I. Prehistoric Times > A. Introduction > 2. The Study of Prehistory
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  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
 
 
2. The Study of Prehistory
a. Archaeology as Anthropology and History
 
In contrast to classicists and historians, prehistoric archaeologists deal with an enormous time scale of human biological and cultural evolution that extends back at least 2.5 million years. Prehistoric archaeology is the primary source of information on 99 percent of human history. Prehistoric archaeologists investigate how early human societies all over the world came into being, how they differed from one another, and, in particular, how they changed through time.  1
No one could possibly become an expert in all periods of human prehistory. Some specialists deal with the earliest human beings, working closely with geologists and anthropologists concerned with human biological evolution. Others are experts on stone toolmaking, the early peopling of the New and Old Worlds, or on many other topics, such as the origins of agriculture in the Near East. All of this specialist expertise means that archaeologists, whatever time period they are working on, draw on scientists from many other disciplines—botanists, geologists, physicists, zoologists.  2
Prehistoric archaeologists consider themselves a special type of anthropologist. Anthropologists study humanity in the widest possible sense, and archaeological anthropologists study human societies of the past that are no longer in existence. Their ultimate research objectives are the same as those of anthropologists studying living societies. Instead of using informants, however, they use the material remains of long-vanished societies to reach the same general goals. Prehistorians also share many objectives with historians, but work with artifacts and food remains rather than documents. In some parts of the world, such as tropical Africa, for example, prehistoric archaeology is the primary way of writing history, since oral traditions extend back only a few centuries, and in many places written records appear no earlier than the 19th century C.E.  3
 
 
 
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

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