The Archaeology of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow
Introductory archaeology texts are meant to do many things, including familiarize students with the basic objectives, vocabulary, concepts, history, and methods of the discipline. All this information is a lot to remember. At a minimum, here is what we hope all readers retain for years to come, and perhaps pass on to others.
- Archaeology is important and relevant to everyday life. This includes its role in providing the following: (i) contexts for current events; (ii) methodological and theoretical frameworks for collecting and interpreting data; (iii) expertise to support, refute, or assess claims and ideas about the past from diverse people and groups; (iv) an economic base for many people and nations; and (v) an awareness of and solutions to some important problems of living in the twenty-first century, including but not limited to marking nuclear waste sites, addressing homelessness, and dealing with contemporary waste.
- The archaeological record is vast. It includes the material remains of human activity for at least 2.5 million years and from every continent. There are hundreds of thousands of recorded sites and probably billions of recorded artifacts. Tens of thousands of sites and their associated artifacts are added each year.
- Archaeology is firmly grounded in scientific method and theory. This is not usually obvious from the popular press and media, but archaeologists are not treasure hunters.
- Archaeological sites are being destroyed at an alarming rate. Natural processes are agents of destruction, but the loss of sites from industrial development and looting is of greater concern.
- Archaeology is filled with bias. This includes the bias of the archaeological record itself (e.g., inorganic materials are overrepresented), the bias of conceptual frameworks used to investigate the past, and the bias of individuals. The recognition of bias is not necessarily a bad thing. Research in all disciplines is inevitably biased in some way. It is important to understand that alternative explanations almost always exist. There is little certainty about anything in archaeology.
- People have been smart for a very long time. Tool technologies have been around for more than two million years; people have been controlling fire for hundreds of thousands of years; sophisticated art has been in evidence for more than 30,000 years; plants and animals were manipulated to the point of domestication more than 10,000 years ago; and civilizations began rising more than 5,000 years ago.
Over the past few decades, the world of archaeology has changed substantially. It is likely to continue changing in all aspects of the discipline. For anyone involved with archaeology as a career or as a mere observer, interesting times are ahead.
After studying this chapter, students should be able to
- describe the current state of archaeology and summarize predictions for the future of the discipline.
- explain what is meant by activist, action, applied, public, and collaborative archaeology.
- discuss the work of archaeologists working with the disenfranchised and voiceless.
- discuss the work of forensic archaeologists and disaster archaeologists.
- describe how archaeologists are involved in studies of contemporary waste, climate change, and sustainability.
- define all the glossary terms found in the chapter.
raised field agriculture – A kind of agriculture involving the raising of garden plots above ground level by digging ditches around the plots and adding the sediments to the raised plots. An effective land-management technique in prehistoric South America that has been reintroduced in recent times to increase crop yields. (p.232)
Graves-Brown, Paul, Rodney Harrison, and Angela Piccini, eds. 2013. The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of the Contemporary World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Activist and Action Archaeology
Stottman, M. Jay, ed. 2010. Archaeologists as Activists: Can Archaeologists Change the World. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press.
Sabloff, Jeremy A. 2008. Archaeology Matters: Action Archaeology in the Modern World. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.
Archaeology of Homelessness
Zimmerman, Larry J., and Jessica Welch. 2011. "Displaced and Barely Visible: Archaeology and the Material Culture of Homelessness." Historical Archaeology 45 (1): 67–85.
Zimmerman, Larry J., Courtney Singleton, and Jessica Welch. 2010 "Activism and Creating a Translational Archaeology of Homelessness." World Archaeology 42 (3): 443–54.
Archaeology of Undocumented Migrants
De León, Jason. 2015. The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail. Oakland: University of California Press.
Blau, Soren, and Douglas H. Ubelaker, eds. 2016. Handbook of Forensic Anthropology and Archaeology. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.
Gould, Richard A. 2005. "Identifying Victims after a Disaster." Anthropology News 46 (8): 22–23.
Gould, Richard A. 2007. Disaster Archaeology. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press
Moshenska, Gabriel, ed. 2017. Key Concepts in Public Archaeology. London: UCL Press.
Archaeologies of the Heart
Lyons, Natasha, Kisha Supernant, and John R. Welch. 2019. "What Are the Prospects for an Archaeology of Heart?" The SAA Archaeological Record 19 (2): 6–9.
Supernant, Kisha, Jane Eva Baxter, Natasha Lyons, and Sonya Atalay, eds. 2020. Archaeologies of the Heart. New York: Springer.
GlobalXplorer° strives to discover and protect our shared human story, using satellite imagery to fight the loss of our cultural heritage.
Undocumented Migration Project is a website associated with the long-term archaeological and ethnographic project on the undocumented crossings, by foot, from Mexico into the United States via the Sonoran desert in southern Arizona.
Kwayday Dan Ts’inchi is the name given to the person found in a melting glacier near the intersection of Alaska, British Columbia, and the Yukon. The Royal British Columbia Provincial Museum created a 60 page booklet on the find.
Ice Patch archaeology in western North America, as described in the March 2014 issue of the SAA Archaeological Record (an on-line periodical of the Society for American Archaeology).
Rapa Nui is the only site mentioned in the chapter that is designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.