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Chapter 3                                                                                                                                 Lesson 2

Examining Sources


Archaeology:  the recovery and study of artifacts, ruins, bones and fossils remaining from the past.

I.                    Unlocking the Archaeological Record

a.      By studying the archaeological record, archaeologists can learn many things about people of the past: how they lived, what they ate, what diseases they had, and even how they died.

b.      The uncovering of the archaeological record of a site occurs in many ways.

                                                               i.      Erosion:  the gradual wearing away of soil - might reveal the remains of a site.

                                                             ii.      Animals rooting in the ground might dig up artifacts.

                                                            iii.      New settlers clearing the land for farming might uncover more evidence.

Excavation:  the process of digging up the remains of the past.

c.      Once archaeologists have located a site, they carefully remove the earth, layer by layer.  They divide the surface of the site into squares with grids.  As they dig, they carefully record the exact location of every object they find.

Stratigraph:  the study of the remains that are found in various layers of soil and rock.


II.                 Dating the Information

a.      Archaeologists use two methods to determine the age of an artifact.

                                                               i.      Cultural dating:  compares the objects found at a site with objects whose dates and information are already known.

Example: Roman coins – to date the Roman coins, you compare it with information you could get about Roman coins and emperors.

a.       There are two types of cultural dating:

                                                                                                                                       i.      Absolute dating:  Archaeologists decide the age in years of an object.  Example: finding the date of the Roman coin.

                                                                                                                                     ii.      Relative dating:  finding out whether an object is older or newer than other objects.  Example:  pottery – which styles were developed first and which came later.

                                                             ii.      Scientific dating:  bringing small samples of the objects found at a site into a laboratory for detailed analysis.

1.      Dendrochronology:  oldest form of scientific dating.  It is also called tree-ring counting.  It is based on the fact that a tree grows a new ring every year and you can figure out the age of a tree by counting the number of rings in its trunk.

2.      Radiocarbon dating:  a system for determining the age of an artifact based on the fact that carbon content diminishes at a regular rate.  Here’s how it works.  Every living thing absorbs carbon from the atmosphere.  A small amount of the carbon is radioactive.  When a plant or animal dies, it stops absorbing carbon.  The radioactive carbon absorbed when it was alive begins to decay at a known rate.


III.               Interpreting the Evidence

a.      Archaeologists must interpret the evidence they collect just as historians do.

b.      Different archaeologists come to different conclusions about the materials they examine.

c.      For archaeologists as well as for historians, interpreting the evidence is a never-ending process.