Home > Starting Points > Basic Archaeological Theory

Basic Archaeological Theory

By: Grahame Johnston - Updated: 25 Jun 2018 | comments*Discuss
 
Archaeology Theory Diggers Prediction

Various Theoretical Frameworks

Archaeologists use theoretical models to assist them to explain what happened in the past. They also use experiments and observations of the world, as it is today, in order to understand the cultures of the past. Well-thought-out theoretical models are the basis of accurate archaeology. They propose rational reasons why the existing archaeological record might have been laid.

Factors of Theory

The theory applied to the particular archaeological site will include many factors. It is important for the archaeologist to enter into an excavation with a theoretical hypothesis about the history of the site already framed. Not to do so would be like digging blindly in the ground. A number of initial factors are considered.

  • Environmental changes. This primarily has to do with regional climate change such as the increasing size of a desert or the silting up of a harbour. However, it will also include natural disasters such as volcanic eruptions, Tsunami and flooding.

  • Demography. Changes and movements in population, makeup and size play a vital role in archaeological theory construction. Shifts in demographic representation may also include migrations of people and patterns of their behaviour.

By applying as much foreknowledge as can be gained about the history of the site to the present remains, an archaeological researcher can enter the site and begin excavations with a pre-conceived concept of what lies beneath the soil, creating an anticipation of what will be discovered. A persuasive theory will fit with the existing archaeological data and stand up to scrutiny over time as discoveries are made. Not all theories are proven right and where necessary the archaeologist must admit to the need for modification.

Today vs Yesterday

It would be almost impossible for archaeologists today to theoretically predict the archaeological record if they thought that people and cultures of the past bore little resemblance to the people of today. Of course there have been cultural transitions, some so extensive as to render the ancient ways extinct. Yet because there has been cultural continuity over centuries, it is common for archaeologists to use information from the present to interpret the past.

  • Observations. By undertaking archaeological research on present-day societies much can be learned that gives insight into general human behaviour. This might include studying the ways in which people live today and the material remains that they make, or that their activities leave behind. This study is called ethno-archaeology.

  • Experiments. A technique known simply as experimental archaeology is a method whereby archaeologists attempt to recreate the patterns that they have discovered. If a recreation of the theory, using today's cultures, can be achieved successfully then this heightens the plausibility of the proposed explanation for how the archaeological record was laid.

The archaeologist uses theory and hypothesis to create a tangible picture of the proposed digging site. Unless there is a clear portrait of what might be uncovered the excavation would be uninformed and undisciplined. Good science tries to predict what it is about to do.

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
What if i suspected an old ruin can be present in need of excavation how can I prove I came up with Thai theory I have gathered information and documents. I have been keeping record documentation and photographs it is only theoretical hypothesis ??? I am not sure how to gain further insight or what steps to to take but I would like further insight
Carlos - 25-Jun-18 @ 3:38 PM
sir am pursuing my graduation in degree(B.A,HPAT).aminterested in archaeology so I eligible now please sir would you guide me
Jenny - 27-May-17 @ 9:54 AM
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice...
Title:
(never shown)
Firstname:
(never shown)
Surname:
(never shown)
Email:
(never shown)
Nickname:
(shown)
Comment:
Validate:
Enter word:
Topics
Latest Comments
  • Skid
    Re: Pottery Experts
    Hi, I found a small piece of pottery in a filed in Staffordshire, to me it looks old , how can I identify it? Thanks
    8 July 2020
  • Archeologists foreve
    Re: Types of Archaeology
    It is every helpful site and it has helped me to decide what type of archeologist I want to become in future...
    5 July 2020
  • Archeologists foreve
    Re: Types of Archaeology
    It is every helpful site and it has helped me to decide what type of archeologist I want to beco e in future????
    5 July 2020
  • Nat
    Re: Types of Archaeology
    Hi, I’ve had a passion for the field of archeology since I was extremely young; come to to find there are different types of archeological…
    3 July 2020
  • Sukadi
    Re: Stone Tool Experts
    I have a number of pieces I believe to be stone tools , gathered during years that I lived in Congo, in the 1970’s. Is there a way to have them…
    28 June 2020
  • Ace
    Re: Pottery Experts
    Hello I need help by an Archioligist as there is nobody to help me in Victoria Australia .. I have a DING a Chinese sacrificial v3 leged vessel I…
    27 June 2020
  • AMAN
    Re: Academic Qualifications to Be An Archaeologist
    sir i complete MA in history. can i become an archaeologist can i apply form for job in archaeological…
    23 June 2020
  • Tictoc
    Re: Pottery Experts
    I have found a broken piece of pottery with distinctive patterns. I’m looking for it to be identified please. I found it on the shore of the river…
    22 June 2020
  • Carli
    Re: Being Aware of Fake Archaeological Artefacts
    There is a seller on Ebay called roman- land I looked at his items and realised when I saw a blue bird shaped…
    13 June 2020
  • Richie
    Re: The Roman Sword
    I'm looking for an archeologist who know a lot about Roman Britain and in particular the farming tools such as their ploughs. I've found what I…
    13 June 2020