Archaeology: The Basics
Children's archaeological dig with David Palmer at Batoche National Historic Site of Canada (Sask.)
© Parks Canada / Venne, D. / H.08.81.06.11(14) / 2003
Archaeology is a field of study that incorporates many methods and theories of other disciplines such as
anthropology, ethnology, sociology, history, biology, and geology.
Archaeology, therefore, may be defined as a set of theories, methods and techniques
for the study of human behaviour, using the physical remains of activities
in the past. By analyzing physical remains, for example,
pots or even dugout canoes and
ships, features such
structural remains such as buildings or locks, as well as flora and fauna,
archaeologists interpret the people and cultures they study. The further archaeologists
go in their research, the closer they come to recreating a detailed picture
of their subjects and to uncovering more about the human occupation of the
Archaeological research can take place anywhere — an urbanized setting
or a remote location. For example, research can be prompted by a new construction
project in the city, by an inventory of a natural park's resources, or during
the designation of a historic site.
Teepee Rings, Badlands at Grasslands National Park of Canada (Sask.)
© Parks Canada / Lynch, W. / 08.81.04.16(05) / 1989
One of the great challenges of archaeology is to analyze the data that
have been collected. Often these data are difficult to sort out, as a site
may have been occupied successively by various groups of people. To distinguish
between time periods and groups, it is important to carry out a stratigraphic analysis
and an analysis of the spatial distribution of material remains. Archaeologists
have to pay close attention to visible clues when undertaking surveys or archaeological research.
They must record and catalogue all observations properly because, once a site
is excavated, much of the evidence is destroyed. Architectural elements that
have to remain in place or be reburied must be sketched, their location indicated
on the map, even photographed. Meticulous recording of data is essential.