What is the process?
Archaeologists look for artifacts at places where prehistoric people probably lived. Early people needed shelter, water, and food, just as we do. So, archaeologists look in caves, near water, in forests, etc. to find things prehistoric people made or had while they were living.
As time passed on, people started living in villages, towns, cities, etc. That is why archaeologists also look at sites of ancient cities. Tombs and sunken ships are also places of many artifacts. It is hard to believe, but areas of destruction from wars can also be sites of many ruins and artifacts.
First, archaeologists do a survey, because it is very expensive to do excavations, and they want to make sure there will be artifacts at the site. The survey includes looking for mounds, foundations, and other visible structures and collecting potsherds. They draw maps and charts and take photographs of the area. They do surveys before people destroy the site by building buildings, houses, and roads, because after the site is destroyed, no one will ever learn about the site.
The second thing archaeologists do is find the artifacts or other signs of behavior, such as holes for storage, burial, or shelter. This can be done many ways. The most common way is doing an excavation. Another way is making test pits. All of the dirt removed is carefully screened. The dirt falls through the screen, but the artifacts stay. Another way of making archaeological discoveries is rare, but does happen sometimes. Builders, farmers, and even you could find artifacts by not even trying. You might be playing soccer and...Wow! You accidentally kick an artifact.
I will tell you a story about four kids who accidentally found prehistoric art. The four boys saw a hole in the ground so they scraped it open and found a whole chamber filled with pictures of animals. Experts believe these paintings are from an era that predates written records. This happened in 1940 in France.
The last part of the process is to determine the age of the artifact. There are a several ways of determining the age of an item. The first is called Dendrochronology. On all trees there are dark rings. Each ring represents one year of age (for example if a tree is ten years old, it would have ten rings). By counting the rings, the scientists can tell how old trees and some other wooden products are. Another way of dating is called Carbon Dating. It tells how old something is, because all living things absorb a substance called carbon 14. When a living thing dies, it slowly loses the carbon 14, so by seeing how much carbon 14 is left, scientists can figure out how old the object is. For example, if something is dead for 5,730 years, it loses half of its carbon 14. Another way of dating is Obsidian Hydration. Obsidian absorbs water, and in a given time period it gains a layer, so scientists developed the growth rate of obsidian in different climates. When they find an obsidian object, they count the layers to see how old it is. The fourth and final way of dating is called Thermo-luminescence. Clay objects store energy and when you burn them, energy comes out in the form of a light that cannot be seen with the naked eye. Scientists burn the clay and determine how much light comes out of it to determine the clay's age.
(Click on the word to go back up)
artifact- Any item made by a person. Archaeologists usually find artifacts but they sometimes fin other things like a town or ancient civilizations.
survey- Archaeologists take pictures, draw maps, take notes, and the exact location of the land they want to excavate. The survey is a way that tells archaeologists that the site has artifacts.
excavation- This is the name of the dig they do. It is a normal everyday dig, but with a different name.
potsherds- The name for broken pots.
test pit- A pit they do to see if there are any artifacts or ground that looks like it could contain artifacts.
screen- A tool archaeologists use. It is a tool that has wires in between the outside edges. The wires are in form of a grid. Archaeologists dump the dirt on it and all of the dirt will fall out but the artifacts stay.
Obsidian- It is lava that got hard. It is mostly found near volcanoes active or extinct.