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Why Study Archaeology?

It may be that you have a long-standing fascination with the subject, as is true of many of our students, but there are many other reasons why you may find archaeology attractive, even if you have not thought about it before.

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. 

The sheer breadth of the subject is an aspect many of our students find particularly appealing.

Archaeologists frequently work with historians concerned with ancient texts such as letters, court records, king-lists and political documents. 

It also has much in common with the earth sciences and geography. We 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. It is 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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