The field of archeology is a scientific field that studies primarily prehistoric cultures to give modern people information about how their ancestors lived and interacted in the distant past. This field belongs to the larger science of anthropology. Archaeologists spend quite a bit of time excavating and analyzing materials found underground at dig sites.
Digs are found throughout the world, and the work done there can be both time-consuming and laborious. When archaeologists make finds about early cultures, however, it can be very exciting. New “finds” add to the knowledge researchers have about the way people lived in the past.
Archaeologists are not the romantic Indiana Jones type, for the most part. They are also not paleontologists who dig up dinosaurs. The only buried animals they would find pertinent to their study are domesticated animals, or animals that made up part of an ancient culture’s food source.
Work done on a dig site can be at times painstakingly slow. Soils have to be analyzed a small amount at a time to find any remnants of an older culture, and they are usually filtered to see if they turn up half of an old tool or a fragment of bone. These finds are then carbon dated to determine their age. Often, digs are initiated when a tiny artifact is found, suggesting that there may be additional artifacts in a particular area.
On digs, archaeologists usually excavate material in 10 by 10 foot (3 by 3 meter) squares. Digging must be done carefully to not destroy buried structures or smaller artifacts. Early researchers had the unfortunate habit of completely destroying everything they excavated by overdigging a site. So now, anyone who digs on a site does so with great caution.
As discoveries are made, archaeologists catalog all finds, and may later make reports about their findings. They may work in conjunction with social or cultural anthropologists to make guesses about how an older society used tools or what type of gods the society worshiped. These experts can also report on the advanced status of a culture by evaluating certain finds that suggest complex thinking or cultural development.
Archeology can be a fairly dirty and difficult job. It involves a lot of digging, and minute observation of soils. Many digs are in unrelentingly hot locations, without access to showers or even bathrooms. Most people who work in the field, however, are too fascinated by the results of digs to mind such privations.
Most archaeologists work with universities or museums, and part of their job is to obtain funding for digs. They also may employ students on digs to have extra assistance on the job. Students usually work without pay, but relish the training they receive in their chosen field.
An interesting look at the field of archaeology is the James Michener fictional novel The Source, which evaluates a dig site in the developing state of Israel. It is particularly fascinating in the way it flips back in time to tell the story of how ancient Jews and earlier peoples functioned in the culturally rich areas that now make up the state of Israel. Though some of the digging tactics are outmoded, the novel still rings true in its essence of this field, as the story of these people are fictionally reconstructed to give readers information about their predecessors.