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Archaeology

Archaeology: The Basics


Children's archaeological dig with David Palmer at Batoche National Historic Site of Canada (Sask.) 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, objects like pots or even dugout canoes and ships, features such as hearths, 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 land.

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.) 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.