Digging up the Past

The Atlas of Archaeology by Mick Aston
Have you ever wondered where we come from? What lies in the past? We can learn about today and what the future holds by studying the past. But where do you start? First, let us begin by defining archæology. Archæology is the scientific study of the human past. Archæologists obtain a greater knowledge of lost societies and their behaviors by studying human history, prehistory, antiquities, artifacts and other physical remains through the excavation of sites.

Archæology is so much more than just digging up and cataloging artifacts. When in the field, an archæologist works to find a connection to the past. Archæology is not limited to recorded history but to all aspects of past cultures. Archæology can provide a deeper understanding of history that cannot be found in written documents. Archæologists study everything from tiny artifacts to DNA. Searching through the history databases and other Resources on the Mercer County Library website will assist you in learning of the ancient cultures and societies that are most studied by archæologists.

Ancient and Medieval History Online

Encyclopedia Britannica Reference Center

Greenwood Daily Life

There are many branches of archæology, including pre-history, historical, industrial, classical, ethnological, environmental, experimental and underwater. Archæology, no matter which branch, uses scientific principles to guide its practices. Some steps of an archæological project may include hypothesis, creation, survey and site location, excavation, data collection, conservation, interpretation and publication. Through these steps a comprehensive study can be completed.

There are quite a few ways to get involved within the field of archæology, whether as a lifelong hobby or as a career. First, take some time to think about whether you want to do this as a career or as more of a hobby. There will be many years of training, low pay and often short employment contracts to consider.

Once you have decided this is the field for you, your training can begin! First pick the right university for your needs. A college degree is necessary to have a career in the field. Skill is also an important factor to consider. Archæologists who do well in their careers have multiple skills and fields of expertise. This will make it easier to adapt to change and job opportunities. There are organizations that meet for talks and hold events for interested individuals. They are also a free or relatively inexpensive way to stay up-to-date. If there are archæologists located in your neighborhood, contact them and ask for advice. Archæologists love to talk about their field. They will be able to get you in touch with the right people so you can become involved. Another option in learning more and keeping up-to-date is reading books and periodicals on the latest in the field. There are many introductory books available on the basics of the practice of archæology. Watching documentaries, TV shows, or online videos that explore the topic is also a great way to learn. Many of these shows introduce key concepts and ideas that are important in the field of archæology.

Volunteer work is always needed, with a high supply of opportunities available. Even throughout your career as an archæologist, it is good to volunteer on projects to build up your experience. This is a great way to work towards bigger job opportunities. Learn to accept criticism and disappointment; they are a big part of this lifestyle.

Below are just some of the books available through the Mercer County Library System to help you get started on your archæological adventure:
Archaeology Titles
The World Encyclopedia of Archaeology: The World's Most Significant Sites and Cultural Treasures by Aedeen Cremin

Unlocking the Past: How Archaeologists are Rewriting Human History with Ancient DNA by Martin Jones

The Atlas of Archaeology by Mick Aston

The Cambridge Illustrated History of Archaeology by Paul G. Bahn

Uncovering the Past: A History of Archaeology by William H. Stiebing

—Dana Sessa, Lawrence Headquarters Branch


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