Archaeology: What Survives?

Archaeologists study what humans leave behind. But not everything can survive in the archaeological record. How well things survive is strongly impacted by the materials that they are made of and the environment in which they lie. Given the right combination of material and environment, archaeological remains could survive for millions of years. Other objects may disappear within decades.

Organic materials are more likely to decay and are greatly affected by moisture and air. This includes anything that was once living like human, animal, and plant remains and anything made of them like food, wood, or leather. Unless they are preserved in special conditions, organic remains decay fairly quickly. Most archaeological sites have little to no organic remains.

Inorganic remains survive better, even though some things can rust or break down. Inorganic materials include things like stone, metal, clay, plastic, and glass. These things were never living.

Common finds at archaeological excavations in Manassas National Battlefield Park include bullets, made of lead, buttons from uniforms made of metal, and shards of pottery.

Last updated: June 28, 2021

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