1. Archeology is one of the oldest spheres of human science. It is the study of the past whether it is ancient or recent via the analysis of the material remains that are found all over the planet. This analysis is done to better understand the development of human culture and help historians to strengthen their theories with the real material evidence. Some elements of archeology are closely interconnected with anthropology, ethnography and history. The effective combination of these fields of science can give people reliable and multidimensional knowledge about the human past.
This field of study is extremely important as it can offer a unique variety of ways that can help people to understand their culture and history. Archeology does not merely provide dates and facts about when and where some events took place, this science is irreplaceable when it is necessary to examine the changes that happened with different human civilizations and nations during their history. Moreover, the methods and strategies used in archeology have the potential to explain the causes and repercussions of these changes that are crucial for better understanding of the above-mentioned aspects (What is archeology, n.d.).
The fundamental principles of archeology are nowadays quite different from what they were even several decades ago. Nowadays archeology is based, first of all, on a set of ethic principles as this field of science deals with a very fragile, both in literal and metaphoric sense, material. The excavations and further studies of the material objects must comply with high ethical standards. For example, it is especially important to deal with the human remains in a proper way. In fact, during most excavations the human remains are dug out and taken away to the museums or research centers that cannot be considered ethical from some perspectives, so it is necessary to minimize the negative aspects of such archeological activities (What is archeology, n.d.).
Secondly, modern archeology relies on the following key concepts – “the great antiquity of humanity, Darwin’s principle of evolution, and the Three Age System for ordering material culture”. The usage of these concepts allowed modern archeology to become more harmonized and systematic in contrast to the activities conducted before the nineteenth century that was commonly referred to as the birth of modern archeology.
These notions and principles can be perfectly illustrated with the history of two important archeological sites in America – Chaco Canyon and the Big Hidatsa village. These sites have different scale and location, but their archeological history is typical for the excavations made in the USA. Chaco Canyon is an older and larger archeological site located at the place that was the center of ancient Pueblo culture between AD 900 and 1150. They were left by the people who lived there because of extremely long draught that began around 1130. Nowadays it is one of the significant UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the region and was given the status of a national historical park in 1966.
This site has never been completely lost as some of the ruins of the architectural structures created by the Hopi and Pueblo people were visible all the time since the canyon was abandoned, but as it often happens they were not considered special and were completely neglected by people. The first documented credit of the canyon was done in 1823 when New Mexican governor José Antonio Vizcarra traveled through this place. He mentioned some large ruins in this area, but there was no further analysis. The first scientific expedition began to work there in 1896 when a group of scholars from the American Museum of Natural History began excavating Pueblo Bonito and managed to find around 60,000 artifacts of various scale and significance. Later there were some controversies between universities and other bodies for the rights to excavate in the region and in 1949 the University of New Mexico decided to add some neighboring lands to form an expanded Chaco Canyon National Monument. At the present moment the park is much bigger as new lands were added several times to the original territory and nowadays there are more than 2,400 archeological sites within the current park's borders, although only a small part of these have been studied and excavated.
The Big Hidatsa village is a much newer site as it was occupied between circa 1740 and 1850. It was a place where more than 4000 Hidatsa and Mandan people lived when the Corps of Discovery Expedition of Lewis and Clark arrived there in 1804. These Native Americans lived in earthlodges and each of them was home to more than 20 people. The expedition built a fort near the village and began to trade with the settlers to obtain the artifacts. This exchange and verbal communication with the villagers offered the scholars much valuable information about the culture and traditions of the Hidatsa and Mandan people. This place was also abandoned by the people who lived there and, as well as Chaco Canyon, it suffers from the negative impact of the environment. In case of Chaco Canyon it is wind erosion partially caused by the great number of tourists who visit the place, whereas in the Big Hidatsa village the damage was mostly done by tree fungus and soil erosion from the side of the nearby river.
All things considered, archeology is one of the most important historic sciences and it allows scholars to get much valuable information from the material remains found in various sites. The cases of Chaco Canyon and the Big Hidatsa village are perfect examples of archeological activities and the typical history of many archeological sites in the USA.
2. The methods applied in the sphere of archeology are quite diverse and it is not possible to put all of them into a very clear and well-organized system, but in most cases the analytical methods can be divided into the following three groups: aerial surveys, surface surveys, and subsurface testing. They usually give rather good results and allow the specialists to obtain much information, but at the same time they have a number of disadvantages.
The aerial surveys allow getting much analytical information as the scholars get the picture that is impossible to see from the surface level. Different kinds of aircrafts or even satellite reconnaissance are used to get the pictures of the ground that are later interpreted for the archeological purposes. Low-altitude aerial photography is currently the cheapest and the easiest way of obtaining information. The photographs taken from a small angle aside are called oblique and if the photographer makes pictures directly beneath the aircraft it is called vertical reconnaissance. The latter type is often used to make detailed maps of the places where the excavation works should take place. They also allow the specialists to analyze the site in the context of neighboring structures and landscapes. This method enables specialists not only to see the sites, such as ruins and others, but using various analytical approaches understand whether the site is worth digging. For example, “over a buried wall or stone feature, soil will be thinner, drier, and poorer, resulting in plants that are sparser, stunted, or otherwise different from the surrounding areas” (Survey methods, n.d.). It is also possible to use pulses of electromagnetic radiation from a flying aircraft to analyze the structure of the soil. The LANDSAT satellite records can also be a source of valuable information, but they do not provide such details as the photographing from the aircraft. In general, aerial surveys are useful for getting the general picture and analyzing the landscape to find the best archeological site, but they could be quite expensive and sometimes even unreliable.
Another, and probably the most popular survey method used in the sphere of archeology is ground reconnaissance. It is used most often among other archeological analytical methods as it is the cheapest and allows getting much information about the site via found artifacts, etc. It can be done in a systematic or nonsystematic manner. Systematic analysis of the surface requires the division of the land into equal squares and then archeologists thoroughly study each of them, whereas the unsystematic analysis is a case when the archeologist simply wanders around the site looking for facts and evidence. Systematic analysis seems to give more reliable information, but it is not applicable in the areas with difficult and dangerous landscape, such as canyons, etc. One of the main disadvantages of unsystematic surface analysis is that it is likely for the archeologist to gather much more information from the areas of high artifact concentration and it may lead to a certain bias in the studies.
Subsurface methods are in most cases used together with the surface analysis as it is necessary to dig artifacts out of the ground. This method, as well as aerial analysis of the landscapes, requires the usage of different specific tools and instruments, but in fact the tools for subsurface surveys are cheaper. Digging test pits with a shovel is the most popular of the physical methods used in these cases. Moreover, prior to digging deep in the ground archeologists may also analyze the place with the help of magnetic surveying. However, this method is unlikely to give any information about small details, so archeologists never use it alone.
After the artifacts are obtained in one of the methods described above it is usually necessary to properly date them. Sometimes it is possible to give the exact date of the artifact creation, such as in case of coins, etc, but in most cases the date is approximate as the archeologist dates the layer as, as a result, the object found in a certain layer gets the frames of that time period (Background on archeological methods. n.d.). It is also possible to use radio nuclear analysis, but this procedure is quite expensive and used only in important cases. Moreover, during the stage of post-excavation analysis it is necessary to study the objects in a number of other ways to get the most reliable information about the history and culture of the place. The choice of the method depends on the type of the material remain that is studied (human remains, stone tools analysis, etc).
To conclude, these methods allow archeologists to obtain a large amount of different information both about the landscape where the site is located and artifacts, features and ecofacts. Aerial, surface and subsurface methods are means to learn much about the archeological site and find artifacts that must be further analyzed in the museum or laboratory with a range of different scientific techniques, such as radio nuclear analysis and others. All of these methods have some flaws, so if it is possible archeologists should combine them to get more reliable and unbiased information.