Archaeology and Learning About Early Humans

Archaeology is a field of study which allows us to learn about our collective human and natural history. Through the discovery and analysis of fossils and artifacts, archeologists help us to better understand ourselves as humans, and our relationship with the natural world.

Fossils are studied by paleontologists. What exactly is a fossil? Fossils are evidence of early life which has been preserved in layers of rock. The natural conditions, when just right, allow something like a leaf or bone to be preserved in rock. There are fossils of plant life, animals bone, and human bone. When it comes to human fossils, most often they are in the form of small fragments of teeth, skulls, or other bones. It may sound like a small piece of history, but even a fragment of a bone can lead to many other discoveries.

That’s because they can be analyzed to figure out their age, when they lived, any health conditions the person had, and about the type of lifestyle they may have lived.

Artifacts are not the same as fossils. Simply put, fossils were alive. Artifacts were not. Artifacts are objects made by human hands. Good examples of artifacts are jewelry and tools. They shed light on the culture, lifestyle, and beliefs of a group of people. They might show us how people dressed, what type of work they did, or even their religious beliefs!

There is a special job for people who analyze artifacts. They’re called Anthropologists. Anthropologists examine artifacts at archaeological sites, or archaeological digs. They take the artifacts from a specific site and analyze them together so that they can recreate a picture of how early people lived in terms of their cultural behavior. So, if human bones were found alongside a long hunting spear and there were also animal bones nearby, it could be inferred that these people were hunters.

How do paleontologists know the age of fossils? There are several ways to calculate the age of fossil remains. Paleontologists have complex techniques to date fossils and rocks. One such technique is carbon dating. Carbon dating can determine the age of even the most ancient objects. How it works is this: the amount of carbon left in an artifact is measured. Why carbon? Carbon-14 atoms take a very long time to decay. So, by measuring the amount left, we can get an accurate idea about the timeframe in which the fossil was actually a living being.