The lesson this week in our Anthropology is Elemental course covered the third of our four anthropological subfields, Archaeology. First, we defined archaeology as “the study of human history through excavation and analysis of artifacts and other physical remains”. Physical remains of human history were categorized as anything from man-made portable objects, to entire structures or complexes, to human remains. From here we moved into more specific term-defining, beginning with the differences between an artifact and an ecofact. An artifact is something that that modified by humans for use by humans, or something that was physically changed by a person for the specific purpose of being used. This could be anything from an elaborate burial mask down to a stick whittled to a sharp point. An ecofact, on the other hand, is an item which indicates human settlement or inhabitants, but was not directly modified by the human for use. These are things such as empty shells indicating people were there eating clams, or charcoal, which is an unintentional result from intentional human fire. We then moved on to define sites and features. A site encompasses the entire area of interest to archaeologists. A feature is just one element of an archaeological site. A feature is characterized by an inability to move it, whether due to size, state of disrepair, or something like dirt which shows evidence of a post-hole. These things are aspects of a site that cannot be removed from the surrounding area and taken back to a lab for studying, but can still hold important information about the site itself.
Following this, we went over the ways in which archaeologists discover and locate sites of interest, such as the Global Imaging System (GIS) and Ground-Penetrating Radar (GPR). The students were shown various methods used during excavation, such as the creation of grids and the use of surveying before actual digging can begin. The concept of stratification was explained using the example of a laundry basket, which holds more recent clothes at the top and clothes worn longer ago at the bottom. Finally, we discussed Celsa, a first-century Roman city in Spain, identifying aspects of the site as features or artifacts.
The activity for this lesson was Garbology. Each group was given a large bag of trash taken from a specific place (kitchen, home office, public space). They were told to sort the trash in using whatever categories they thought best fit the assemblage. Most groups began sorting by material. Some groups also sorted by things like use or even edibility. Once sorted, the students were asked to identify where they thought the trash came from, and what they thought the trash implied about the people who produced it, like where they might live or how they get their food. Students were also encouraged to think about their own material remains and how they might be interpreted by future archaeologists with no cultural context on which to base their ideas.
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