Kids Guide to Archeology

What is Archeology?

If you love learning about the past, digging in the dirt, or doing scientific experiments, archeology may be for you. Archeology is the study of past cultures based on the material they left behind. Scientists, called archeologists, learn about the past by studying artifacts, buildings, and monuments. An artifact is any object made by human beings such as tools, pottery, and jewelry. Studying buildings and monuments such as the Egyptian pyramids and the Roman Colosseum can teach us many things about past cultures.

Who are Archeologists?

Most people think that archeologists only dig underground for artifacts. In fact, there are several fields of archeology you can study. The people that dig underground are called excavators. They work in teams called field crews and sometimes include students and volunteers who are just learning about archeology. There are also collections specialists, or curators, who keep excavation records and catalog artifacts.

How Do They Work?

Archeologists begin with a site survey which will help them find the best place to start. These can be done on land, underwater, or on rock faces. They mark any artifacts they find on the surface with flags which helps them determine where they will dig underground. To survey large areas they may use ground penetrating radar to see underground. Archeologists must take exact measurements of the site before they start digging.

The starting point, called a datum point, is chosen and then the archeologist uses a surveying device called a transit to measure the angles between features of the site. Shovels and trowels are used to move soil and screens are used to sift the soil to spot artifacts. Line levels and plumb bombs are devices that measure the depth and position of an artifact.

Archeologists study the soil layers to determine changes in cultural time periods. This practice is called stratigraphy. Artifacts found in the different soil layers are then named and cataloged. Then they are usually brushed and washed, depending on what material they are made of. 

Next, the artifacts are numbered and archived based on where they were found. The conservation lab uses various scientific methods to preserve the artifacts. It is very important to keep accurate records of all aspects of the excavation. Archeologists document the site by taking notes, drawing maps, and taking photos. Then different types of archeologists use their specific skills to study and compare the finds and come to a conclusion about the lives of the inhabitants of the site. Finally, the artifacts excavated may be included in a museum exhibit or used for further research.

How Can I Become an Archeologist?

Think you may want to become an archeologist? There is an experiment you can do right now to try out what you’ve learned. Practice surveying a landscape. Make a map of the area noting the land features, vegetation and soil type. Consider what people living in the area thousands of years ago many have seen and done. You should also try to read as much as you can about history. This will help you learn to compare the differences between cultures.

There are also some amateur archeology clubs and field schools where kids can participate. If you decide to make archeology your professional career, you should pursue a college degree in history or anthropology, the study of human beings and their cultures. Archeology is a field of study within anthropology. Attending an archeology field school is also a requirement. You’ll find that archeology is a challenging and rewarding career you will enjoy!