How Do Archaeologists Find Sites?
Over time most artifacts or features become covered up and buried in the earth. Day after day, year after year, dirt, leaves, dust, sand, and other debris covers them. Sometimes buildings or roads are built over them. This is one reason many people think of digging when they think of archaeology.
Not all artifacts last over time. Some things decay easily and disappear. However, items made of stone, metal, and clay last much longer because harder materials are more resistant to decay and deterioration. The artifacts that survive best over thousands of years are tools and weapons made out of hard materials like stone, antler, or bone. This is why archaeologists most often find these artifacts.
What remains also depends on the environment. In a rain forest, a wooden tool would rot and decay. In a desert or if buried in lava or a cave, the same tool might be preserved and survive through time. Sometimes archaeologists also find ancient clothing, sandals, food remains, seeds, and other things that have survived over time.
Before archaeologists do any digging or excavating, sometimes called fieldwork, they research where to start looking for artifacts. They look for clues in books or on maps or from other nearby sites. They survey or study the land in detail.
We all know people need water, food and shelter to live. People prefer to live where these are nearby. For this reason, archaeologists look for artifacts in places where people might take shelter, like caves, or rock overhangs along cliffs. People also use trails or routes when they move from place to place, so archaeologists study nearby places where people lived or traveled from in the past.
Once archaeologists complete the survey, they record their information on a form. Each site receives a number and is entered into the State of Idaho records. Each site has a number based on the state and the county. They also measure and map the site. These documents are then stored and preserved in the state's archives. The Smithsonian Institution began this recording system in the 1940s.
It is important to note that not all artifacts and features are found by archaeologists. Farmers plowing fields, foresters cutting down trees, geologists looking for fossils, or construction crews working on a road or a building can also find artifacts. When someone discovers features or an artifact, they contact the state so archaeologists can survey the site and preserve information which helps to make the state's archaeological picture more complete.
Activity - What Ought to Rot?
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