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Ammendment by guerilla1138: I hate to correct others so I will just add this. I dont see Archaeology as being the study of what we can learn about human cultures as much as the study of human cultures, and I would also say that in archaeology those studies are only limited to pre-cultures, meaning those cultures before this one. Where as the study of todays cultures and also older cultures I would classify as cultural anthropology. But I am not an expert nor am I trained in either of these fields, just stating my opinion based on limited experiance of working in the Maxwell Museum on the University of New Mexico campus and attending a few archaeology and anthropology classes with friends at said university.

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I notice that you've removed the text "typically from their physical remains (such as masonry, pottery, coins, engravings, and the like)" twice. This must mean that you think there's something wrong with this. I'm not an archaeologist, but I always thought that this was really quite essential to archaeology. Am I wrong? --Larry Sanger

Actually, I'm quite sure I'm right. Have a look at this article: http://www.britannica.com/bcom/eb/article/9/0,5716,9369+1+9259,00.html?query=archaeology

Response to Larry: Physical remains are archaeological data, yes, but I'm wary of focusing on them in a definition. I'd rather get away from the "Indiana Jones" mentality that a lot of the general public - at least in the U.S. - seems to have. It's tough to get people past the idea that archaeologists look for neat "things" for the sake of the things themselves. In American archaeology, at least, material objects are only important insofar as they convey information about the people who made and used them. There's a huge range of other archaeological evidence that's just as important as material objects. Besides, the list of examples in the quoted text is not very illuminating, unless you're talking about a pretty narrow range of times and places. Most of the listed artifact types are not found in a significant percentage of the world's archaeological sites. So why didn't I just construct a better list? Any list will inevitably leave something out. In a short definition, I'd rather focus on the goals of the discipline than on one part of the method. Or maybe it's just an idiosyncrasy :). - Pemerson

Given the Britannica article, I'm betting it's an idiosyncracy.  :-) The list was parenthetical, after all, and of course physical remains are a sine qua non of archaeological work. Talking about archaeology without mentioning the physical remains of cultures is a little like talking about music without mentioning musical instruments. Sure, you can do it, but it's kind of funny not to. So, why not just choose the artifact types that happen to be most common? I don't know what they are, so you'll have to change the list. --LS

Ah, there is our difficulty. IMHO, the Britannica definition does not apply well at all to modern American archaeology. The authors seem to have missed some major changes that took place about 30 years ago. (Not to denigrate E.B., but when the first few paragraphs were circulated among my colleagues, they inspired reactions ranging from head-shaking to outright laughter.) Note that Britannica defines archaeology as the study of "remains" - not the study of human cultures, which is what it is in the Americas. For a non-scholarly alternative, see the Society for American Archaeology at http://www.saa.org/Whatis/index.html. My essential objection to the text I removed is this: there has been more than enough emphasis on archaeology as the study of physical remains - as though that is a goal instead of a method. It is an impression that is stuck in the popular imagination and, frankly, it continually causes problems. I hoped to have an opportunity here to present a definition that might make people stop and think precisely because it didn't mention artifacts. ("Archaeology - it's not just about artifacts anymore.") Maybe I need to spin off a new page specifically on American archaeology. - pemerson (BTW - noticed your correction to my spelling of "idiosyncra**". I had yours originally but checked and discovered the "sy" version prevails, at least with Webster and American Heritage. Creeping Americanism, I guess.)


One option is to admit that archaeology may have once been about artifacts but recently is about something else. Use headers to divide the entry into 'the history of archaeology' and what you're calling 'American archaeology' - is that, by the way, archaeology as practiced in America, by Americans, on ancient American sites, or what? I admit that I, myself, only read Medieval archaeology for professional purposes, but the adjective there is much clearer.


I've tried to give a bit more of a rounded impression, but I fear I may have gone a bit overboard, particularly in para 3 - but that some (or indeed many) archaeologists are barrow pushing is something that's often forgotten. I would really like to put this link in: http://202.84.17.11/english/htm/20001218/273470.htm (see the bit about bejing in the middle of the page) but it probably is a bit un-NPOV.

A few paras on human heritage would be good - as I read things this is very much the point. I can't express these ideas cleanly right now, but I think a statement to the effect of heritage being importnat to most people and archaeiology being ther study of this heritage might be good. I'm not sure if "heritage" is exactly the right word.

Probably a separate article on field archaeology and field techniques would not go astray. A para on most stuff found being detritus would be good as well. - Iwnbap

this is much improved! Thanks! Oh - and I don't find paragraph 3 at all problematic, especially the 'original settler' kind of use and abuse of the past. --MichaelTinkler