Scientists Say: Archaeology

Scientists can study people by studying the stuff they’ve left behind

a skull being excavated from the surrounding soil

Archaeologists study things people leave behind — including human remains.

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Archaeology (noun, “Ar-KEY-awl-oh-gee”)

This is the study of people and their history through the study of things left behind by humans in the past. People who study archaeology are called archaeologists. They dig up sites where people used to live, or where they left things behind. These include human bones, ancient buildings, ancient trash heaps and more.

The most famous archaeological sites, such as Egyptian tombs, tend to be very old. But the sites don’t have to be all that ancient. Some archaeologists study landfills and other sites that are only a few decades old. Their findings can help us learn new things about our history and our society.

Archaeology is not the study of ancient animals. Most of the time, that’s paleontology. But sometimes, scientists study remains of animals that lived with humans — such as ancient dogs, cats or cows. Then it’s called zooarchaeology.

In a sentence

Archaeology has uncovered evidence that in ancient societies, women could be warriors.

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Bethany Brookshire was a longtime staff writer at Science News Explores and is the author of the book Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology and likes to write about neuroscience, biology, climate and more. She thinks Porgs are an invasive species.

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