After working in the field and the lab the teachers in the Eisenhower
Professional Development Project/Elementary and Secondary Education Act
Title II entitled Using Archaeology as an Integrated Gateway to
Teacher Professional Development Grant put together this list of Frequently
Asked Questions. It should help answer some of the most common
questions asked by students and teachers.
Do archaeologists dig up dinosaurs?
NO, not intentionally anyway. Archaeology is the study of past
human life and culture by the recovery and examination of remaining
material evidence, such as buildings, tools, and pottery. Paleontology
is the study of the forms of life existing in prehistoric or geologic
times, as represented by the fossils of plants, animals, and other
organisms. Therefore, it would be paleontologists who would be
interested in searching for and recovering dinosaur or other
remains. Archaeologists are more interested in finding the
artifacts that would have been left behind by humans.
Note: dinosaurs were extinct by 60 million years ago, and people have
only been on the scene for about 5 million years, so they never
overlapped in time.
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What are the artifacts worth?
the professional and amateur archeologist, artifacts are worth $0.00 in
monetary terms, but in informational terms, artifacts are priceless
because of the information that can be inferred. Provided the artifact was
found and left within its context, we can learn about the past from the
the treasure hunter, artifacts are worth the amount of money another
treasure hunter is willing to pay. This sale is highly unethical often
illegal, and often times involves a den of thieves or grave robbers.
Those looting sites to sell the artifacts have destroyed many important
sites, and the information can never be replaced.
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Do archaeologists get to keep what they find?
Professional archaeologists do not keep, buy, sell, or trade any
artifacts. Quite simply, they don't get to keep what they find
because it doesn't belong to them. If archaeologists kept what
they found, they would be the only ones to know the story behind the
object. Archaeologists want to share their discoveries.
Archaeologists recover and record the discoveries they make and then
share them in various ways including: publications, displays, brochures
By law, artifacts recovered from
federal or state lands belong to the public and must be taken care of on
behalf of all of us. Artifacts
from private land are the property of the landowners.
Often these landowners allow archaeologists to remove the
artifacts so that they can be studied and displayed properly and enjoyed by others.
Collecting or excavating these sites is trespassing and/or vandalism
without the express permission of the owner.
often keep the artifacts they find on their property, but they can work
with archaeologists to make sure that the information is reported
properly. These artifacts are the past's legacy, and everyone has the
responsibility of making sure that they are cared for into the future.
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Can I conduct an archaeological dig in my own backyard?
The past is nonrenewable, so we must be very careful to
preserve the past. Every time
a site is excavated portions of that site are destroyed. A great deal
can be learned about the past through careful observation and inference, but care must be taken to preserve as much as possible for future
generations. To properly excavate a site and record the information that
can be learned from it requires training and expertise. That is why
archaeologists do not recommend that anyone conduct a dig themselves
unless they are trained professionals.
amateur archaeologists have played a very important role in archaeology
by working with professionals. Check out MVAC's Events
web page to see ways that you can get involved in archaeology.
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What do I do if I find an arrowhead?
If you found the arrowhead laying on the surface of private land you should remember where
it was found. You can draw a map of the area and show where you found
it, or use a local plat map or road map. You should then take it to an archaeologist to
identify and record the area it was found in. Don't worry, if it
is from your land you will be able to keep the point.
If you found the arrowhead on public land or on state land, you
should leave the projectile point where it is. Collecting artifacts on
public land is illegal. You could report it to the park ranger.
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What do you do if you find bone?
If you find bone while you are digging in your garden, working on a
construction site, walking through the woods, performing archaeological
excavation, or during any other ground disturbing activity, you must
stop and call the Burial Sites Preservation office at the Wisconsin
Historical Society in Madison. If the discovery is made after hours, or
over a weekend, you should also contact your local police or sheriff's
department. In either case, you must report the discovery to the Burial
Sites office by calling the toll-free number, 1-800-342-7834, and speak
to a staff member, or leave a voice mail message on the answering
machine. Please leave a detailed message describing when the discovery
was made, and where (please give Town, Range and Section information, if
possible), the type of activity that unearthed the remains along with
your telephone number. Your call can remain anonymous. If bone is found,
it is important to determine if the bone is human or animal. Once it is
determined that the bone is human (and not of law enforcement interest),
there is a process under Wisconsin's Burial Sites Preservation law that
allows the landowner to request permission to disturb the remains from
the Director of the Wisconsin Historical Society. Please do not attempt
to remove the bone yourself.
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What is the difference between a prehistoric artifact
and an historic artifact?
Artifacts are things that have been made or deliberately modified for
use by humans. Archaeologists distinguish between prehistoric and
historic cultures. Prehistoric cultures are those groups without written
records. In North America, the Native Americans had no writing system,
and the materials they produced are called prehistoric artifacts.
These could include stone knives, projectile points, pottery, bone
and shell tools, rock art, and so forth.
An historic culture, such as
ours, has a writing system and written records about themselves. Ancient
Greece or Rome, and modern America are examples of historic cultures in this
sense. The artifacts they make, such as coins, glass bottles, porcelain
cups, and so forth, are historic artifacts.
Note: just because
there was no writing system does not mean that a prehistoric culture did
not have a history. Oral histories, legends, and other media such as art
helped to preserve the past for these cultures.
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How do you know how old an artifact is?
There are many methods for establishing the age of archaeological
remains. They include both relative and absolute
dating, we can identify something that is older or younger than
something else. In general, older things are found below younger
We would examine a number of things:
- the context of the find,
- what is known
about the site,
- what other artifacts were found with the artifact we are trying
- at what level of the
excavation they were found,
- (see also stratigraphy, and style).
With absolute dating, we can get an actual date for when the artifact
was made (+- 50 years or so). Radiocarbon dating is the most
common type of absolute dating. It can only be used on organic
materials. A piece of charcoal can be radiocarbon dated and the
date can be applied to the artifacts closely associated with the
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How does an archaeologist decide where to dig?
times archaeologists are working as part of a cultural resource
management (CRM) project to identify and test sites prior to
construction. For example, if a road were to be built, the Department of
Transportation would hire archaeologists to survey the new highway
corridor to see if any sites were located there, and if so, to test
those sites to see what they can tell us about the past. If they are
considered important sites, then they could be excavated to recover the
information and artifacts that would otherwise be lost during
construction. (See also Cultural
archaeologists are conducting research that is not part of a CRM project,
they might be looking for new sites, or might be trying to get
more information from known sites. If they're looking for new sites,
they could check the written historical records
of the area or first hand accounts from local land owners. Land owners
typically know a fair amount about their property including the history
of the area.
They might have found artifacts on their land that can tell
archaeologists the kinds of sites that might be present. They would do
some survey work to see if they can find a new site in their area.
addition to this, the state archaeology offices have a record of all known archaeology sites
around the area, some of which might not have been explored yet. This would be
another good way to determine a potential site for archaeologists to dig.
of a site would depend on what they were seeking to learn. If the
to know about how people lived along the Mississippi River, then sites
exposed in the bank of the river would be good places to test.
on the property that an archaeologist plans to dig, several factors come into play in
deciding specifically where to start:
The lay of the land
- In some cases it is possible to choose the place to put the excavation units through looking at a
quality topographic map and actually walking the area. After personally
surveying the site there may be a natural feature that would appear to
be a great place to start.
Shovel testing - In
other cases, once on the site archaeologist do shovel testing, either at
random or in a grid pattern, to try to find evidence of artifact rich
Recorded sites - All sites that have been dug by professional archaeologists are carefully recorded. In some cases it may be possible
to go to a site that has not been totally excavated and continue work
that a previous crew had started.
Many sites are tested by different people over many years.
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Once an archaeologist finds an artifact what do they do
Before the artifact is removed from
its context, it may be photographed in place and its precise location
plotted on graph paper and then transferred to a master map of the site,
preserving its context. Once the records have been made the artifact
moves to the archaeologist's laboratory. Each artifact must be minutely
examined, and classified as to the type of artifact, its raw material,
and so forth. Measurements of the artifact are taken and descriptions
written. Then all the information from the analysis is compared with the
information on other artifacts from the site, and from other sites.
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How do archaeologists spend most of their time?
people think about the work of an archaeologist, most probably think of
a crew of people digging in the earth for remains of the past. The field
work is only one of four phases of an archaeological project and it can
often be the one that can take the least amount of time.
a site can be a very lengthy process. This may include finding out what
has been done in an area before, securing funding, getting permission to excavate,
as well as conducting small-scale testing sampling to
determine where to dig.
artifact and data collected at the site during the field work phase,
will only be useful after hours of analysis in the laboratory. The
laboratory phase of the project is probably the most time-consuming
component of an archaeologist work as this process can take months to
years to complete.
Finally, the results of the analysis must be reported
in a site report. Often, other publications and presentations,
both professional and popular, follow. It is very important to share the
results of the archaeology with others, and this can be done through
displays, presentations, brochures, web sites, and so forth, as well as
professional books and articles.
The field work phase of the project can often be
conducted in less time than each of the other phases of the project. An
archaeologist begins with paper work (research and planning),
continues with paper work (data collection, laboratory work) and
concludes with more paper work (site report).
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Why teach archaeology?
Archaeology is a innovative way to
capture students attention and a great vehicle for teaching a wide
variety of subjects through a multi-disciplinary approach. Archaeology
can be used to teach multiple subjects including art, science, social
studies, language arts and math. Students love the connection to the
real world of work and seeing a practical need for knowing how to
measure, record information, read a map, etc. Archaeology is a great
tool for tapping into kids natural curiosity of the world around them
and learning about the people of the past.
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How many college and universities in the United States
offer a degree in archaeology?
There are actually only a handful of institutions that offer an
undergraduate degree in Archaeology. Some institutions offer degrees in
classical archaeology with the emphasis on the Greek, Roman and Egyptian
finds and history. Other schools offer a comprehensive archaeology
program integrating archaeology courses taught from the anthropological,
historical and geological perspectives.
Depending on their interests, students
might choose to pursue classical archaeology, or to study the cultures
of the New World, generally prehistoric archaeology. With a broad background, students graduating from a comprehensive program will have
good understanding of the sub-fields that make up the study of
archaeology and be prepared for field work and any
number of other applications for their degree. In choosing a
graduate program, they will make a more informed choice concerning what aspect
of archaeology they want to pursue.
University of Wisconsin - La Crosse offers an undergraduate degree in
archaeology. Check out the program at the Archaeological
Studies Program web site.
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What jobs and career paths are open to individuals with
an undergraduate degree in archaeology?
With an undergraduate degree in
Archaeology, an individual would qualify for entry and possibly
intermediate level laboratory work in a museum or university setting.
Such candidates would also be able to find work on dig sites, and, with
adequate experience may supervise other crews. There are also jobs available in museums setting up displays
under the supervision of a curator, or working in museums or other
educational places as guides. As
entry-level positions, these
jobs are often low paying, but additional experience provides more
avenues for advancement. However, they would not be able to direct an
entire project themselves without an advanced degree.
Any job in the fields of Archaeology and Anthropology that
involve the responsibility of reporting results, supervising the
excavation of a site, planning and executing displays in museums and the
like, require a graduate degree. Typically, the most employable
individual will have a graduate degree in Archaeology with a very strong
background in Anthropology, Geography, or other related fields.
To do any teaching at the university or college level requires a
Jobs are not found
just in archaeology, though. World
wide commerce has made understanding other cultures very important to
success. People with the
educational profile described above are being hired to steer these
companies through the sometimes murky waters of cultural traditions and
norms when business is being conducted in foreign countries.
For more information
about job opportunities, check out the SAA web site at
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