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[photo] Archeologists work underwater to lay out an excavation grid. (SEAC, NPS)

Archeologists work underwater to lay out an excavation grid.

Archeology is perhaps best thought of as the study of past ways of life. To pursue this study, archeologists focus on the relationship between the material objects made by past peoples on the one hand, and the makers' behavior on the other. Sometimes written records help; often no such records exist.

In previous centuries archeologists were content simply to find objects. Today, armed with computers, laboratory analysis, theories about society and culture, and a wide range of questions about human behavior, they may try to reach into the minds of those that made and used the artifacts. Thus their analysis acts as a bridge between the two sets of things: one an invisible realm that includes human ways of survival, religious beliefs, family structure, and social organization; the other a visible, tangible accumulation of material remains such as trash, tools, ornaments, and buildings. The latter group provides the raw material for understanding the former through logical reasoning. In making this all-important link, archeologists have at least three main goals:

The quest for cause-and-effect explanations of human behavior over the centuries is perhaps the most important ingredient of the discipline, for it has the potential to help us understand the present. This is but one of many reasons why archeology plays such a vital part in the overall study of humanity (Stuart and McManamon 1996).

For your information

Archeology and You
Archeology and You is a booklet describing what archeology is and how and why it is practiced.

Try it yourself

Consult with your coworkers to create a list of questions that visitors may ask about archeology at your park. Develop answers that address your park's specific themes, resources, and concerns.

Use What You Know: Assess Your Knowledge (#1 of 9)

  • What do you know about archeology already?
  • What resources do you use to learn about archeology?
  • What do you hope to learn from this distance learning course?