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Archeology Today A Method of Historical Inquiry Questions to Consider • Briefly outline the stages that archeologists go through in preparing a dig. • Aside from the information in the slide, what do you think might be important? • How do you think improved dating techniques assist in exposing fraud? Secondary Sources • Once they have a focus, historians begin hunting down data. Data are often sparse and hard to find, especially about people who had no rank or power. Historians rely on two types of resources when gathering information. Secondary sources: books, journals, and film are accounts of the past based on research and analysis. They help provide a context for research and are important starting points. Secondary sources help the historian see how others have interpreted the past and which biases may have shaped their views. Primary Sources • Critically important to the study of history are primary sources, accounts recorded at the time of an event, which may include diaries, eyewitness accounts, government records, ships' logs, or newspaper articles. Primary sources can also be non-written data such as pottery pieces (also called potsherds) or other artifacts found by archaeologists, cave paintings, or the remains of an ancient religious site. What is archeology? • Archaeology provides scholars with the primary data necessary to answer certain questions. As archaeology is a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. Archaeologists do excavations to solve a problem or test a hypothesis. The artifacts that they gather become a primary source for anthropologists, ethnologists, paleontologists, biologists, and historians. In short, archaeology is the set of methods used to extract information regarding the past from the earth and sea. The Team • An archeological crew may consist of: • A field director (licensed archeologist) • A few supervisors • The crew (less experienced personnel) • Photographers and surveyors • …and depending on what is found, they may need zoologists, botanists, geographers, or even pathologists Starting the Work • While the top layers of earth are removed, close attention is paid to the soil, in case a stain or an artifact appears. A variety of things leave tell-tale stains in the soil. Some stains are left by the decaying posts of a wooden structure. Other stains are made by hearths (fireplaces) and middens (garbage pits), both extremely valuable sources of information. Middens often yield bits of pottery, carbonized seeds, bones, and other remnants of daily life. As stains and artifacts are discovered, they are recorded in field notes Plan of Clava The two cairns at Clava, with the ring cairn between them At Clava, two main tombs are laid out, open to the visitor, one at each end of the complex. Both have their entrance passage pointing in the same direction, so that on Mid- winter's day, the rays of the setting sun point right down the passage. Between the two main cairns is a monument of a rather different type known as a ring cairn Continuing the Work • Archaeology is essentially destruction: once a site has been excavated, it can never be reworked. Accurate and meticulous notes are essential. • But most of the work is done in the laboratory, analyzing the raw data. • For the work of the archaeologist to be of value, the primary data and the completed analysis must be published. Ontario law requires all archaeologists granted licenses to prepare a site report at the end of each season in order to get their licenses renewed for the next year. Determining Age • Human remains present a special challenge to the archaeologist. Much can be learned about a people by studying their skeletal remains. The first goal in the analysis of human remains is to determine the age and sex of the person. The age of young children and teens can be determined within one year by examining their teeth. The age of young adults is determined by examining the fusion between the ends and shafts of long bones. Determining the age of adults is much less precise since it is done by studying tooth wear, which can be affected by several things. This 45-year-old woman from the Roman town of Herculaneum died during the volcanic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79CE She was found buried under volcanic material, on the beach near her home. Due to the action of bacteria and the elements, all that remains are her bones and jewels. On Tools… • A great deal of information can be learned from stone tools and pottery. A microscopic examination of the edges of a stone tool will often reveal evidence of its use. For example, tools used for cutting plant stems may have silica gloss on them from the silica in plants. Stones used to make tools were not randomly selected, but were quarried to obtain the proper type and quality. Dating Items… • When an archaeological find occurs, the first thing determined is the age of both the artifacts and the site. The archaeologist can choose from a variety of dating techniques, and while few of these allow for absolute dating, approximate and relative ages can be obtained. Stratigraphy • A commonly used method of dating is stratigraphy, the study of the layers (strata) of archaeological remains at a site. It is based on the principle that the most recent materials are found at or just below the surface. Materials found are progressively older as the dig goes deeper. The consecutive periods of the occupation of a site can be distinguished and differentiated, with each layer revealing the lives of the inhabitants. Stratigraphy can reveal the ages and other information about the layers (strata) of the occupation of an archaeological site. Where does the earliest occupation lie? Radiocarbon Dating • Professor Willard F: Libby; the American chemist who discovered the principles of radiocarbon dating, raised these limitations in 1949. Radiocarbon dating determines the age of organic material by measuring the level of the radioisotope carbon 14 (C14). Carbon 14 is formed by neutrons interacting with the earth's nitrogen. This process creates radio- carbon, which is equally distributed throughout the atmosphere. All living things absorb radiocarbon throughout their lives, and at the moment of death, the process is reversed and the radiocarbon begins to decay at a constant rate.
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