About archaeological sites and artifacts
An archaeological site is a location or group of locations in which evidence in the form of artifacts or features of past human activity are present. Prehistoric sites are defined as those without a written record and include megalithic stone monuments, ancient cemeteries, rock art, and villages and cities, for example. Archaeologists define a historical site as locations where writing and written text has aided identification.
Historical sites range from ancient cities to shipwrecks and battlefields, to name a few.A site can also be as large as an entire settlement or as small as an area where something has been deposited such as a burial or hoard, which is a collection of items of value. Archaeologists study the locations and structures themselves in addition to found artifacts which include things such as stone tools, metal objects, jewelry, cups, bowls and pottery.
According to the Smithsonian, there are two primary types of dating used to verify the age of archaeological artifacts, radiocarbon dating and thermoluminescence dating.
Radiocarbon dating: Used to date organic and non-metallic objects that are less than 50,000 years old, this method provides accurate age estimates by measuring the amount of decay of carbon-14.
Thermoluminescence dating: Used to date artifacts by heating them up to measure the amount of radiation gained over time. This method is used primarily for dating pottery and can be used for artifacts up to 200,000 years old.
There are a number of different ways Archaeological sites are preserved over time. Remnants that have been buried naturally by sediments in water, wind gravity or due to decomposed vegetation as in jungles, are much more likely to be preserved than those that are exposed to the ravages of weather and time. Humans also deliberately bury sites or cover sites unwittingly and incidentally. Throughout the world, it is common to find newer structures built on top of, or using older ones.
Indeed, many archaeological sites and artifacts have been discovered by accident, as a farmer plows a field or a backhoe digs the foundation of a building. But archaeologists actively search areas that are either known to have had human habitation or are deemed likely to have supported human populations. This is done by a process called surveying, which involves walking, analyzing and digging on locations. Geophysical surveys are also used, with ground penetrating radar which measures and maps soil magnetism and electromagnetic radiation, which bounces radio signals back from subsurface structures.
Archaeological discovery and preservation
Within the field of archaeology, there are many areas of specialization. Some of the archaeologists you will most likely meet have specializations in:
Prehistoric archaeology: the study of peoples who didn’t yet have a form of written language.
Historical archaeology: the study of places, things, and issues contextualized within the written records and oral traditions. This includes subgroups such as Classical (Ancient Greece and Rome) and Egyptian.
Underwater archaeology: the study of remains and artifacts that lie underwater, like sunken ships and their cargo.
Bioarchaeology: the study of human remains to contextualize human life or the past environment while Zooarchaeology is the study of animal remains by identification from archaeological contexts.
Aerial archaeology: As the name implies, this involves looking at the ground from above to look for things like patterns, earthworks and burial mounds that are difficult to see from ground level.