Interpretation Introduction

Archaeologists have a number of questions that they ask about the past and about how people lived in the past-what did they eat, where did they live, did they travel or trade, and so forth. Many lines of evidence contribute to answering these questions, including both the kinds of artifacts and ecofacts (plant and animal remains) found at a site, and the context of those remains.

Archaeologists study artifacts from the past, and evaluate the context of those artifacts to understand how they may answer questions. For example, mussel shells found in a 2000 year old site along the Mississippi River may suggest that people camped there and consumed mussels, probably during the warm season. Alternatively, those same mussel shells might have been found in a storage pit at a site 30 miles from the Mississippi River along with pottery in the same pit that dates to 1300 AD. This second context may suggest that the shells were transported all that way for a purpose, not just to have some food to consume. The pottery at 1300 AD was tempered with burned mussel shells, making it likely that this pit stored shells to be used for pottery manufacture. In this case, the same artifacts in two different contexts provide very different information.

This section examines some of what archaeologists have learned about different aspects of the past, including subsistence activities, trade, settlement, seasonal movement, working wood and hide, art objects and ornaments, and recreation activities.