Archaeological methods and methodologies

Archaeology has a suite of methods which enable us to access information about the past. In order to answer various questions about life in the past we must have some data to analyse. This data is accessed or created using various methodologies. All kinds of questions can be asked of archaeological data: Who? What? Where? When? How? and Why?

Conventional archaeological investigations include documentary or historical research. There is usually some degree of preliminary survey (whether using geophysics, aerial photography, oral history or other prospecting tools). This is followed by excavation in which a targeted (or sampled) area of the site or landscape is subjected to analysis. Artefacts and ecofacts are recorded for analysis and the different features of the site are recorded for posterity. All this enables the archaeologist to reconstruct the area of interest and examine the various aspects of the site. Typical questions that we might ask are: How does the distribution of finds change over time and what are the relationships between different areas of the site? Is there a clear division of the space according to gender or task roles, and what does this tell us about life in the past?

All of these are fairly conventional questions and conventional methodologies by which we might answer them. However, various weird and wonderful methods of studying the past abound. This section takes a look at some of the more weird and less wonderful.

Written by James Doeser