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Archaeology – Karabi Art
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Archaeology

Archaeology

ABOUT

History

Antiquarian

Antiquarians studied antiquarianism, an older multidisciplinary study from which later in the modern times archaeology branched out. This was a historical study field that focused primarily on ancient artefacts, manuscripts, and sites of historical significance. The underlying foundation of this vast and ancient field was always facts, where empirical evidence was relied on for an evolved understanding of the past.

Before the advent or evolution of archaeology as we know it today, antiquarianism was responsible for unearthing of facts and clues that helped in piecing together the ancient history. It was under the gamut of this field that during the Middle Ages there was a philosophical interest in the remains of the Greco-Roman civilization. Antiquarians of the 16th and 17th centuries surveyed the English countryside through drawings, descriptions and interpretations of the monuments they came across.

First Excavations

One of the earliest excavations was Stonehenge and other megalithic monuments in England. It was in this period numerous megalithic and other field monuments in southern England. There, also was an attempt to chart the chronological stylistic evolution of handwriting, medieval architecture, costume, and shield shapes.

In the mid-18th century excavations began in Pompeii & Herculaneum. Both these sites had been covered with ash from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79AD. Entire towns, complete with utensils and even human shapes were discovered and ancient frescoes were unearthed which had a big impact on Europe.

Developing archaeological Methods

Towards the end of the 18th century excavations were done in Wiltshire and the recordings that were made for Neolithic and Bronze Age were so meticulous that these are a resource even for the modern day archaeologists. It was in this period that Stratigraphy – the idea of overlapping strata that traced back to successive periods.

Stratigraphy was first applied to archaeology during the excavations of prehistorical and Bronze Age sites. The first time Stratigraphy was popularly applied for excavations and archaeology was in later half of the 19th century on the site of ancient Troy. The archaeologists accomplished to individuate nine distinctive cities that had overlapped one another from prehistoric to Hellenistic period. However it was only in the 20th century that archaeology became a profession and it was then possible to study it in a formalized system of education. Further evolution and advancements in the field led to more diversification and maritime archaeology, urban archaeology and later rescue archaeology came into existence.

Art, Artefact & Antiques

Art is an expression and showcase of creative talents and fantasy, most commonly in a visual form, producing in the process works of appreciable beauty and emotional connect.

An artefact is typically an object shaped by human hands, from common use in their everyday lives or things of obvious monetary worth, but the term is more relevant for their historical or archaeological significance.

An antique, however is an artefact that has been assessed to have a significant monetary worth purely because of its age, notwithstanding its historical or cultural significance. Having said that, in some cases the monetary worth is sometimes affected by their historical worth too.

We may say that all antiques are artefacts, but not all artefacts are antiques. Art however has no timeline to it, a work of art may be an antique or an artefact or just that – a work of art.

Museology & Archaeology

Museology, Museum Studies, or Museography (older version) is a study of museums, museum curation and the evolution and development of museums as a shaping factor in the world of education, sociology and politics. Museum displays get their meaning and purpose from the context and surroundings in which they are housed. It is the intent of museology to discover the catalyzing factors that promote such associations and help them succeed through such effectiveness.

Archaeology, however differs greatly from museology as it entails a study of human history and prehistory, mostly from before the invention of writing. It is through a study and analysis of material remains and features that archaeology aims to discover the rich histories that led to the development of our contemporary society.

History & Archaeology

To put it simply history is an interpretation of the past in the historian’s words. History does not involve judgements or analysis, it is an entirely academic study. History is a record of facts and sequence of events based on ancient chronicles. It began after the invention of the writing as it was only then that people started keeping records of events & happenings. History is known to include only authentic information about the past, the timelines and the series of events leading up to any event.

Archaeology however is a field of study that tries to unearth data about the past events through digs where they recover artefacts and then analyze them to reconstruct the sequence of events of the said era. Archaeology has a close symbiotic relationship with history but it is not as accurate as recorded history. The reconstruction of events by archaeologists depends on their experience as they string together analyses of the artefacts that have been unearthed.

It is safe to say that Archaeology is effectively a study of people and their lifestyles from the periods before writing was invented. The archaeological information is entirely deduced on the basis of the artefacts that have been dug up. History however is a rewriting of the series of events that have been recorded earlier by the people of the past.

Anthropology & Archaeology

Anthropology as the name suggests is the study of man, a subject much broader than archaeology. Comprising of subparts like geographical anthropology, racial anthropology and cultural anthropology, it studies the geographical distribution of early man, physical features and classification of man into different races and his social life, interactions and customs and traditions. Cultural anthropology, a subpart of archaeology is the closest to archeology.

Archaeology deals with study of the prehistoric man and his society through an analysis of artefacts and material retrieved from digging in specific sites. This field relies on part conjecture and part revelations through a systematic analysis of objects found through excavations or digs carried out in archaeological expeditions.

The key difference between the two is that anthropology studies mankind across eras and time periods in all its aspects. Archaeology is a much narrower gamut where a study of the artefacts dug out from under the earth reveals the socio-cultural aspects and lifestyle of the men for a particular time period.

Purpose & Theory

More than 99% of the development of humanity occurred within the prehistoric cultures, before writing was developed, hence leaving no written record of anything from those time periods. In absence of written records, it is only through archaeology that we can enrich our knowledge base about the prehistoric societies. There is an application or subfield of archaeology – historical archaeology that studies the literate cultures that often leave few or partial records that are sometimes biased too. This field of study bridges the gap between the literate world view of the elite and the lives and interests of the common populace.

Archaeological theory is multi-dimensional and has quite a few approaches that shape it up. Cultural – history archaeology was the first approach to archaeological theory, which developed with an intent to explain the change in the culture and the way it adapted. With the beginning of the 20th century direct historical approach developed under which the archaeologists studied the continuing links between the past and existing cultures, looking into compare ancient and contemporary ethnic & cultural groups. In the 1960s as a rebellion against the cultural – history archaeology, “New Archaeology” developed that employed scientific and anthropological approach and tools like hypothesis testing and the scientific methods that constituted processual archaeology.

The 1980s saw the rise of a postmodern movement – post–processual archaeology that questioned the scientific positivity of processualism and favored a more self-critical theoretical reflexivity. Meanwhile historical processualism came up to focus on the historical aspect of processual and post processual archaeology.

The theory of archaeology borrows from a wide range of influences today, including neo-evolutionary thought, phenomenology, postmodernism, agency theory, cognitive science, structural functionalism, gender-based and feminist archaeology, and systems theory.

METHODS

Any archaeological expedition begins with a clear chalking out of the archaeologists’ objectives, then a site survey and an inspection of the surrounding area is carried out. The excavation is then carried out followed by an analysis of this data.

Non-Invasive Techniques

Aerial Photography – aerial shots are captured and documented through photography to study the light and dark soil patterns or patterns in crops to reveal probable sites for further consideration.

Desktop Survey – already known sites that are recorded in various related databases are looked into and reconsidered and analyzed.

Ground-penetrating radar, resistivity and magnetometer surveys – a set of intense techniques are put to use to observe patterns of high and low resistivity underground.

Contour Survey – a detailed contouring of the site is carried out through an extensive survey. The intent here is to discover and plan the earthwork.

Physical Survey – to record standing buildings and earthwork

Fieldwalking – to collect and plot artefacts and study their distribution patterns.

Remote Sensing – prior to the actual dig, remote sensing is used to attain an idea of location of sites within a larger more expansive area. Passive Remote sensing instruments detect the energy reflected or emitted naturally from the observed site. Active remote sensing instruments that emit energy and record that which is reflected at the site in various locales. For example Lidar (Light Detection & Ranging) transmits a light pulse using a laser and measures the reflected light through a sensitive detector, calculating the distance in the process. These instruments can determine atmospheric profiles of aerosols, clouds and other such bodies that constitute the atmosphere. Laser altimeter further uses a Lidar to determine the topography of the underlying surface.

Field Survey – it is an attempt to locate hitherto unknown sites in a region. In the process there is also an effort to systematically locate features of interest like houses or structures within the site. Field survey as an archaeological technique came to be used first in the mid-20th century and became prominent with the rise of processual archaeology. As a preliminary exercise survey work takes comparatively lesser time, expense and minimal damage to the site.

Surface survey, the simplest survey technique involves scouring an area to search for features or artefacts that are visible on surface.

Aerial Survey is carried out by attaching a camera to an airborne object giving a bird’s eye view of the site. Aerial photographs have the ability to detect many things that are not visible to the eye. The speed with which each area develops in a photograph may help find some hidden structures.

Geophysical survey uses magnetometers to detect minute deviations caused by buried artefacts, other devices that measure the electrical resistivity of the soil. It is through a variation in the electrical resistivity that many an archaeological features have been discovered.

Excavation – one of the oldest methods of archaeology till date remains the primary source of data recovered in most expeditions. Through a series of modern procedures primary data of the site is obtained to deduce the kind of artefacts and features were most likely used together and which ones may belong to different phases of activity. This method is expensive and causes maximum damage, hence carries ethical concerns too. It is because of this reason that very few of the sites have been excavated to its entirety.

First and most important step is sampling, followed by mechanical removal of topsoil and then the exposed area is hand cleaned to preserve the features in the best possible manner.

Analysis – the artefacts and features obtained from the excavation is then studied properly. Post-excavation analysis is probably the most time consuming part of the entire process, sometimes taking years to finally get published. At a superficial or physical level, the feature or artefact is cleaned, catalogued and compared to previously published collections, by categorizing and classifying them into manageable categories. More intensive techniques include archaeological sciences that maybe used for dating and examining their compositions, unearthing information that any other means may not have been able to.

Computational and virtual archaeology – with the help of state of the art computer graphics virtual 3D models of the sites are constructed. Various advanced analytical tools like photogrammetry, digital topography models are combined with astronomical calculations to verify the timeline of the events by aligning them with astronomical events. Agent based modelling and simulation is also used to experience and explore the social dynamics and their outcomes in the era being studied.

Drones – in an effort to speed up the survey work and to protect the site from malicious human or other elements archaeologists all over the world are using drones these days. Small drones have known to help them create 3D models instead of the traditional maps, thus reducing the time of years and months to weeks and days. Drones of varying size, price and capabilities have been used as a super specialized tool to bring in a revolutionary change in the way the survey area is visualized.

 


ACADEMIC SUB-DISCIPLINES

 

Historical Archaeology

It is a part of archaeology that deals with and studies places, artefacts and issues from past wherein written or oral traditions can provide a link or context to the recovered cultural material. In the literate historical societies the written records were somewhat incomplete in their nature of non-inclusion of those that the elite and the literate considered unimportant to talk or write about. Hence these records are sometimes concurrent with the materials or artefacts or may even contradict them and expose certain biases.

Ethnoarchaeology

Through a detailed study of material and non-material remains of a society ethnoarcheology aids archaeology in reconstructing the ancient way of living. It also helps archaeology in comprehending the construction of an object and the uses it was put to. This process helps the archaeologists draw parallels and contradictions between the techniques used in the ancient societies and their modern counterparts.

Experimental Archaeology

Experimental, experiment or experiential archaeology involves replicating the probability of a particular ancient culture’s ability for certain errands. Ancient structures or artefacts, specific techniques, analyses and approaches are employed to generate and then test archaeological hypotheses. The replication, however is based on one person’s idea of the past, hence it may not be referred to as reconstruction technically.

Archaeometry

Archaeometry is a field of research that has an intent to systemize archaeological measurement. With a heavy inclination on the application of revered analytical techniques from physics, chemistry, and engineering, it investigates varied spatial characteristics of archaeological features. In doing so archaeometry tends to lean on space syntax techniques and geodesy, in addition to computer based tools. Archaeological materials is a subfield that is relatively new and is designed to develop a better understanding of ancient cultures through scientific analysis of materials.

Cultural Resource Management

Cultural Resource Management aims to identify, preserve, and maintain sites of cultural importance – public or private. It also takes over retrieval and removal of culturally valued materials from areas that propose damage to it. Through this study, a survey is conducted to determine the effects of a proposed construction on neighboring or associated archaeological sites of significance. The business aspect of this endeavor, however has been heavily criticized, as lowest quotes are granted the projects and CRM archaeologists are forced to rush up the projects by the private organizations to finish it probably in haphazard manner in a considerably shorter time period, as compared to a full blown academic excavation project.

 

CURRENT ISSUES & CONTROVERSY

 

Public Archaeology

With an intent to curb looting, restrain pseudoarchaeology and to assist in the preservation of archaeological sites, there is an effort from the archaeologists to reach the intellect of the general public. The intent is to induce appreciation and awareness along with a general sensitivity among the public about archaeology, archaeological sites, and their national worth. By devising community excavation projects and better visibility and awareness of archaeological sites and information there is a conscious effort to induce a civic and individual pride in the local heritage.

Local knowledge has forever been appreciated by archaeologists, who are advocating community excavation projects extensively as the locals have a better knowledge of the proposed archaeological sites of excavation. This process ends up saving a lot of time and money for the archaeologists.

Pseudoarchaeology

Rejecting the accepted and verified methods of data collection and analyses, Pseudoarchaeology and pseudoarchaeologists (usually from outside the archaeological community) use the materials, data or artefacts to construct insubstantiated theories and aims. There are a number of such theories that are at constant odds with the data and interpretations developed by real archaeologists who have supporting facts, verified methods and techniques and sound training to back themselves.

Looting

Archaeological artefacts are a rich source of ethnographic and cultural information. The financial worth however, attracts more malevolent elements than we think. Since the times of excavations in the tombs of Pharaohs in Egypt, people of varied interest and intents have been looting precious archaeological artefacts, causing extensive damage to the site in the process. This has and still does lead to a massive loss of information, which is then denied to future generations. The motivation for this looting is usually money through private collectors abroad or a personal passion for collection.

Descendant Peoples

 

Archaeological sites or features of interest may have a cultural significance and strong religious, cultural, social or individual sensitivity. This is one factor that may have been overlooked in the past and the understanding of these culturally sacred spaces may have been limited. In such cases there is a definite need for a close link and two way trust between the concerned archaeologist and the people directly affected by the same. This creates a profitable exchange for the both of them as the ethnic or affected people are able to preserve what they consider sacred and the archaeologists are helped these very people in interpreting and analyzing their finds in the area.

Repatriation

There is an aspect of archaeology that requires excavating burial grounds of some ethnic or native communities. This has been a source of some strong controversies as there have been cases where these dug up human remains have been archived, some of which have not even been studied. The communities to which the burial grounds belonged were sentimentally hurt and felt violated and exploited. It is then that consensus was said to have been reached between the concerned archaeological authorities and the communities in question, where an appropriate ritualistic reburial or repatriation was carried out, thus making any further scientific study impossible.

 

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