The archaeological record consists of artifacts, architecture, biofacts or ecofacts and cultural landscapes. Archaeology is distinct from palaeontology, the study of fossil remains. In broad scope, archaeology relies on cross-disciplinary research. Since its early development, various specific sub-disciplines of archaeology have developed, including maritime archaeology, feminist archaeology and archaeoastronomy, and numerous different scientific techniques have been developed to aid archaeological investigation. Antiquarians studied history with particular attention to ancient artifacts and manuscripts, as well as historical sites. One of the first sites to undergo archaeological excavation was Stonehenge and other megalithic monuments in England. The father of archaeological excavation was William Cunnington (1754–1810). One of the major achievements of 19th-century archaeology was the development of stratigraphy. The application of stratigraphy to archaeology first took place with the excavations of prehistorical and Bronze Age sites. Further adaptation and innovation in archaeology continued in this period, when maritime archaeology and urban archaeology became more prevalent and rescue archaeology was developed as a result of increasing commercial development.
The purpose of archaeology is to learn more about past societies and the development of the human race. However, it is not only prehistoric, pre-literate cultures that can be studied using archaeology but historic, literate cultures as well, through the sub-discipline of historical archaeology. There is no one approach to archaeological theory that has been adhered to by all archaeologists. In the 1960s, an archaeological movement largely led by American archaeologists like Lewis Binford and Kent Flannery arose that rebelled against the established cultural-history archaeology. Second, an excavation may take place to uncover any archaeological features buried under the ground. The archaeological project then continues (or alternatively, begins) with a field survey. Site survey is the attempt to systematically locate features of interest, such as houses and middens, within a site. Survey was not widely practiced in the early days of archaeology. (Nevertheless, surveying a large region or site can be expensive, so archaeologists often employ sampling methods.) As with other forms of non-destructive archaeology, survey avoids ethical issues (of particular concern to descendant peoples) associated with destroying a site through excavation. The simplest survey technique is surface survey. Metal detectorists have also contributed to archaeology where they have made detailed records of their results and refrained from raising artifacts from their archaeological context. Excavation is the most expensive phase of archaeological research, in relative terms. Archaeologists around the world use drones to speed up survey work and protect sites from squatters, builders and miners. As with most academic disciplines, there are a very large number of archaeological sub-disciplines characterized by a specific method or type of material (e.g., lithic analysis, music, archaeobotany), geographical or chronological focus (e.g. Near Eastern archaeology, Islamic archaeology, Medieval archaeology), other thematic concern (e.g. maritime archaeology, landscape archaeology, battlefield archaeology), or a specific archaeological culture or civilization (e.g. Egyptology, Indology, Sinology).
Historical archaeology is the study of cultures with some form of writing. Experimental archaeology represents the application of the experimental method to develop more highly controlled observations of processes that create and impact the archaeological record. Archaeometry aims to systematize archaeological measurement. CRM archaeologists frequently examine archaeological sites that are threatened by development. This general tendency laid the foundation for the modern popular view of archaeology and archaeologists. The modern depiction of archaeology has incorrectly formed the public's perception of what archaeology is. Archaeological adventure stories tend to ignore the painstaking work involved in carrying out modern surveys, excavations, and data processing. Motivated by a desire to halt looting, curb pseudoarchaeology, and to help preserve archaeological sites through education and fostering public appreciation for the importance of archaeological heritage, archaeologists are mounting public-outreach campaigns. They seek to stop looting by combatting people who illegally take artifacts from protected sites, and by alerting people who live near archaeological sites of the threat of looting. Common methods of public outreach include press releases, and the encouragement of school field trips to sites under excavation by professional archaeologists. Public appreciation of the significance of archaeology and archaeological sites often leads to improved protection from encroaching development or other threats. One audience for archaeologists' work is the public. Local heritage awareness is aimed at increasing civic and individual pride through projects such as community excavation projects, and better public presentations of archaeological sites and knowledge. Archaeologists prize local knowledge and often liaise with local historical and archaeological societies, which is one reason why Community archaeology projects are starting to become more common. Often archaeologists are assisted by the public in the locating of archaeological sites, which professional archaeologists have neither the funding, nor the time to do. Looting of archaeological sites is an ancient problem. Archaeology stimulates interest in ancient objects, and people in search of artifacts or treasure cause damage to archaeological sites. Looters damage and destroy archaeological sites, denying future generations information about their ethnic and cultural heritage. Archaeologists have also been obliged to re-examine what constitutes an archaeological site in view of what native peoples believe to constitute sacred space. Tribal elders cooperating with archaeologists can prevent the excavation of areas of sites that they consider sacred, while the archaeologists gain the elders' aid in interpreting their finds.
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