Archaeology is the scientific study of past cultures, based on evidence of the way people lived from the material remains they left behind and environmental effects of human behaviour. Culture is the shared ways of life learned by a group of people, including their language, religion, technology, and values. Evidence which can range from buried cities to microscopic organisms and covers all periods from the origins of humans millions of years ago to the remains of 20th and 21st century industry and warfare. The term Archaeology is from the Greek word archaiologia (meaning ancient) and -logia, (meaning discourse or study).
There are many different archaeology specialisms (as defined on various websites):
Aerial archaeology is the acquisition of archaeological information from aircraft, as well as certain ways that information is used. Many people equate aerial archaeology with aerial photography, but photography is only one facet of aerial archaeology. Not all aerial archaeological activity requires photography
Archaeobotanists are involved in the identification and interpretation of all kinds of plant remains found on archaeological sites. Remains range from tiny microscopic pollen to larger fragments of charcoal, seeds, fruits and nuts. The identification of these materials can provide a general picture of the role of plants in ancient diets as well as environmental information.
Archaeometry, also known as archaeological science, deals with the study archaeology, along with the application of scientific methods and techniques. Some of the scientific techniques include radiocarbon dating, dendrochronology, artifact analysis, mathematical methods, remote-sensing, microscopes and environmental studies.
Battlefield archaeology refers to the specific study of a particular archaeological horizon in which a military action occurred. This may include both 'bounded' battlefields where troop dispositions, numbers and the order of battle are known from textual records, and also from undocumented evidence of conflict.
Classical archaeology can be considered as the study of the most civilized cultures of the world, namely, the Greek and Roman civilizations. By investigating and researching on these two ancient cultures, a 2000 years span of the classical history can be studied. Athens and Rome form the main sites of study for classical archaeology.
Environmental archaeology deals with the study of environment by applying the archaeological principles. This is an interesting field for the science students, as the main focus is on studying soil science, sediments, pollens, diatoms and other environment-related archaeological factors. Environmental archaeology encompasses field studies along with laboratory experiments.
This archaeology type attempts to link the past with the present life. The basics of ethno-archaeology involve anthropology, which is associated with the archaeological theories. For example, studying the present day hunter-gatherer groups helps in examining the mode of hunting and gathering food in the ancient times. The archaeologists found that the past and the present day hunter-gatherers share some common aspects of life.
Experimental archaeology is a branch of archaeological study that replicates or attempts to replicate past processes to understand how the deposits came about. This includes everything from flint knapping or atlatl studies to past farming techniques to building entire villages.
Field Archaeology is the application of scientific method to the excavation of ancient objects - this discipline is what most people image an archaeologist to be. Techniques include field-walking, surveying, recording, excavation, identification and on-site processing.
Forensic archaeology is a discipline that applies the methods and principles of traditional archaeology to a legal context. These techniques can help immensely in investigators' understanding of a crime scene: Evidence collected from human remains, weapons, drugs and other artifacts found at the scene often contribute to the resolution of a case.
This branch of archaeology includes the study of ancient history based on historical sites, artifacts and other historical documents that help in arranging the cultural chronology of ancient historic times. It is more or less similar to biblical archaeology that encompasses the study based on written records. It is to be noted that historical records are not always correct and hence, it should be supplemented with other evidences.
Geoarcheology is specifically concerned with reconstructing ancient natural environments which man lived in and actively modified. This dynamically developing science draws upon the combined input of other fields, like geology, geomorphology, sedimentology, climatology, pedology and others in building up its research apparatus.
Landscape archaeology studies the way people of the past shaped the land around them, consciously or unconsciously. In its most extreme form, shaping the environment might include moving large amounts of earth and stone to create geoglyphs or large earthworks
Marine archaeology is associated with the study of underwater evidences such as shipwrecks, water-buried cities and other inundated archaeological sites. Archaeologists practicing in this field attempt to discover the submerged evidences by diving underwater along with sophisticated excavating tools.
Human osteoarchaeology involves the scientific excavation, recording, recovery, and analysis of archaeological human remains. This includes all archaeological human remains including skeletal remains such as inhumations and cremations, and more fleshy remains including the infamous 'bog bodies'.
Pseudo-archaeology aims at non-scientific approach and deals with real as well as imagined evidences to reassemble past life. The pseudo-archaeologists mainly focus on the evidences that contributes to the lost of continents like Atlantis and Mu.
Zooarchaeologists study different types of animal remains recovered on archaeological sites. This can include animal teeth and bones, insects and shell. Zooarchaeologists often deal with small, fragmentary pieces of bone that could have come from many different animals
Anthropology is the study of humanity - where people came from, how they live differently in societies across the world and also how they interact with each other and with their environment. The term "anthropology" is from the Greek word anthrōpos, (meaning human) and -logia, (meaning discourse or study) and was first used by François Péron when discussing his encounters with Tasmanian Aborigines. There are two main types of anthropologists:
Social Anthropologists are interested in people everywhere, how society works, how people live, what are their beliefs, customs, ideas, religions, myths, prejudices and aspirations. What kind of families do they live in, what kinds of work do they do, how are the lives of women different from those of men, or adults from children, or young from old? How do they deal with misfortune or sickness, in what ways do they celebrate when things go right?
Biological Anthropologists are interested in how humans evolved, in the whole history of human development, and in the more biological aspects of human societies today, for example nutrition, genetic variation, resistance to diseases, and adaptation to the environment.
In the US, Anthropology is often divided into four sub-categories: Biological Anthropology, Social Anthropology, Anthropological Linguistics and Archaeology
I believe the most interesting archaeology period is prehistory; a time before records were kept. The three-age system for prehistory comprises three consecutive periods of time, named for their respective tool-making technologies - the Stone Age, the Bronze Age and the Iron Age. Throughout the Ancientcraft web site, the following colour codes will be used where appropriate, based on British classification:
Lower Paleolithic (Stone Age)
2,500,000 - 300,000 BC
During this initial period, early members of the Homo genus had primitive tools, which remained dominant for the best part of a million years, from about 2.5 to 1.7 million years ago. Homo habilis is believed to have lived on scavenging, using the tools to cleave meat off carrion or to break bones in order to extract the marrow
Middle Paleolithic (Stone Age)
300,000 - 40,000 BC
During this time period Homo neanderthalensis lived in Europe between 300,000 and 30,000 years ago. The earliest anatomically modern humans appeared around 195,000 years ago.
Upper Paleolithic (Stone Age)
40,000 - 10,000 BC
This period was a evolutionary change for the human species as neanderthals became extinct, it was the last ice age and Modern humans (i.e. Homo sapiens) are believed to have emerged about 195,000 years ago in Africa.
This was a transition period between nomadic tribesmen and development of agriculture. More sophisticated tools and weapons appear.
Neolithic (Stone Age)
7,000 - 1,500 BC
The way of life of the Mesolithic Hunter Gatherer carried on virtually unchanged until around 7000 BC, when the first evidence of farming appears in the archaeological record. This technological advance signalled the beginning of the Neolithic or “New Stone Age.”
2,500 - 800 BC
Although not clear, it is thought that the bronze tools and weapons from this period were brought over from main-land Europe. The Mycenaeans created the finest bronze weapons. They came from southern Russia at around 2,000 BC, and settled in the lowlands of Greece.
800 BC - 100 AD
The Iron Age introduced many new things, such as coinage and wheel thrown pottery. People had started to live in larger and more settled communities, and the mortuary rites of society had changed.
43AD - 410AD
The Roman general and future dictator, Julius Caesar, made two expeditions to Britain in 55 and 54 BC as an offshoot of his conquest of Gaul, believing the Britons had been helping the Gallic resistance
5th - 15th Century
Sometimes referred to as the Dark Ages, the period when Roman rule declined and settlers from the German regions of Angeln and Saxony emerged as the new leaders. The Anglo-Saxon period lasted for 600 years, from 410 to 1066, and in that time Britain's political landscape underwent many changes
NOTE: The time period and associated colour systems relates to British periods only - local classification of time periods may differ.
YACs is a great club for young people (8-16 years old) with an interest in history and archaeology. Started in 1972 and originally called Young Rescue, Sir Tony Robinson is the Club's honorary President.
Until 2009, I attended the Cambridge branch of YACs which was normally held in the Cambridge Anthropology & Archaeology museum. I was been lucky enough to go on three YACs holidays in Cornwall, I have written several articles for the YACs magazine and their website.
In 2007 I won the Young Archaeologist of the Year award for my report called "As the Crow Flies" on the Monuments of Royston and Therfield Heath. The prize was a trip to York, that included a visit to the Jorvik Centre, the Yorkshire Museum and best of all, helping on a dig on an excavation area at Hungate with Time Team's Raksha Dave.
Collecting my Young Archaeologist of the Year Award (YAYA 2007) from Time Team's Raksha Dave and CBA's Mike Heyworth (right)