The archaeological record is the body of physical (i.e. not written) evidence about the past. It is one of the core concepts in archaeology, the academic discipline concerned with documenting and interpreting the archaeological record. Archaeological theory is used to interpret the archaeological record for a better understanding of human cultures. The archaeological record can consist of the earliest ancient findings as well as contemporary artifacts. Human activity has had a large impact on the archaeological record. Destructive human processes such as agriculture and land development may damage or destroy potential archaeological sites. Other threats to the archaeological record include natural phenomena and scavenging. Archaeology is a destructive science and can take away from the finite resources of the archaeological record. It is for this reason that archaeologists limit the amount of excavation that they do at each site and meticulous records are kept of what is found. The archaeological record is the record of our human history, of why our civilizations prosper or fail, why our cultures change and grow. It is the story of this world we humans have created.
The archaeological record consists of the material culture found at an archaeological site. Material culture in terms of archaeology can consist of artifacts, built structures, human impact on the environment, garbage, stratigraphy, mortuary practices, plant remains, or animal remains. These types of material culture are kept in the archaeological record through their position and data recorded about them. The kinds of material culture associated with the archaeological record are varied, but all are physical features or objects. Artifacts from the archaeological record are usually found in the ground, and once dug up, archaeologists put data such as photographs and exact location of the artifact into the archaeological record. Bones are sometimes found and included in the archaeological record. Bones can be from both animals and humans that have died and been preserved. Bone fragments and whole bones can be a part of the archaeological record. Plant and organic material found can also become a part of the archaeological record. Seeds are a common plant material that are found and included in the archaeological record. The seeds that archaeologists find are usually those that were burned during cooking, which helps to preserve them. Features are also part of the archaeological record, and are material culture that usually archaeologists are unable to take and study inside a lab. Features can include burn marks in the ground from fire pits or mounds and other structures constructed long ago. Features can also include mounds or other monuments that have been constructed by other civilizations.
The archaeological record can also consist of the written documentation that is presented in scientific journals. It is what archaeologists have learned from the artifacts they have documented. This spans the entire world; archaeology is the human story that belongs to everyone’s past and represents everyone’s heritage. This data can be archived and retrieved by archaeologists for research. The mission of an archaeologist is often preservation of the archaeological record There are different databases which are used to archive and preserve the documentation in addition to the artifacts which serve as archaeological records. One of these databases is The Digital Archaeological Record. The Digital Archaeological Record (tDAR) is an international digital repository for the digital records of archaeological investigations. tDAR’s use, development, and maintenance are governed by Digital Antiquity, an organization dedicated to ensuring the long-term preservation of irreplaceable archaeological data and to broadening the access to these data. The archaeological record serves as a database for everything archaeology stands for and has become. The material culture associated with archaeological excavations and the scholarly records in academic journals are the physical embodiment of the archaeological record. The ambiguity that is associated with the archaeological record is often due to the lack of examples, but the archaeological record is everything the science of archaeology has found and created.
- Artifact (archaeology)
- Cultural resources management and Cultural Heritage Management
- Excavation (archaeology)
- Material culture
- Typology (archaeology)
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