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How do archaeologists learn about the past?

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Quick Answer

An archaeologist plays the role of scholar, explorer, scientist and historian in order to learn about human history. After close study and careful mapping of an area, the archaeologist and a team begin the laborious process of digging. If a find is made, whether it be a bone, a shard of pottery or a foundation of a building, the archaeologist tries to roughly date it before consulting other scientists.

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Since archaeology is such a large field, it is generally broken up into periods or geographical areas. There are people who specialize in prehistoric archeology or industrial archeology as well as scientists who concentrate on a certain area, such as Mesopotamia or ancient Rome. In many cases, the process of scouting and excavating a site takes years of planning and fieldwork, though certain excavations may be accidental or done quickly to save a site at risk. Because excavation destroys the site, an archaeologist makes careful notes of the placement of each artifact the team discovers so that other scientists and historians can consult and study the site in the future. According to HowStuffWorks, every aspect of the process is very methodical and technical. To analyze any finds, an archaeologist may use technology, such as carbon dating, or consult experts in other fields, such as geology, metallurgy or art history.

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