sort, catalog, and store recovered artifacts after bringing them back from the field.

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Methods of Archaeology

They analyze individual artifacts, but also may sort them into groups to see patterns. For example, they might weigh all the oyster shells together or count all the nails and consider them as one unit. The locations of artifacts on the site provide clues to the kinds of activities that occurred.

The type of material the artifact is made of is another important piece of information. It that can inform whether past people obtained the materials locally or by trading with another group. Artifacts provide a window into the lives of peoples who lived before.

ISBN 13: 9780759100176

A feature represents human activity but, unlike most artifacts, it cannot be removed from the archaeological site. A feature might be a stain in the soil that is evidence of a former fence post. Photographs, drawings, and soil samples of the fence post hole collected by the archaeologist are part of the scientific record of that feature.

Those documents and samples are just as important as the artifacts found nearby.

Archaeological Advances of the Last 50 Years

Features like soil stains can reveal the outlines of prehistoric or historic structures such as houses, barns, longhouses, and earthen lodges. Other types of features include hearths fire pits , storage pits, and middens—what archaeologists call garbage dumps! Privies outhouses are important features in historical archaeology sites, because people used to dump their garbage into them. Archaeologists have both ethical and legal obligations to preserve all the data they collect for the benefit of future generations.

This includes not just the artifacts recovered, but also the associated information and records. This includes soil samples, field notes, maps, photographs, drawings, and related historical documents. Archaeologists follow strict guidelines and procedures for cleaning, labeling, cataloguing, and storing objects.

Each state has a responsibility to store the millions of artifacts recovered from surface collections or excavations within its boundaries. Finding space for these collections is a major challenge. While some collections are stored in many locations around the state, other states have created centralized archaeology storage facilities. Universities and museums also sponsor archaeology projects and are responsible for preservation and storage. Archaeologists working at museums or universities may store their collections there.

The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology in Philadelphia is an example of a museum with important archaeology collections, which it stores, displays, and loans to other institutions for exhibitions. These collections are also studied by scholars from all over the world. We preserve collections for both scientific research and public education. The application of new technologies and dating techniques to old collections yields valuable new information that may lead to new understandings about our human past.

For instance, neutron activation analysis now allows us to trace the origin of the raw materials used in Maya ceramic pots, collected over a hundred years ago. Both DNA analysis and atomic mass spectrometry AMS radiocarbon dating are being applied to plant and animal remains to study the origins of domestication. Archaeological collections are also preserved for use in museum exhibits so that the public may benefit from the archaeological research that unearthed them.

This way, we can all connect to the work that archaeologists do. About Archaeology. Home About Archaeology What do Archaeologists do?


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What is Archaeology? What do Archaeologists do? Historical Research Techniques Preparing for the Field Data Recovery In the Lab Preserving Collections The methods used by archaeologists to gather data can apply to any time period, including the recent past. Historical Research Techniques Archival research Archival research is often the first step in archaeology.

Oral History Oral history is another research method that archaeologists and historians may use to gather information. Top Preparing for the Field While historians and archaeologists both use written documents to learn about the past, only archaeologists interpret archaeological sites. How Do You Find Sites? Surface Surveys A surface survey is a systematic examination of the land.

Shovel Test Pits Shovel test pits or STPs are a series of narrow holes dug in an area that archaeologists believe to be a potential site, revealing artifacts or features. Exactly what tools are used depends on the size, location and type of soil on each site, and what is being dug up.

The most expensive equipment used in archaeology are geophysical equipment such as resistivity meters, magnetometers ground penetrating radar and the sophisticated Global Positioning Systems and surveying equipment such as a total station. These types of tools cost thousands of pounds but do not require any invasive excavation to find areas of interest to archaeologists. The trowel and sometimes a garden hoe as demonstrated by Greg in the photo is used to carefully scrape back dirt and soil in a controlled way.

A clean floor allows for maximum visibility. Permanent Markers - No archaeologist leaves home without them. They are used for marking artifact bags, pin flags, or whatever needs a good labeling. The secret weapon - Most archaeologists have one. Dental pick, sharpened bamboo stick, plastic spoon—when the digging gets tricky, these personalized favorites often appear. Other stuff - Gloves, band-aids, sunscreen, and other creature comforts can often be found in the kits of the extra-prepared. Culture of the Trowel The trowel is the archaeologist's signature tool—good for everything from sculpting the walls and floors of a unit to inspiring raging debates.

Typology in Archaeology

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