An Introduction to Archaeological Anthropology

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An Introduction to Archaeological Anthropology

The notion that archeology is all about studying old rocks is hilariously inaccurate, but then again, so is the misconception that all archaeological findings are as awesome as dinosaur remains. The reality is that archaeology is far more diverse than its misrepresentations; it’s a study of past cultures, traditions, and norms by looking at artifacts. 

Ever heard of the Ancient City of Troy? Or the Tomb of King Tut? How about the Roman City of Pompeii? All these are just a few of the well known archeological discoveries that we all know about. These amazing findings are more than just for interesting textbook discussions; these help researchers look into what life was like, long before the world came to be, as we know it. so let’s dive a little further into what archaeological anthropology is. 

What is Archeological Anthropology?

For the record, it is a study of human life by recovering and analyzing a past society’s material culture. There’s a concept called the archaeological record, and it consists of physical evidence about society in the past, such as architecture, artifacts, and biofacts. 

A tributary of the humanities and a social science, archaeology is considered, as a sub-branch of anthropology in some parts of the world, such as in North America, while in other parts like Europe, it’s a different discipline. 

The Early History of Archeology as a Science

The science derives itself from the earlier study ‘antiquarianism’, the practitioners of which studied previous eras with a focus on manuscripts, artifacts, and architecture. This multidisciplinary science focused on the presence of empirical evidence that would help understand the past. 

The science of archeology underwent dramatic systemization during Europe’s enlightenment era, which occurred in the 17th and 18th centuries. In the Middle Ages, Europe was developing a philosophical interest in civilization from the Greco-Roman era and began their search for discovering classical material culture.  

Some Well Known Archeologists 

We can name plenty of archeologists as well renowned throughout history. For starters, there’s the Italian Renaissance historian, Flavio Biondo, who many know as one of the early founders of archeology. Antiquarians from the 16th century, such as William Camden and John Leland, carried out surveys of monuments in the English countryside, trying to interpret and describe them along the way. 

Jacques Boucher de Crevecoeur de Perthes 

A geologist by profession, he made a notable contribution by relating time to geology. His idea was that archaeologists could trace and chart history with different periods of geological time. Born in 1788, he tried to devote time to his enthusiasm for archaeology despite his position as a customs official. 

His many discoveries include fragments of tools and hand axes that were scattered in the same site as fossilized bones from mammals, animals that de Perthes believed to be ancient. Finding the tools near the animal fossils, he implied that the makers of the tools were alive around the same time as these ancient mammals. With this idea, he proposed the findings as evidence that a primitive man did exist once. 

Howard Carter 

Everyone’s heard of the ancient Egyptian king Tutankhamun, or ‘Pharaoh’ to be specific. Howard Carter was one of the archaeologists on the team to discover it and after uncovering the tomb, the community considered him as a leading figure in the field. 

After excavating with the Archeological Survey of Egypt for eight years, the young Howard Carter discovered various noteworthy tombs of Queen Hatshepsut and Pharaoh Thutmose IV. It was much later in 1922, that he co-discovered the tomb with George Herbert. 

Mark Lehner 

With experience spanning over thirty years of excavation in Egypt, Mark Lehner is a director of Ancient Egypt Research Associates. Born in 1950, he conducts archaeological investigations with a team that creates a picture of an archaeological site by examining and analyzing excavated objects.

As of yet, he’s running the Giza Plateau Mapping Project, mapping and excavating in Egypt to find the ancient city where the builders of the Giza Pyramids lived. Some of his most interesting finds include the discovery that one of the subsidiary pyramids, G1-a, actually belonged to Hetepheres I when it was initially believed that it belonged to Queen Meritites I. 

Fascinating Archeological Finds

Through the years, you might have come across various texts, articles, and pieces on archaeological finds. Whether you read about them in a textbook, on the internet or saw a documentary, let’s refresh your memory with some of these fascinating discoveries. 

The Library of Ashurbanipal

This royal collection of stone tablets and fragments were engraved with texts and dates back to the 7th century BC. Ashurbanipal, the king who the library is named after, was the last great ruler of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. 

There’s much debate over who discovered the library but in most cases, the credit goes to Austen H Layard. Comprising about 30 thousand tablets, this collection is quite possibly the oldest library to have survived this long. 

The Dead Sea Scrolls 

In the 20th century, archeologists uncovered various religious artifacts, and the Dead Sea scrolls are one them. These were found near the Dead Sea in around eleven Qumran Caves and were discovered to be Jewish manuscripts. Researchers found that the Hebrew material written in the scrolls contained matter that was both, biblical as well as non-biblical. 

The scrolls received massive coverage from the media because they held around thirty copies of the Psalms, 25 copies of the Deuteronomy and over 15 copies of the Book of Isaiah. As the oldest discovered manuscripts of the Old Testament, these scrolls are thought to be a significant religious find. 

The Terracotta Army 

Chinese farmers uncovered the Terracotta Army in 1974 while digging a water well in Xi’an, Shaanxi province. The figures date back to the 3rd century BC and depict the armies of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang. 

In the three pits that contained the Terracotta Army, archaeologists found that the army comprised over eight thousand soldiers, as well as hundreds of chariots, horses and cavalry horses.  Most of the sculptures were near the mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang. Buried with the emperor around 21 BC, the army was built to protect the emperor.

Moai 

These are the giant human head sculptures located in Rapa Nui, which are also known as the Easter Islands. These iconic monoliths are an image commonly known throughout the world but archaeologists recently discovered the bodies that these heads are associated with. 

Moreover, they found some fascinating discoveries that increased knowledge about the civilizations living on Easter Island. Studies show that the people from Rapa Nui carved the giant monoliths around 1250 AD to 1500 AD.

Future Archaeological Discoveries to Look Out For 

In archaeology, you can’t fully discover all the aspects of a site at a single time; you can only explore and uncover as much as the technology can allow. That being said, it’s common for archaeological experts to go back to important sites and use new technology to find out something new. 

Take the Tomb of King Tutankhamun for example; it was discovered in 1922, but it was the DNA tests carried out in 2010 that confirmed his lineage i.e. his father was Akhenaten. Researchers even conducted tomography studies that were released in 2011, that showed details about how the king’s daughters died stillborn. 

In 1912, after receiving an archaeology grant, Hiram Bingham went to Machu Picchu with only a Kodak panorama camera. Now, there are limitless possibilities of discovery, thanks to advanced testing, excavation techniques, and restoration technology. Fredrik Hiebert calls the 21st century a “new age of exploration”, so let’s have a look at what you’ll be seeing in the years to come. 

Discovering New Civilizations or Cities

A major factor that stopped archaeologists from discovering new sites and relics is that excavating in a potential site would damage nearby surroundings. Luckily, new Light Detection and ranging technology can help them see what’s underneath the dense foliage in jungles and other locations, in places like Belize and Honduras. This will help them locate and discover old settlements that they never even knew, had existed. 

Finding New Tombs 

With ground-penetrating radar technology, archaeologists can look deeper without the need for excavation. Fredrik Hiebert’s team used satellite imagery in the ‘Valley of the Khans’ project to identify locations where Genghis Khan may have been buried. They then tested the areas with GPR to know how viable it is. 

Although the team wasn’t able to uncover the Mongol ruler’s tomb at the time, it’s the first step in the direction towards accomplishing it. Heibert argued that GPR is an effective way to survey a large portion of the area, which increases the likelihood of finding something great, like the Tomb of Alexander the Great. 

Make New Discoveries in the Qin Shi Huang Burial Site 

Archaeologists discovered the Terracotta Army buried along with China’s first emperor quite a while ago but they are still reluctant to go further. This is because there are high chances of damaging the preserved items on site. 

Fortunately, archaeologists can now use magnetometers and GPR i.e. remote-sensing tools, to get a clearer picture of what’s inside. In the future, it’ll even be possible for tiny devices to enter the tombs and collect data without causing any disturbances. 

Decipher Ancient Texts 

Archaeologists have made fascinating discoveries of tablets and fragments that contain texts but historians have not been able to decipher all of them. Explorers uncovered the Minoan civilization a century ago but their language, Linear A, has yet to be deciphered. 

New and powerful coding systems can help scholars with this problem. Not to mention, there’s machine learning systems and big data that can help decipher over the thousands of examples that researchers have collected of Linear A.  

Career Options in Archeological Anthropology 

So you’re interested in archeological anthropology, but have you ever thought about what you could do if you studied it at a higher level? Sure, you don’t need to head off to unknown lands in search of relics and fossils; you can do a lot with knowledge about ancient civilizations and rulers. Let’s go through some of the career options you’d have by taking up a degree or course in archaeological anthropology. 

Field Technician 

This is the first level of work in the field that you’ll get paid to do, and as a field tech, you get a chance to travel around the world to do survey work. Field technicians can find work in academic projects and CRM projects, but in the academic field, most are volunteer positions. Once you’ve had enough experience, you can become a field supervisor or crew chief, which come with extra responsibilities. Let’s not forget that you’ll need at least a bachelor’s level degree in archaeological anthropology. 

An SHPO Archaeologist 

As a State Historic Preservation Officer, you’ll need to protect, interpret, register, evaluate and identify historic properties, which can be anything from shipwrecks to architecture. It’s a position one gets after plenty of experience and dedication to the field but you’ll be providing preservation communities with training and opportunities for funding. 

Project Archaeologist 

As a middle-level job, a project manager archaeologist has to supervise excavations and write reports on the conducted excavations. As a project manager, you can get paid positions in CRM and academic projects. A few years of experience as a field technician will do you some good, but a master’s degree is more important. 

Other careers 

Of course, this isn’t the limit. You can work on archaeology related projects, even if you’re not looking to become Indiana Jones. There are positions in National parks, State Historical Societies, Laboratories, and Museums. Let’s not forget that you can teach archaeology as a professor or work with Geographic Information Systems on the site. 

Conclusion 

With all this talk about archaeological sites and findings, it’s apparent that the field is growing and very interesting. The study and science itself are more than just intriguing because it has the capacity to pique anyone’s interest. So now that you’re curious, how about you stay tuned for more spectacular archaeological finds that are soon to come. 

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