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The Role of the Archaeologist

What does an archaeologist do?

  • In addition to the excitement of excavation, archaeology is linked with lots of other disciplines — history, geography, biology, chemistry or sociology, for example
  • Archaeologists work with the material remains of past activities including artefacts, such as pottery or coins, built structures, refuse from all sorts of activities, industrial wastes, trace molecules and isotopes, and even the remains of the people themselves
  • Archaeologists frequently work with historians concerned with ancient texts such as letters, court records, king-lists and political documents
  • Archaeologists are interested in patterns of settlement, communications and trade, and much of our work is based on mapping in one form or another
  • Like physical geographers we need to understand past processes of erosion and deposition, and the implications of climate change for past societies
  • The biological sciences have much to offer archaeology because people in the past adapted their lives to the environment utilising plants and animals around them for food and other purposes (sometimes defined as ‘past human ecology’)
  • Aspects of archaeology and forensic science also coincide in methods used in crime-scene investigation or in determining the ‘age at death’ (archaeological methods are routinely used by police forces to solve crimes)
  • The physical sciences are involved as well, whether in the means of locating sites by surveying minute differences in the Earth’s magnetic field, or the analysis and conservation of artefacts in order to ascertain the technological processes in their manufacture

Above all, archaeology is about people. It is truly a science for the humanities.

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