I. Prehistoric Times > A. Introduction > 2. The Study of Prehistory > d. Finding and Digging up the Past
  PREVIOUS NEXT  
CONTENTS · SUBJECT INDEX · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
 
 
d. Finding and Digging up the Past
 
The finding and excavating of archaeological sites is a meticulous process of uncovering and recording the finite archives that make up the archaeological record. The sites, large and small, that make up this record are finite resources. Once destroyed and the context of their artifact contents disturbed, they are gone forever.  1
Although the destruction wrought by early archaeologists and treasure hunters was devastating, that of modern industrial development, deep plowing, professional looters, and amateur pothunters has been far worse. In some parts of North America, experts estimate that less than 5 percent of the archaeological record of prehistoric times remains intact. In recent years, massive efforts have been made to stem the tide of destruction and to preserve important sites using federal and state laws and regulations. While some progress has been made in such cultural resource management, the recent archaeological record of human prehistory is a shadow of its former self and in many parts of the world is doomed to near-total destruction.  2
 
1. Finding Archaeological Sites
 
Many archaeological sites come to light by accident: during highway or dam construction, through industrial activity and mining, or as a result of natural phenomena such as wind erosion. For example, the famous early human sites at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, East Africa, were exposed in the walls of the gorge as a result of an ancient earthquake that cut a giant fissure through the surrounding plains. Well-designed archaeological field surveys provide vital information on ancient settlement patterns and site distributions.  3
Increasingly, archaeologists are relying on remote sensing techniques, such as aerial photography, satellite imagery (digital images of the earth recorded by satellites), or side-scan radar (airplane-based radar used to penetrate ground cover). These allow them to identify likely areas, even to spot sites without ever going into the field. The latest approach involves the use of Geographic Information Systems (mapping systems based on satellite imagery that inventory environmental data). The combination of satellite imagery with myriad environmental, climatic, and other data provides a backdrop for interpreting distributions of archaeological sites. For instance, in Arkansas, archaeologists have been able to study the locations of river valley farming villages and establish that they were founded close to easy routes to the uplands, where deer could be hunted in winter.  4
 
 
 
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.

CONTENTS · SUBJECT INDEX · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  PREVIOUS NEXT