Survey And Excavation In Archaeology Research Paper

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1. The Term ‘Archaeology’

The term ‘archaeology’ comes from the Greek word, arkhaiologia, meaning the ‘discussion or discourse about ancient things.’ By definition, archaeology is the science by which the remains of the ancients can be methodically and systematically studied to obtain as complete a picture as possible of ancient culture and society, and thereby to reconstruct past ways of life. An antiquarian doctor of Lyon, Jacques Spoon, first used the term ‘archaeology,’ in the seventeenth century. Archaeology is a discipline that involves the scientific method of study, observation, recording, and experiment. Archaeologists study in detail the complete life of cultures and their patterns of change in an attempt to delineate the causes and effects of the cultural process. The fascination of archaeology lies in the solving of long-standing problems and in the discovery of the meaning of things. The excitement of archaeology lies in the new problems which recent findings produce.



2. The History Of Archaeology

The earliest ‘archaeologist’ was the sixth century BCE King Nabonidus of Babylon who excavated a temple down to its foundations which had been laid thousands of years before. Even the Roman emperor Augustus was a collector of ‘giants’ bones and ancient weaponry. With time, Europeans began to collect burial urns, chipped flint stone and ground stone tools which some believed were amulets. In 1719 the Austrian Prince d’Elboef led the first excavation to Herculaneum, which had been destroyed along with Pompeii in AD 79 when Mount Vesuvius erupted. Thereafter when pieces of classical sculpture began to turn up, artists began to study their shapes and decoration and collectors began to collect, proudly display, and discuss their forms. With time, more people began to describe what they recognized as ancient monuments and excavations were undertaken to retrieve more and more objects. In the mid eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries digging for ancient objects became the pursuit of gentlemen of the leisured class and professionals: they became known as antiquarians and formed clubs to discuss the merits of ancient artifacts.

Archaeology as a pursuit using scientific systems of recovery began in the nineteenth century, along with the growing realization that humankind had an ancient past that could be investigated in a methodical way. The names of most important archaeologists from the early days include Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie in Egypt, Robert Koldewey in Babylon, the duplicitous Heinrich Schliemann in the Aegean at Troy, Mycenae and Tiryns, and General Augustus Pitt-Rivers in Britain. Later pioneers were Sir R. E. Mortimer Wheeler in Britain and India, George Andrew Reisner and Sir Leonard Woolley in the Near East, Max Uhle and Alfred Vincent Kidder in America, and Francois Bordes and Andre Parrot in France.

In the present day, archaeology has grown into a multidisciplinary, methodical, problem-oriented search for the past. It now involves above-ground research as well as excavation, and a host of specialists is required, depending on the site. Background research as well as excavation has become meticulous. The object study of pottery, for example, involves not only typologies but sophisticated scientific testing by neutron activation analysis to understand the chemical components and to identify the sources and, cultural patterns as well as to assess trade relationships.

Archaeological questions extend far beyond the excavation and interpretation of any single cultural group, geographic region, or chronological period of time. In theory, all archaeological study is aimed toward an explanation that will provide a conceptual basis for the reconstruction of the past, and the where, how, and why of the changes that took place.

3. The Importance Of Archaeology

Archaeology is unique in that it encompasses the whole world over the past 2.5 million years in order to reconstruct the past. It includes the research of all kinds of sites—underwater wrecks or port installations, caves, jungles, deserts, and mountain-top sites; wherever past activity has taken place. Archaeology wants to discover where and when humankind developed and began to practice art, agriculture, and technology and became urbanized. It is our route to our understanding of ourselves, for in order to know where we are going we have to reconstruct and understand the past and where we have come from.

Archaeology continues to give us a broad and long-term view about the past and the events that conditioned us. There is an implosion of new answers to research on how, where, and when humankind began, our development of technology, the arts, the expression of our ideas in writing, how we harnessed the environment brought about the domestication of plants and animals, and developed agricultural systems. Archaeology helps us to understand the processes of becoming urbanized how we developed complex societies, and to understand our basic needs.

4. Archaeological Sites

Archaeology covers a wide diversity in time, space, subject matter, and approach. An archaeological site can be any place that has been a scene of past human activity, including a briefly settled campsite, a shipwreck, a monumental city, or the evidence of any number of different combinations of human remains. Any place where human beings have established themselves, even momentarily, is considered a site.

As each archaeological site is a unique time capsule, each has its own distinct character and problems. Types of sites are often labeled by their prehistoric or historic context, their function, their general topographic nature, or according to whether they are composed of one or many levels of occupation. Sites represent a body of data relevant to their setting and their cultural patterning and must be interpreted both in relation to this local setting and as a link between cultures. Sites may be small or large. Small sites are far more numerous throughout the world and may range from hunting or fishing stations to small village communities. There are prehistoric plains or riverside terraces such as Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, Africa; there are caves such as Chou Kou Tien near Peking, China where the Peking Man was found; or those containing Upper Paleolithic art, like Lascaux in France.

Large sites are generally cities, temples, large tells— artificially built-up mounds in the Middle East with one city built on top of the other (known as hoyuk in Turkish or tepe in Persian). The ancient mound of Jericho, Israel is particularly important, revealing evidence dating back to 8000 BCE. A more recent tell of the Mississippi Basin was built by the Mound Builders of North America in about 1300 CE. There are monumental cities such as classical Rome, MesoAmerican Tikal in Guatemala, or Angkor Vat in Cambodia. There are sacred areas reserved for ritualistic functions such as Stonehenge in England, or the statues of Easter Island. There are cemeteries and tombs such as those of Mycenae in Greece, the Pyramids in Egypt, or the mounds of Ohio, Illinois or Mississippi. Famous sites also include underwater shipwrecks and harbors discovered worldwide off the shores of the Mediterranean, or near Oslo, Norway, where early Viking ships have been recovered.

The selection of a site for excavation therefore depends upon what the excavator–principal investigator wants to find, and what problems will be answered by excavation. What is the nature of the evidence? It usually involves a problem to be solved—how has the site been built up over time? What is its environment and how has this changed? Using a research design, a review process is undertaken which includes the preliminary analysis of the site, the evaluation of the probable results, the examination of the costs, and the evaluation of organizational abilities and needs to carry out the tasks involved.

5. Archaeological Studies

Many types of archaeology have evolved over the years. There are Old World (Eastern Hemisphere) and New World (Western Hemisphere) prehistoric specialties, based on the stone tools humankind produced. The Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze Age, and Iron Age are specialties. These are broad artificial classifications with subdivisions. As far as the discipline in which it has received attention, Old World archaeology is a separate subject in some schools, or is associated with departments of classics or Near Eastern studies, history, or art history. In the New World prehistoric specialists may concentrate on the Paleolithic, Archaic, and Woodland periods. Then both Old and New World archaeology moves into historical archaeology. In the Old World there are experts who are devoted to classical archaeology (the worlds of Greece and Rome) or Biblical archaeology (the areas encompassed by the Holy Land).

Similarly, many kinds of specialties have developed in archaeology, for example, industrial archaeology; the study of manufacturing and salvage archaeology; the rescue work done before a modern construction takes place such as land development, or urban renewal, or when a pipeline, road, or dam is built. There are also technical specialties of people who concentrate on specific techniques such as ceramics, lithics, paleobotany, palynologists (specialists in pollen), and dendrochronologists (specialists of tree ring growth) among many others, including computer specialists who lend support to all these areas.

Since the 1960s in America, archaeology as a subdiscipline also has been associated with anthropology. As anthropology is the study of humanity, anthropologists generally observe the behavior of present-day people in order to explain and reconstruct their behavior patterns. In so doing, they have to make assumptions about past behavioral patterns as set against the environment of the present.

Anthropology is divided into several subfields among which are social and/or cultural anthropology, physical or biological anthropology, linguistic anthropology, which includes the interpretation of oral history, demographic anthropology, ethnic anthropology, cognitive and symbolic anthropology, enthnoarchaeology, and archaeo-astronomy (the study of ancient astronomical events).

6. Dating Systems In Archaeology

The term ‘culture’ is used when assuming that a group of people exhibit shared behavior. Archaeologists want to be able to establish accurate space and time frameworks or dates for the cultures they are researching. In short archaeologists want to establish the site context, culture, and chronology. Laboratory methods provide what are known as absolute dating methods, and relative dates are ascribed to archaeological strata based on the site deposition or stratigraphy and the discovery of cultural artifacts similar to those found at other sites.

Absolute dating is a date given in specific years, in terms of chronometrical dating or the calendar. A date given as BP is a date before 1950. BC means ‘before Christ’ (although nowadays BCE is used, meaning ‘before the Common Era’). CE (Common Era) is used instead of the old term AD, meaning Anno Domini, or after the birth of Christ. Absolute dates can be established by laboratory analyses like radiocarbon dates (C-14), potassium-argon, thermoluminesence (TL), archaeomagnetism, and palaeomagnetism, among others. These are geochronologic methods used for determining the absolute date of a deposit.

Relative dates are based on the stratigraphic deposition—the principles of superposition, association, and correlation. Superposition assumes that the uppermost stratum (soil level) was deposited last and the lowest stratum was deposited first; thus the reasoning assumes that lower strata are generally older than the layers above them. Association assumes that the artifacts found in the same closed and sealed archaeological context are contemporary and are therefore presumed to be culturally and temporally associated. Correlation assumes that, once cultural associations have been determined, artifacts can be cross-culturally correlated with artifacts from other site cultures and they can be expected to have been manufactured at the same time, and therefore to possess the same relative date.

Archaeologists use seriation as a method of relative dating. Seriation involves the ordering of specific artifact types from an earlier to a later time sequence by the use of a typology. In creating a type series, the archaeologist assumes that artifacts have formal attributes that can be measured like raw material, length, width, thickness, color, weight, and so on, and that these nonrandom attribute factors were used as a standard by the maker. Therefore, a typology is comprised of types which are a cluster of attributes in a class of objects and these can be given relative dates that can be used to date the stratification.

Once associations have been defined cultural levels can be inferred. A cultural level represents the choices of a particular social group, such as the classical Greeks. The data collected in such a cultural level depict a known and recognizable set of ideas that are then represented as the cultural products of that society.

7. Archaeological Survey

Survey includes exhaustive historical research, mapreading, geomorphologic and geographic analysis, aerial photography, and ground-level surveys, including electronic and magnetic surveying techniques. Historical research includes all previous research of the area—excavation reports, artifact studies, and the conclusions drawn by previous researchers. In-depth bibliographic research provides essential background information.

All archaeologists are concerned with surveying as a means of planning and laying out the area to be studied or excavated. Surveying is generally the first step in all archaeological projects, and is often the last step before the completion of the excavation. Using maps, aerial photos, and whatever background information is available, ground level surveys can be undertaken on foot to understand the physical features of the site as well as the artifacts—in short, all the material cultural remains of the site or the culture. The site is then located according to Global Positioning Systems on a topographic government map with a scale of 1:50,000, and its location is established and officially reported.

As a branch of engineering, surveying is the science that accurately determines the shape, area (size), and positions of a site’s surface by the measurement of certain points. It includes the measurements of horizontal distances and elevations, and determines the direction and relationships of angles by the use of optical instruments. There are several principal classes of survey: geodetic surveys, photogrammetric (picturemeasured) aerial surveys, and plane surveys. Geodetic surveys are used for the study of large areas like countries or continents, and take into account the curvature of the earth’s surface. Satellite photographs have become important to the archaeological analyses of large landforms. Photogrammetric surveys are the science of taking detailed vertical or oblique photographs from an aircraft for the reliable measurement of the earth’s features. Plane surveying is used for small areas of archaeological focus in which the curvature of the earth’s surface is not measured. The preliminary survey also consists of a systematic walking over the site recording standing structures and features as well as artifact materials and scatters. Depending upon what type of survey is to be conducted, artifact concentrations may be collected, processed and studied to indicate the type of site and its artifact range. The survey should establish the site size, what kind of site it may be, its time span, and, if possible, its depth of deposit.

Depending on the site, three principal types of survey are usually conducted before excavation: (a) the land survey for the proper planning and laying out of the site which includes the site grid; (b) The topographic survey which is the measurement of elevations representing the surface of the area; and (c) the ongoing excavation survey, which is made during excavation to control the location of archaeological structures, features, and objects and providing these with elevations. Anomalies and physical features are then thoroughly mapped and described as well as factors like vegetation and soils.

Decisions then may be taken as to what additional surveying equipment will be used to look at the subsurface features. Electrical resistivity meters and magnetic surveying by using any number of different magnetometers are instruments that are linked to computer-processing programs; they help to determine what disturbances or structures exist in the area. Only when the comprehensive survey has been completed can the researcher decide if excavation is justified, and if it is, where it is to begin, and what course it is to take.

8. Excavation And Ethical Considerations

Even before a site is excavated, preservation and consolidation measures must be seriously considered and implemented. How will the site be left after the excavation is completed? As excavation is destruction, one of the most important considerations is the site’s stratigraphy, its depth of deposit, and its characteristics. We need to conserve and protect the excavated sites and monuments from all periods and in all parts of the world. Furthermore we need to protect sites against the threats from human intervention, mass tourism, and building development, as well as from the elements of natural deterioration and neglect. Looting is an age-old problem. There are those who clandestinely excavate to sell artifacts at an enormous profit. Although artifact-rich countries have the legislation to prevent the illegal excavation and export of their country’s patrimony, they lack consistent regulatory measures to police looters, dealers, and the exporters of their antiquities. If we are to preserve our common human heritage, the protection of cultural patrimony has to become everyone’s priority.

There have been changes in the ethical standards observed by archaeologists today. Ethical standards in archaeology may be defined as the obligations of a professional or an amateur to the excavation, to the country, State or area in which it is located, to the public at large, and to fellow archaeologists. Today’s archaeologists strive to work and live according to a high standard of behavior, applying their knowledge to enhance the reputation and achievements of archaeology as a whole and for the benefit of human knowledge. Many archaeological associations have drawn up ethical codes that have been accepted by international archaeological societies. The codes of the Archaeological Institute of America and the Society of Professional Archaeologists are among these.

Who will be responsible for the care and upkeep of the site over time? And what should be done to care for site artifact collections? Where are they going to be stored, who is going to study them and on what time schedule? What is to be their final disposal—a museum, reburial, and, if the latter, where will they be buried? Today the archaeologist has the responsibility of addressing such issues and these should be best addressed before excavation takes place.

9. Excavation

Excavation is the deliberate recovery of buried objects in relation to the layer or stratum and other associated objects in its original deposit. The principle of excavation is that artifacts, nonartifactual materials, and architectural features are not randomly distributed, but are deposited by people. Their position in the earth reflects the cultural, economic, and social behavior of humankind that can be studied by means of excavation. This is the basis for the functional reconstruction of the site. It is only through excavation that the archaeologist can collect and extract a wide range of physical information or obtain a sense of the people who lived, worked, and perhaps worshipped at a site. The archaeologist does this by describing the evidence the people left behind—the architectural features and objects. It is only through excavation that we can align these physical features in time and space so that the functional reconstruction of the processes involved can be determined. In this way we can better understand and interpret the causes, changes, and processes which the ancients used to bring about change.

Excavation is the method of removing objects and uncovering stationary features that have been concealed by later deposits. It involves the removal of layers or strata in reverse order to the way in which they were laid down, gradually revealing each successive stage in the history of the people who used the site. Because excavation is the means by which information is unearthed, it must be conducted methodically so that whatever is found can be seen and studied within its own context. The main objectives of excavation are to uncover the position of objects as well as floral and faunal data, and to plot their location on a horizontal plan. It also involves the meticulous recording and sequencing of successive layers on the vertical section by position and depth measurements. Finally, the goal is to relate such data to the total environment of the site and to assess its relationship to other sites in the area.

10. Modern Developments In Archaeology

Major developments in archaeology took place in the late 1990s with the advent of computer technology— remote sensing, web pages, virtual reality, computer simulations, digital cameras, and the greater use of the hard sciences including DNA analysis.

In the 1960s American archaeologists began to challenge the traditional archaeological academy and argued that the discipline had become simplistic. As a result of this critique the ‘new archaeology’ was developed, emphasizing the importance of the processes within the society being studied. This was known as ‘processual archaeology,’ and it emphasized the value of objective, logical explanation and the descriptive processes that can produce testable assumptions. They believed that culture should be studied as sets of systems and subsystems as they relate to the environment, the economy, and patterns of subsistence. They also emphasized that the interrelationships between different sectors of the society should be explainable so that specific developments could be established throughout time.

They failed to stimulate the traditionalist majority who practiced archaeology as they had before and who believed that there were no universal laws governing human behavior.

The merit to the then-new approach to archaeological data opened the way to a vast array of new theories including Marxist, neo-Marxist positivist, structuralist, post-structuralist, post-processualist, deconstructionist, and probabilist views along with other theoretical constructs. The post-processual school of archaeologists still adheres to a so-called interpretative archaeology, which insists on emphasizing history, philosophy and, whenever possible, literary studies. Interpretative archaeologists place importance on the fundamental uniqueness and diversity of culture, believing there is no one governing law that can apply either to archaeological research or to the interpretation of the past. These theories hold some truth, provide stimulating hypotheses for our explanation of the past and are used by many who thoughtfully interpret the probabilities of the evidence. Now archaeologists are wrestling with the ideas of multivariate explanations—and many continue to build idealized models for their interpretations.

11. Conclusion

By and large, archaeologists are dedicated researchers and teachers. As for future directions in theory and research, evaluation can be said to drive archaeological standards. By clearly specifying the outcomes in measured ways, archaeologists will change the way they excavate and publish. In the training of students, field directors hope they will train people who possess the qualities and attributes desired in a competent archaeologist. As an archaeological project is expected to foster a shared sense of a shared mission between the field researcher and the principal investigator, both will strive to reach a common goal. Archaeology is best taught through active learning processes, and principal investigators help students by gauging their progress and identifying and overcoming barriers to the excavation as a whole. The developmental process of archaeology is most effective when the goals are known so that the whole team can work together toward the shared goals, collaboratively devising strategies to overcome any obstacles. Our understanding of the past is in a constant state of change due to new discoveries and advances in our knowledge. It will never be finished.

Today archaeology has developed into a complex discipline with a vast literature and a range of specialties that are well beyond the competence of a single researcher. More and more data are being produced, museums are overwhelmed with objects and, even with the advent with the computer, many artifacts have remained unanalyzed or unregistered. There is a crisis in the discipline due to the fact so much data has been produced, and as excavation involves the destruction of the site, archaeologists must be aware that the discipline may self-destruct unless it puts its house in order. It faces considerable challenges and risks ahead and it must develop an international dialogue among its leadership that is committed to a strategy which will ensure the saving of the past for the future.


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