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This diversified and partly man-shaped landscape in northern Mozambique has some visual appeal (being beautiful or picturesque). Credit: Paulo Oliveira.

Archaeology "studies human cultures through the recovery, documentation and analysis of material remains and environmental data, including architecture, artifacts, ecofacts, human remains, and landscapes."[1]

It is the study of human activity in the past, primarily through the recovery and analysis of the material culture and environmental data that they have left behind, which includes artifacts, architecture, biofacts and cultural landscapes (the archaeological record).

Because archaeology employs a wide range of different procedures, it can be considered to be both a science and a humanity.[2]

Archaeology studies human history from the development of the first stone tools in eastern Africa 3.4 million years ago up until recent decades.[3] (Archaeology does not include the discipline of paleontology.) It is of most importance for learning about prehistoric societies, when there are no written records for historians to study, making up over 99% of total human history, from the Palaeolithic until the advent of literacy in any given society.[2]

Theoretical archaeology[edit]

Def. the "period of time that has already happened"[4] is called the past.

Def. the "study of the past through material remains"[5] is called archaeology, or archeology.


This is a photograph taken of the noted archaeologist and socialist V. Gordon Childe, circa 1930s. Credit: Swan Watson, Andrew.

"[D]ominant groups create and control the meanings and uses of material culture. If other groups wish to be understood by the dominant group, they must express themselves through the goods controlled by the dominant group."[6]

"But, the privilege afforded a certain dominant group of 'normal' archaeologists in terms of their ways of constructing the past influences all aspects of archaeological practice."[7]

"However, some answers to these questions may emerge from a consideration of the dominant group, that is, the five institutions whose scholars published the most articles in the two periodicals."[8]

Landscape archaeology[edit]

Def. an assemblage of surfaces that are a portion of land, region, or territory, observable in its entirety is called a landscape.

Landscape comprises the visible features of an area of [terrestrial ecoregion] land, including the physical elements of landforms such as (ice-capped) mountains, hills, water bodies such as rivers, lakes, ponds and the sea, living elements of land cover including indigenous vegetation, human elements including different forms of land use, buildings and structures, and transitory elements such as lighting and weather conditions.

Landscape archaeology is the study of the ways in which people in the past constructed and used the environment around them. Landscape archaeology is inherently multidisciplinary in its approach to the study of culture, and is used by both pre-historical, classic, and historic archaeologists. The key feature that distinguishes landscape archaeology from other archaeological approaches to sites is that there is an explicit emphasis on the study of the relationships between material culture, human alteration of land/cultural modifications to landscape, and the natural environment.


Excavations at the site of Gran Dolina, in Atapuerca (Spain), during 2008, are shown. Credit: Mario Modesto Mata.

Archaeological field survey is the method by which archaeologists (often landscape archaeologists) search for archaeological sites and collect information about the location, distribution and organization of past human cultures across a large area (e.g. typically in excess of one hectare, and often in excess of many km2).

Surveys are conducted to search for particular archaeological sites or kinds of sites, to detect patterns in the distribution of material culture over regions, to make generalizations or test hypotheses about past cultures, and to assess the risks that development projects will have adverse impacts on archaeological heritage.[9]

The surveys may be: (a) intrusive or non-intrusive, depending on the needs of the survey team (and the risk of destroying archaeological evidence if intrusive methods are used) and; (b) extensive or intensive, depending on the types of research questions being asked of the landscape in question. Surveys can be a practical way to decide whether or not to carry out an excavation (as a way of recording the basic details of a possible site), but may also be ends in themselves, as they produce important information about past human activities in a regional context.

Excavation is the exposure, processing and recording of archaeological remains. An excavation site or "dig" is a site being studied.


A stone sphere created by the Diquís culture is in the courtyard of the Museo Nacional de Costa Rica (National Museum of Costa Rica). Credit: WAvegetarian.{{free media}}
Here is a view of the Farm 6 Archaeological site. Credit: A. Egitto.
Palmar Sur airport park has stone spheres. Credit: Matthewobrien.
A small disc with tiny hieroglyphics written on it apparently telling the story of an ancient race of aliens called the Dropa. Credit: Evelyn H. Armstrong.{{fairuse}}

Def. an "object, such as a tool, weapon or ornament, [ceramics or pottery,] structure or finding in an experiment or investigation ... made or shaped by some agent or intelligence, ... [as] a result of external action, the test arrangement, or an experimental error ... rather than an inherent element"[10] is called an artifact, or artefact.

In June 2014, the Precolumbian Chiefdom Settlements with Stone Spheres of the Diquis was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.[11]

The spheres range in size from a few centimetres to over 2 metres (6.6 ft) in diameter, and weigh up to 15 tons.[12] Most are sculpted from gabbro.[12]

The culture of the people who made them disappeared after the Spanish conquest.[13]

The first scientific investigation of the spheres was undertaken shortly after their discovery and published in 1943 in American Antiquity, attracting the attention of Samuel Kirkland Lothrop[14] of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University.[15] In 1948, he and his wife attempted to excavate an unrelated archaeological site in the northern region of Costa Rica.[16] In San José he met Doris Stone, who directed the group toward the Diquís Delta region in the southwest ("Valle de Diquís" refers to the valley of the lower Río Grande de Térraba, including the Osa Canton towns of Puerto Cortés, Palmar Norte, and Sierpe.[17]

The Dropa stones or discs may be a series of at least 716 circular stone discs, dating back 12,000 years, on which tiny hieroglyph-like markings may be found.[18][19] Each disc is claimed to measure up to 1 foot (30 cm) in diameter and carry two grooves, originating from a hole in their center, in the form of a double spiral.[20]


In "Serbia [are] the oldest copper implements in the world. Some 7000 years ago, tradesmen of great wealth flourished on the Balkan peninsula."[21]

"The soil around Plonik is rich in copper - the metal in a pure state lays often directly at the surface."[22]

The so-called "copper-violets" "are related to the Alpine violets, which we know in Germany from flower pots. But they grow only in a soil with a very high copper content. There - where the soil is too poisonous for the other plants, they blossom in wide carpets - and in so doing point to the presence of copper."[22]

In "the late stone age people picked up the beautiful stones. For instance, malachite. The green-hued mineral belongs to the class of carbonates. Copper content: 57 percent. Our ancestors made experiments with different stones over the fire. From there, it was only a small step to jewels and to more practical objects."[21]

On "the Black Sea Coast in today's Bulgaria, there flourished a prosperous, big city, quite close to today's Varna. Archaeologists have found the cemetary of this settlement. The graves were loaded with treasures: jewels - mostly gold, but also copper - sea shells from the Aegean and tools made of types of stone which must have come from far away."[21]

"In the 5. Millennium BC people lived there in complex, centralized settlements of up to a thousand inhabitants. They invented a new ceramic oven with two chambers which was remarkably well suited to the extraction of metal. We must strongly surmise that there existed relations between the Balkans and Northern Mesopotamia."[21]

"An enormous fire unleashed itself around 5000 BC in the city [of Plonik]. The earth carbonized. The houses collapsed and buried all the possessions of the inhabitants under their walls. When the flame died down, the city had ceased to exist."[21]


In "the deep Southeast of Europe, near today's village of Plonik in Serbia, there existed 7000 years ago a major city. Its inhabitants lived in closely assembled huts and they melted copper to make jewels, tools and weapons."[21]

"The age of the oldest pieces which they have found up to now in the settlement is up to 7300 years. That's a good 800 years older as any other copper implements which have been found anywhere on Earth to this day."[21]


"The people of the Balkan peninsula had a good knowledge of how they could create jewels, tools and weapons out of earth with a high copper content."[21]

"In Plonik, excavators found hatchets of copper. And weapons: axes and maces. With them a new area began. The stone age was gone, the copper age - chalcolithic - had begun."[21]


"From one grave, the excavator dug 1,516 K of gold jewelry. This is more gold than has been found in all the rest of the world for this particular epoch."[21]


"In order to interpret archaeological ceramic assemblages in terms of social identities, a method was developed [that] consists in sorting the potsherds according to, successively, technical, techno-petrographic and morpho-stylistic criteria."[23]

Heritage management[edit]

"Rare, though, is the country where ethnic groups balance each other in terms of numbers, wealth or political influence and, consequently, it is not uncommon for the dominant group to use its power to push its own heritage to the fore, minimizing or denying the significance of subordinate groups as it crafts a national identity in its own image."[24]

Historical archaeology[edit]

Historical archaeology is a form of archaeology dealing with places, things, and issues from the past or present when written records and oral traditions can inform and contextualize cultural material. These records can both complement and conflict with the archaeological evidence found at a particular site. Studies focus on literate, historical-period societies as opposed to non-literate, prehistoric societies. While they may not have generated the records, the lives of people for whom there was little need for written records, such as the working class, slaves, indentured labourers, and children but who live in the historical period can also be the subject of study. The sites are found on land and underwater. Industrial archaeology, unless practiced at industrial sites from the prehistoric era, is a form of historical archaeology concentrating on the remains and products of industry and the Industrial era.

Maya civilization[edit]

Dense forest surrounds the city center of Tikal. Credit: Marcello A. Canuto, Francisco Estrada-Belli, Thomas G. Garrison, Stephen D. Houston, Mary Jane Acuña, Milan Kováč, Damien Marken, Philippe Nondédéo, Luke Auld-Thomas, Cyril Castanet, David Chatelain, Carlos R. Chiriboga, Tomáš Drápela, Tibor Lieskovský, Alexandre Tokovinine, Antolín Velasquez, Juan C. Fernández-Díaz, Ramesh Shrestha.{{fairuse}}

In the image on the right, dense forest surrounds the city center of this Classic-era Maya site (top) Tikal. Laser mapping of the same view (bottom) reveals structures and causeways hidden by the jungle.

"Lidar (a type of airborne laser scanning) provides a powerful technique for three-dimensional mapping of topographic features."[25]

"Lowland Maya civilization flourished from 1000 BCE to 1500 CE in and around the Yucatan Peninsula."[25]

"In 2016, the Pacunam Lidar Initiative (PLI) undertook the largest lidar survey to date of the Maya region, mapping 2144 km2 of the Maya Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala."[25]

"Analysis identified 61,480 ancient structures in the survey region, resulting in a density of 29 structures/km2. Controlling for a number of complex variables, we estimate an average density of ~80 to 120 persons/km2 at the height of the Late Classic period (650 to 800 CE). Extrapolation of this settlement density to the entire 95,000 km2 of the central lowlands produces a population range of 7 million to 11 million."[25]

"Settlement distribution is not homogeneous, however; we found evidence of (i) rural areas with low overall density, (ii) periurban zones with small urban centers and dispersed populations, and (iii) urban zones where a single, large city integrated a wider population."[25]

"The PLI survey revealed a landscape heavily modified for intensive agriculture, necessary to sustain populations on this scale. Lidar shows field systems in the low-lying wetlands and terraces in the upland areas. The scale of wetland systems and their association with dense populations suggest centralized planning, whereas upland terraces cluster around residences, implying local management. Analysis identified 362 km2 of deliberately modified agricultural terrain and another 952 km2 of unmodified uplands for potential swidden use. Approximately 106 km of causeways within and between sites constitute evidence of inter- and intracommunity connectivity. In contrast, sizable defensive features point to societal disconnection and large-scale conflict."[25]

“The new lidar data show that interconnected Maya cities go back to at least 300 B.C.”[26]


The prehistory period dates from around 7 x 106 b2k to about 7,000 b2k.

Def. the "history of human culture prior to written records"[27] is called prehistory.


  1. Archaeology of Scandinavia will eventually show it to have been occupied 40,000 b2k.

See also[edit]


  1. Crazedandinfused (September 6, 2007). Topic:Archeology. Retrieved 2013-01-13.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Renfrew and Bahn (2004 [1991]:13)
  3. McPherron, S. P., Z. Alemseged, C. W. Marean, J. G. Wynn, D. Reed, D. Geraads, R. Bobe, and H. A. Bearat. 2010. Evidence for stone-tool-assisted consumption of animal tissues before 3.39 million years ago at Dikika, Ethiopia. Nature 466:857-860
  4. Tormod (13 July 2004). past. San Francisco, California: Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. Retrieved 2015-03-28.
  5. archaeology. San Francisco, California: Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. October 16, 2012. Retrieved 2012-12-30.
  6. Paul A. Shackel (2000). Marcia-Anne Dobres and John E. Robb, ed. Craft to wage labor Agency and resistance in American historical archaeology, In: Agency in Archaeology (PDF). London: Routledge. Retrieved 2011-12-06.
  7. Thomas A. Dowson (2000). "Why queer archaeology? An introduction". World Archaeology 32 (2): 161-5. doi:10.1080/00438240050131144. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00438240050131144. Retrieved 2012-01-03. 
  8. Stephen L. Dyson (April 1985). "Two Paths to the past: A Comparative Study of the Last Fifty Years of American Antiquity and the American Journal of Archaeology". American Antiquity 50 (2): 452-63. http://www.jstor.org/stable/280503. Retrieved 2012-01-03. 
  9. E. B. Banning (2002). Archaeological Survey. New York: Kluwer Academic Press.
  10. artifact. San Francisco, California: Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 12 December 2014. Retrieved 2015-03-28.
  11. Six new sites inscribed on World Heritage List. UNESCO. Retrieved 23 June 2014.
  12. 12.0 12.1 The stone spheres of Costa Rica. BBC News. 29 March 2010. Retrieved 2010-03-31.
  13. Brendan M. Lynch (22 Mar 2010). University of Kansas researcher investigates mysterious stone spheres in Costa Rica. Retrieved 2010-03-24.
  14. National Academy of Sciences (1877). Samuel Kirkland Lothrup, In: Biographical memoirs, Volume 48. National Academies Press. p. 253. Retrieved 2010-03-31.
  15. Tim McGuinness. Costa Rican Diquis Spheres: Sphere history. mysteryspheres.com. Retrieved 2010-03-31.
  16. Eleanor Lothrop (September 1955). Prehistoric Stone Balls—a Mystery, In: Picks from the Past. Natural History. Retrieved 2010-03-31.
  17. Gazetteer of Costa Rican Plant-Collecting Locales: Diquís (or Dikís) from the website of the Missouri Botanical Garden
  18. R. Lionel Fanthorpe; Patricia Fanthorpe; P. A. Fanthorpe (2006). Mysteries and Secrets of the Masons: The Story Behind the Masonic Order. Toronto, Canada: Dundurn Press. pp. 39–41. ISBN 978-1-55002-622-1.
  19. J. C. Vintner (2 September 2011). Ancient Earth Mysteries. AEM Publishing. p. 23.
  20. Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews (7 May 2007). The Dropa (or Dzopa) stones. Bad Archaeology. Retrieved 12 February 2012.
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 21.3 21.4 21.5 21.6 21.7 21.8 21.9 Angelika Franz, translated from the German by Ami de Grazia (27 December 2010). Balkans: Archaeologists puzzle over 7,000y old copper-find - a tremendous fire destroyed a flourishing city. Der Spiegel. Retrieved 2014-10-22.
  22. 22.0 22.1 Raiko Krauss, translated from the German by Ami de Grazia (27 December 2010). Balkans: Archaeologists puzzle over 7,000y old copper-find - a tremendous fire destroyed a flourishing city. Der Spiegel. Retrieved 2014-10-22.
  23. Valentine Roux and Marie-Agnès Courty (2005). Identifying social entities at a macro-regional level: Chalcolithic ceramics of South Levant as a case study, In: Pottery Manufacturing Processes (PDF). University of Paris. pp. 201–14. Retrieved 2014-05-13.
  24. Denis Byrne (1991). "Western hegemony in archaeological heritage management". History and Anthropology 5 (2): 269-76. doi:10.1080/02757206.1991.9960815. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02757206.1991.9960815. Retrieved 2012-02-16. 
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 25.3 25.4 25.5 Marcello A. Canuto, Francisco Estrada-Belli, Thomas G. Garrison, Stephen D. Houston, Mary Jane Acuña, Milan Kováč, Damien Marken, Philippe Nondédéo, Luke Auld-Thomas, Cyril Castanet, David Chatelain, Carlos R. Chiriboga, Tomáš Drápela, Tibor Lieskovský, Alexandre Tokovinine, Antolín Velasquez, Juan C. Fernández-Díaz, Ramesh Shrestha (28 September 2018). "Ancient lowland Maya complexity as revealed by airborne laser scanning of northern Guatemala". Science 361 (6409): 1355. doi:10.1126/science.aau0137. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/361/6409/eaau0137. Retrieved 7 October 2018. 
  26. Arlen Chase (September 27, 2018). Laser mapping shows the surprising complexity of the Maya civilization. Science News. Retrieved 7 October 2018.
  27. SemperBlotto (21 December 2014). prehistory. San Francisco, California: Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. Retrieved 2015-03-28.

External links[edit]

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