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Is There a Site Here?

Learning About Archaeology


Brought to you by
The Georgia
Department of
Transportation

Developed by The History Workshop


A Division of Brockington and Associates, Inc.

This unit teaches the basics of field archaeology. With each of the
following slides, a series of questions will allow you to learn how
archaeologists find and examine sites. Many of the slides have
definitions that you will need to learn. As you look at each slide, go over
the text carefully and think about the questions that accompany each.

What is Archaeology?

Remains of a
Native American
basket found
within this
structure.

Remains of a Native American structure, Douglas County, GA.


Archaeology the study of past human cultures by observing and analyzing
the artifacts they left behind.

Questions:
Using only one word, what do archaeologists study?
Do they get excited about dinosaurs or fossils?
What do they want to learn?

Finding Archaeological Sites

Site location where archaeologists


have determined that people lived or
worked in the past.

Each of these areas contains an archaeological site. Since the sites are
buried below the ground they cannot be seen. Sometimes artifacts are
present on the surface of sites. At other times, archaeologists use clues
that man has inhabited an area to help them find sites.

Questions:
Which of these three pictures has such a clue that an archaeological site
exists?
What else could the archaeologists do to find sites?
What are they likely to find that would indicate a site exists at a
particular location?

Finding Sites Using


Survey Techniques

They sometimes
dig larger holes 50 by 50 cm
square.

First technicians dig small


shovel tests across the site
in a grid pattern.

Shovel tests are


generally as wide as a
shovel and round in
shape.

Survey when archaeologists systematically examine an area of land


looking for clues that people lived there in the past.

These archaeologists are working on a survey project. Survey projects


are designed to identify or find archaeological sites. The object on the
ground beside the archaeologist in the photo on the left is a screen. The
wood box has a wire mesh (screen) base. As the archaeologist digs the
shovel test, she places the dirt in the screen. Then she will pick up the
screen by the handles and shake it. The dirt will fall through the screen,
and artifacts will remain. This works very well in sandy soils; however,
heavier clay soils often require a lot of work to get them through the
screen.
Questions:
How many inches is 50 cm?
What is a grid pattern?

Artifacts Are Important


Clues In Identifying Sites

Sherds, bits of clay


pottery, are often
found.

Projectile points or
arrowheads are made of
lithic materials or rocks.
Artifact physical object or fragment of an
object used and then left behind by a past culture.

When archaeologists excavate they are looking for artifacts. On sites


where people lived before Europeans came to America, they most often
find pottery fragments (called sherds), bits of worked rock (called lithic
materials), animal bones, and shell fragments. Artifacts are objects used
by or made by people. Your pencil or pen is an artifact of today.

Questions:
What do prehistory and pre-contact mean?
Who lived in North America before the first Europeans arrived?
What does pre-Columbian mean?

Dig, Screen, Record, and Bag

Archaeologists record the


details about where, why,
and how they excavate.
They also record what
artifacts they find, the
types of soils, and even the
weather conditions.

When they find


artifacts, they place
them in a labeled bag.

The label denotes where


the artifacts were found
and by whom.

Excavation systematic and scientific


process of digging in the ground to find
archaeological sites.

Archaeologists are scientists. They have a college degree, and many have
continued their education to receive Masters and Doctoral degrees.
When archaeologists excavate, they record where and how they dig and
what they find. Artifacts are placed in specially labeled bags so that
maps can be made of areas where artifacts are found.
Questions:
What type of information do you think is written on an artifact bag?
Why is record keeping so important?
Further Research:
Find out what colleges and universities in your area offer degrees in
archaeology (a branch of anthropology).
Find out what is required to become a Registered Professional
Archaeologist.

Mapping Techniques

Technician using a
Total Station.

Archaeologist taking a
GPS reading.
Equipment such as compasses, measuring tapes, and even surveying equipment is
used to map archaeological sites. Todays archaeologists often use Global
Positioning System equipment. These data are transmitted to computers and used
to draw maps and other graphic representations for reports.
Stratigraphy the study of different layers of soil, used by archaeologists to
determine the age of artifact deposits.

GPS stands for Global Positioning System.


Questions:
Why do archaeologists need detailed maps?
GPS allows archaeologists to pinpoint a sites location on maps. Why is
this important?

Further Research:
Check out this website to learn more about GPS
http://www.colorado.edu/geography/gcraft/notes/gps/gps_f.html

Recording Two Archaeological Sites

This map shows two sites. After a site is located, it is mapped and recorded. Every
state has a form for recording archaeological sites. The archaeologist must fill out the
form and submit it with appropriate maps to the state site file office. In Georgia, that
office is located at the University of Georgia. Once the form is received, an official site
number is issued.
Most states use the same format for numbering archaeological sites. The first part is a
number. Georgia is 9 because it is the ninth state alphabetically. Alabama is 1. South
Carolina is 38.
The next part consists of a two letter designation for the county where the site was
found. Here the SU stands for Sumter County. Each state site file has a list of the
county designations.
The third part of the site number is a chronological number. For example, 9SU10 was
the 10th site discovered in Sumter County. Site 9SU134 was the one hundred and
thirty-fourth site discovered. Counties where lots of archaeology has been done often
have over 1,000 recorded sites.
The map shows sites found on both sites of a roadway. These sites were found during a
survey paid for by the Georgia Department of Transportation (DOT).

Survey to Data Recovery


Examine maps of the area.
Dig shovel tests across the
area.
Use data about positive shovel
tests to create a site map.
Determine which areas of the
site have the greatest potential to
contribute information about the
previous occupants of the site.
Excavate larger units to
recover this data.
Data recovery archaeological excavations to recover significant amounts of
information about a sites previous occupants.

Archaeological survey is only the first step in the process. Once the
archaeologist has documented the results of the survey work, he must
decide whether or not more work needs to be done at a site. There are
standards or criteria that are used to form this opinion.
Sometimes, the archaeologists may not have enough information to make
this decision. If this is the case, they return to the site and excavate
larger units to retrieve more data. This is called testing.
If the site is determined to be significant (important under the criteria)
and it cannot be avoided during future construction, then data recovery
excavations are undertaken.
Further Research:
Read the handout entitled National Register Evaluation Criteria.
Determine what criteria are used to determine that a prehistoric site is
significant.
Research Bulloch Hall, Roswell, Georgia, on the web and determine what
criteria were applied to that site.

Features

Feature a stain, depression, foundation, or other marker in the soil


showing evidence of past human activity.

During data recovery excavations, archaeologists look for features that


will help define the types of activities carried out by past residents or
visitors to a site. These features take many forms. In this photograph,
the archaeologist has outlined a dark stain in the soil and is now
mapping the stain on graph paper using rulers and a compass. After the
plan view (view from the top) is recorded, the feature will be excavated.
She may first divide the feature in half and save one part for a special
type of screening called flotation. Flotation uses water to recover tiny
seeds and animal bones, particularly those of fish.
As she excavates the feature, she will make profile drawings, record
artifacts as they are found, take photographs, and make notes about the
soil, and the size, depth, and shape of the feature.

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Every Archaeologists Dream

Chert scrapers

Greenstone celt

Charred remains
of house
structural post

Metate
fragment

Intact ceramic bowl

Most often archaeologists find only fragments of objects. For example,


on prehistoric sites, they find fragments of ceramic bowls, fragments of
lithic objects, bits of bone, etc. . . So it is every archaeologists dream to
find whole objects buried in the ground. At a site in Douglas County,
Georgia, archaeologists found the remains of a Native American or
Indian dwelling that had burned. The timbers from the roof had fallen
in, covering the living area. During excavation, they found whole
ceramic vessels, chert scrapers used to clean hides, a celt used for
woodworking, and a metate fragment once used for grinding corn and
other grains.
In the second slide of this program, you can see more of the charred
timbers from this house and part of a basket or woven mat.
Nevertheless, archaeologists are trained to interpret sites based on the
fragments of objects they recover. Humans rarely lose or discard whole,
useful objects, so archaeologists must learn about the past by studying
artifacts and features.

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Its a Site! Its a Cultural Resource


Ruin of Roswell
Manufacturing
Company Mill, GA,
built circa 1850 AD

Point Peter Archaeological


Site, GA, circa 1812 AD

Ocmulgee National Monument, GA,


Temple Mound, circa 900 to 1200 AD
Cultural Resource archaeological site, structure,
ruin, or other historic place or object that adds to our
understanding of the past.

Bulloch Hall, GA,


built circa 1840 AD

Today, most archaeologists work for businesses or firms that deal with all types of
cultural resources. Other archaeologists work for city, county, state, and federal
governments, or universities. For example, the Roswell Manufacturing Company mill
was investigated by archaeologists working for a cultural resources firm. Bulloch Hall
has several volunteer archaeologists that work at the site, but they also hired a private
firm to do archaeological studies on the grounds. Ocmulgee National Monument is a
National Park. Archaeologists that work for the National Park Service (NPS) do all of
the work that is needed at the site.
Questions:
What might archaeologists hope to learn by mapping and excavating the ruin of a
cotton mill, like the one in Roswell, Georgia?
Bulloch Hall is a house museum with 17 acres of land. Why did archaeologists study
this land? What might they have found?
Point Peter Archaeological Site dates to the War of 1812. It contains the remains of the
troop barracks and kitchen along with several other features. What can archaeologists
learn from investigating military-related site?
Further Research:
Do a Google search for these sites and learn more about each.
Archaeologists excavate very carefully at Ocmulgee National Monument. They are
aware of a law enacted to protect Native American graves. Find out about the Native
American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. What does repatriation mean?
An important study at the Little Bighorn Battle Field revealed previously unknown
details about that battle. Do a Google search and learn about this important
archaeological work.

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Learning About Archaeology


This introduction to field
archaeology is brought
to you by the Georgia
Department of
Transportation as part
of an archaeological data
recovery project
conducted in Sumter
County, Georgia.
A group of students
visited the site and
participated in the
excavations.
To protect our cultural resources and archaeological sites, we remind you
never to dig at an archaeological site without the supervision of a
professional archaeologist. Report any looting of archaeological sites or
artifacts.

Looting robbing an archaeological site in order to collect or sell the


artifacts.
Further Research:
Check out this National Park Service document about looting of
archaeological sites at http://www.cr.nps.gov/seac/copngcon.htm.

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