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Clues and Artifacts
There are many types of clues and artifacts that are discovered by archaeologists when they are trying to solve mysteries. But many times, most of the clues don't survive. The clues decay over time. When an archaeologist does find a clue, it may be a visible clue like a monument or a building. Or sometimes it is a feature that cannot be removed from the site because it is part of the site. For example, holes that are found on a site, and the change in the soil color, may indicate that a wooden post was once there. This requires that archaeologists have great records and pictures of the site and its surroundings. Other clues, such as pollen grains and animal remains, which are sometimes called "ecofacts" can tell archaeologists about the diet and environment of our ancestors. In addition to these clues, archaelogists often may find pieces of clay, stone and metal which were left by man. These are called artifacts. Artifacts are any objects or material used or made by humans.
Pottery was first created about 10,000 years ago in the Middle East. There are many reasons archaeologists find a lot of pottery during their excavations: 1) although pottery breaks easily, it rarely disintegrates; 2) pottery is generally useless to robbers; and 3) people tend to throw pottery away when it is no longer useful or fashionable. Archaeologists use many techniques to help them understand what pottery once looked like and what it may have been used for. Archaeologists work with sketch artists to help re-create the look of a piece of pottery based on the size, shape, decoration and any actual pieces of the original object that they have found. Archaeologists can determine where a piece of pottery was created based on its color and the type of clay used. Under a microscope, archaeologists can tell where a pot came from, what temperature it was fired at, and if the pot was made with the use of a wheel. When an archaeologist finds the same type of pottery in different geographic locations, it helps them to determine the trade routes of an ancient civilization or if maybe one country conquered another.
Stone artifacts are the most durable of all artifacts. In fact, they may be the only sign of human activity within a particular excavation site. Archaeologists sometimes try to re-create a work of stone that they have found. Lithic analysts are people who study stone artifacts. These analysts can tell where the stone came from, how it was made and what its uses were.
Similar to animal bones, archaeologists with the help of specialists can determine the size, gender and age of human bones. Archaeologists might also figure out the cause of death, including old age or type of disease or injury. Sometimes they can even tell what weapon was used!
Animal remains are the best clues to help archaeologists understand the diet of ancient cultures. Faunal analysts are people who study animal remains and help archaeologists determine the type, sex and size of the animals. Studying animal bones can even tell an archaeologist whether the animals were wild or domesticated.
Plant remains often do not survive as easily as animal bones. When plant remains are found, it is usually due to extreme conditions, such as really dry places. Archaeobotanists can tell if a plant was purposefully grown by humans or not. Often, archaeologists will study pollen grains to learn about crops and climate. Sometimes, the plant remains are found in the form of clothing.
Buildings help archaeologists see how skilled the workers of a particular civilization were. Temples may show us what religious beliefs a civilization held. An example of a famous building that archaeologists can study is Pointe de Gard which was built by the Romans, and is still standing over 2000 years later.
The writings of a particular civilization helps archaeologists in many different ways. They can better understand the people and their culture. However, they have to be able to translate the language first. For example, the Rosetta Stone had three different written languages on it: hieroglyphics (writing in pictures); Demotic Egyptian (a kind of Egyptian short hand); and Greek. In the 1820's Jean-Francois Champollion was able to use the Greek to decipher the hieroglyphics. We have still not discovered all the written launguages throughout the world's history and we are still working on understanding many that we have already found (such as glyphs, the Mayan form of writing).
Insects, Snails and Fish
At first, insects and snails may not seem important, but they help archaeologists know what type of environment was present. Fish bones help archaeologists understand the type of fish eaten, as well as fishing techniques of a civilization.