Archaeologists - Who are they?

Some of us like to think of archaeologists as swashbuckling heroes who rescue history's treasures from the bad guys. You know, Indiana Jones.

In reality, archaeologists usually do not fit the image of Indiana Jones that we get by watching “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” They are important folks though because they help us find out how people lived in the past. Without archaeologists, much of the history of human beings would be unknown to us.

Archaeologists use artifacts, tools, bones, buildings, and other remains they find in order to study the way humans lived in the past. For example, an archaeologist can carefully dig up (excavate) the remains of a house that was lived in thousands of years ago and tell a lot about the culture of the people who lived there. The way the building was constructed can give clues as to how advanced the culture was. Artifacts discovered in and around the building such as pottery, baskets, tools, and fire pits can also provide information about how the people lived.

Archaeology and archaeologists are particularly important when studying a culture that did not have a written language (a prehistoric culture).  There really are not many ways to learn about a prehistoric culture without the use of archaeology.

But, archaeologists are still quite important and useful in studying cultures with a written language (historic cultures) because they have the training and expertise to recover the remains of the culture – perhaps even the writings themselves. For example, if new Maya ruins were discovered in Central America, an archaeologist would know how to best excavate, catalog, and connect any buildings or other artifacts to our existing knowledge of the Mayas. The same would be true of Roman, Greek, Egyptian, or any other civilization with writing.

So, while there may be archaeologists that wear a cool hat and carry a whip, most of them are just hard working scientists who help us learn about and reconstruct the past. Thank goodness for them!