What is archaeology?
Archaeology is defined as the study of artifacts or material culture and other physical remains left on the earth by different societies of humans and other related species in the past. Particularly, the term archaeology derived its meaning from the Greek word “Archaia” which means ancient things, and “logos” which commonly refers to science or theory. The human artifacts range from past stone tools to the artificial items that are thrown or even buried today. Potsherds, texts, buildings, pots, pollen, and any form of stone tools are a good representation of the artifacts. (Willey, Phillips, Lyman & O’Brien, 2001). It is the use of such materials, that enhances the ability of archeology as a discipline, to present a vast and comprehensive understanding of human culture. It is important to also note that, the investigations conducted in archaeology, recollect a significant source of information from prehistory, ancient and vanished culture.
Archaeology is a diverse field. The archeologists are entitled to specialization and thus they can choose to put emphasis on particular topics of study or even specific regions of the world. The act of specialization gives an archeologist the chance to attain expertise relating to specific issues at hand. (Hendon & Joyce, 2005). Some common fields of specialization in archeology include lithics, zooarchaeology, bioarchaeology, and paleoethnobotany while other archaeologists might even go deeper into technologies that are tasked with mapping, finding, or just examining the archeological sites.
What sorts of methods do archaeologists use?
Around the world, methods used in archaeology differ significantly due to their vast nature. A good example is a region like America. In America, archaeology is a subfield of what is termed anthropology, a field responsible for the study of humans. In reference also to some of the other regions in the world, archeology is an independent discipline of study or a field of historical research. (Hester, Shafer & Feder, 2009). A discussion on data gathering and archaeological analysis plays a significant role in breaking down the sorts of methods that archeologists use.
The first step is that the archaeologist must gather data on the subject or topic they are looking forward to researching. Oral history plays a key role in data collection among numerous archaeologists. A few of the cultures that did not use any form of writings to record their historical events and information, used oral means to do so from generation to generation. If it can be permitted ethically, archeologists can use interviews to orally get information about the history of a particular society or societies at large which can then be used to determine whether that history might have any form of archeological significance. (Hester et al., 2009)
Apart from oral history, the use of field surveys is another popular method used in determining where the process of excavation should be conducted. Proper surveying is achieved through the use of transects, evidence, a Global Positioning System, and other techniques to establish the particular location where the archaeological research should be carried out.
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After a thorough survey of the site by the archeologists, the next thing that follows is the excavation. The process of creating a grid and then linking it to the datum is the first thing that is done in the excavation process. The next thing is digging a number of test pits for the purpose of establishing the density, and location and spreading the artifacts. Notable tools in getting this job done include shovels, trowels, and other related tools. Other steps involved in excavation include exposure and the recovery of data. The material data might include landscape alterations, Ecofacts, or artifacts that can be useful in providing information about past cultures. (Willey et al., 2001).
Carbon dating which is also known as radiocarbon dating is regarded to be the most used analysis tool in archaeology. According to Miller, Vandome & McBrewster (2009), radiocarbon dating is very useful in establishing the age of particular artifacts. In the situation where an artifact contains organic material and consequently the radioactive component of radiocarbon, therefore that is an indicator that this method can be carried out. It is the ability of radiocarbon to establish its structure in an artifact through the process of decaying that enables the archeologists to get a hint of the probable age of that object or object.
Potassium-argon dating is another popular method of dating that is vastly used by archeologists. This method has the capability of evaluating objects that are as old as hundred years old compared to radiocarbon dating which is only useful to more comparatively recent remains. How potassium-argon dating works, is that it measures the ratio of radioactive argon to that of radioactive potassium specifically in the rock to be able to establish the particular time of origin of rocks. This type of dating is dependent on the process of decaying radioactive potassium-40 to that of radioactive argon -40 in rocks and minerals. (Miller et al.,2009).
Who were the Olmec? What do we know about them?
According to Pool (2007), Olmec is described as the first major civilization in Mexico. The Mexican states of Veracruz and Tabasco which was then the tropical lowlands were the place where they lived. The name Olmec means the rubber people in reference to the Aztec language. It is very possible that the Olmec were the first group of human beings to come up with the idea of renovating the latex of the rubber tree into an object that could be cured, shaped, and also hardened. It is still not clear up to date, the example of names that the people of Olmec used to name themselves, simply because they did not have significant writing that went beyond carved glyphs.
Existing approximately in 1600 BCE, the Olmec appeared to be among the first Mesoamerica complex humanities, and their culture later played a significant role in effecting numerous civilizations similar to Maya. The Olmec are renowned for the enormous stone heads that they were able to carve from basalt, a volcano rock. Some available archaeological material suggests that the Olmec was responsible for the origin of the Mesoamerican Ballgame that was practiced by the Mesoamericans. (Pool,2007)
Around twenty-five centuries before Aztecs subjugated swaths of Mexico and Maya became prosperous in Central America, the enigmatic Olmec people were busy building what is termed as the first great culture of Mesoamerica. Beginning in 1200 B.C. in Mexico’s southern Gulf Coast, the influence of the Olmec was able to spread all the way to Honduras, Costa Rica, modern Guatemala, Belize, and El Salvador. The ancestors of the Olmec were Asian hunters and gatherers who got to America a least twelve thousand years ago.
Although the written evidence of the Olmec commerce is not there, the archaeological materials suggest that the Olmec did not experience economic confinement. The artifacts collected from Mesoamerica suggested that there existed Interregional trade routes. The Olmec period witnessed the extension of the trade routes which apparently influenced sources of traded goods and a variety of those goods. (Tate, 2012). The significant boost in trade made it possible for the Olmec to construct La Venta and San Lorenzo as their urban centers. These two centers were however later preserved for only elite activities and ceremonial functions. They also probably had gardens where they grew small crops, medical crops and later even grew cotton, maize, sweet potatoes, manioc, and even squash.
According to Tate (2012), there is no obvious written documentation describing Olmec’s beliefs. It is the availability of the artwork that gives hints about their religion. What was found was eight androgynous Olmec deities that were different and moreover each of them possessed features that were both male and female at the same time. A good example is the Bird Monster which was portrayed as a harpy eagle that was linked to rulership.
Archaeologists and art historians come to terms with that, in Mesoamerica, Olmec is credited for the production of some of the earliest sophisticated arts and that their distinctive style embraced a model for Aztec, Maya, and other later cultures in the region.
The art style of the Olmec played a major role in identifying and unifying their culture. The art that was displayed was naturalistic from the fact that they were crafted in materials such as greenstone, clay, jade, and basalt. Another form of art displays eccentric anthropomorphism. These are the frequently stylized creatures shaped like a human using an iconography philosophical or religious connotation.
Relatively between 400 and 350 BCE, it was unclear why the Olmec population was immensely reduced. The arguments by the archaeologists suggest that environmental factors such as silting up of rivers were among the main reasons for depopulation. Another reason was that the volcanic activities that were continuously increasing, made the Olmecs relocate to other settlements. Around 300 B.C., the Olmec civilization disappeared leaving behind among the best artworks ever created in ancient America, the most remarkable of which will be showcased in Washington at the National Gallery of Art. (Tate, 2012).
- Hendon, J., & Joyce, R. (2005). Mesoamerican archaeology. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Pub.
- Hester, T., Shafer, H., & Feder, K. (2009). Field methods in archaeology. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.
- Miller, F., Vandome, A., & McBrewster, J. (2009). Radiocarbon dating. Beau Bassin, Mauritius: Alphascript Publishing.
- Pool, C. (2007). Olmec Archaeology and early Mesoamerica. Cambridge, England Cambridge University Press
- Tate, C. (2012). Reconsidering Olmec Visual Culture. Texas: University of Texas.
- Willey, G., Phillips, P., Lyman, R., & O’Brien, M. (2001). Method and theory in American archaeology. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.