How They Do It
When people think about archaeologists, they usually think about them digging. There are many steps before and after digging that an archaeologist must take in order to have a successful excavation. First, they decide what they want to look for and find the site (or at least where you think it should be). Then, they survey the area. Next, they dig. Finally, there is lots of lab work for them analyze and interpret what they have found.
Step 1: Finding The Site
There are three ways of finding a site: 1) accidental; 2) rescue; and 3) planned
Accidental archaeology occurs when someone happens to stumble upon an artifact. For example, in 1947, a shepherd named Muhammed Adh-Dhib was looking for a lost goat one day and happened to stumble upon the "Dead Sea Scrolls".
Rescue archaeology is performed by archaeologists when they know that artifacts are located in a particular area and need to excavated before they decay (or are destroyed). For example, when land is being cleared for new buildings or older buildings are being torn down, archaeologists are called to excavate the sites in order to collect and preserve the artifacts before the builders/construction crews tear them apart.
Planned archaeology helps identify the location for a dig based on the study of historical documents, aerial photographs, radar, previous excavation information, other written material, as well as an archaelogist's instinct and experience.
Step 2: Surveying
Surveying is a very important technique for archaeologists. Without it, archaelogists would not know where to dig. Archaeologists are very smart, but they still need help from other team members. In surveying, they often use following types of people to help, including: 1) anthropologists; 2) engineers; 3) aerial photographers; 4) helicopter pilots; 5) biologists; 6) lithic analysts; 7) botanists; 8) ecologists; and 9) a local person who can help with foreign language translation. Surveying is most helpful before and after archaeologists dig.
Step 3: Digging
Digging is the most surgical part of archaeology. When digging, archaeologists use ecologists to help explain the land and other findings surrounding the artifacts. They also may depend on the study of geology, botany, and animal and human bones in the site. The layers of soil help archaeologists in dating the artifacts they find. There are other people who help archaeologists in this step including: 1) photographers; 2) artists; and 3) writers (who keep detailed records of the dig).
Step 4: Lab Work
Lab work is the next thing that an archaeologist does. There are a lot of other activities done during this step that help the archaeologist better understand what they have found. This includes: 1) the classification and description (the form of an artifact); 2) material analysis by geologists and metallurgists (the material of an artifact); and 3) environmental analysis and other natural science investigations (biological information about the artifact). The dating of artifacts is also an important step. Sometimes artifacts already have dates on them like money while others require relative or absolute dating methods. After archaeologists collect all of this information, the next step is to put their findings in the context of history (historical judgement), and to interpret their findings. Then, most archaeologists share their finds with other archaeologists and the public, through their writings, exhibits and other media.