Let’s Dig In!
Archaeology begins indoors, with an idea, a research question, or threat of development on land that may be archaeologically significant. Before the trowel hits the dirt, most archaeological projects begin with a research design. This gives an archaeologist a scientific framework for research, helps define clear research goals, and provides a fieldwork plan to get the project rolling.
While only a fraction of an archaeologist’s time is actually spent in the field, fieldwork is central to archaeological research as it is how archaeologists collect their data. The archaeological process has to be flexible, as each site is unique, but the general methodology is pretty much the same:
Archaeologists use Site Survey techniques to locate a site. Archaeologists can get a jump on excavation by using a variety of non-destructive Remote Sensing techniques that allow them a sneak peek under the ground.
Once a site is located, archaeologists begin the data recovery process through Excavation. This provides the needed information about how a site was formed, used, and abandoned over time. This stage of the game requires detailed Site Mapping and the careful recovery of Features and Artifacts.
Why and How?
For every hour in the field collecting data, archaeologists will spend several more sorting, cataloguing, and Analyzing. New technologies allow for archaeologists to glean more data than ever before—and modern researchers can analyze organic materials with increasing precision (using Dendrochronology on wood, and Radiocarbon Dating on a wide variety of organic materials). Modern researchers increasingly work with artifacts invisible to the naked eye. Microscopic artifacts can provide information through Isotope Analysis, Soil Analysis, or Paleobotany.
In order to gain an understanding of how people made, used, or created archaeological sites, archaeologists often turn to Experimental Archaeology, which allows them to make important insights into past behavior through the reconstruction of ancient technologies.
Sharing the Discovery
Archaeology is a group effort. The most important discoveries are often the result of many years of careful excavation by many different people. That is why it is important that archaeologists don’t forget the final steps in the archaeological process: Interpretation and Outreach. Archaeologists often compare notes, revisit old artifact collections, and continue to synthesize archaeological data to answer questions about the rich and diverse human past.