How Do We Know about the Human Past?
Overview: Archaeologists use physical clues to reveal the remains of past human societies. The archaeological record enables anthropologists to explore culture change deep into the past, and to use their findings to interpret cultural variation among modern and past societies. The archaeological record includes artifacts, ecofacts, and features, usually grouped together in a geographic location referred to as a site. A variety of methodological tools are used to find and investigate sites, and archaeological findings can be examined from several different theoretical perspectives. Practicing archaeologists recognize that the past has meaning to people living today, and that conflicts sometimes develop over who “owns” the past.
Points to Consider: Many of the objects created and used by contemporary societies are made of artificial materials that may or may not be biodegradable. Other culturally significant happenings occur on rapidly changing technologies that tend not to be backwards compatible. How might these two notions affect future archaeologists’ ability to reconstruct our societies? What kinds of personal and communal items might they find? What sorts of assumptions might they draw from their excavations? What conclusions may be drawn from other societies? How might these questions inform the ways in which contemporary archaeologists reconstruct past societies?
Choose any 2 questions to answer
Is everyone who digs up artifacts an archaeologist? What makes someone an archaeologist?
Do you think significant findings from the past, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, belong to everyone, or just to the people who find them? Why?
Do you think American Indians should be able to reclaim from museums artifacts excavated decades ago?
Historians and archaeologists both investigate the past. How do you think they most differ? How do you think they are most the same?
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