Archaeology: Definition

  • Soren BlauEmail author
Living reference work entry

Archaeology comes from the Greek term arkhaiologia meaning “the study of ancient things” and is defined as the study of past peoples and culture. Archaeologists develop interpretations about the past through the recovery and analysis of material culture (which may include graves, monuments, buildings, inscriptions, tools, pottery, etc.) and associated evidence (such as pollen, charcoal, residues, skeletal remains, etc.). In order to provide interpretations about the past, archaeologists must accurately recover and record all aspects of a site.

Archaeologists may study the recent (historical) or distant past and are interested in a diverse range of subjects including how humans organized their social groupings and interacted with and/or exploited the environment, living conditions, diet, health status, trade patterns, and burial choices to name a few. For this reason, archaeologists may have specific areas of expertise which could include the analysis of specific material culture (e.g., pottery), environmental samples, human and or nonhuman skeletal remains, dating techniques, and so on.


Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine/ Department of Forensic Medicine, Monash UniversityMelbourneAustralia

Section editors and affiliations

  • Soren Blau
    • 1
  • Luis Fondebrider
    • 2
  • Douglas H. Ubelaker
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Forensic MedicineVictorian Institute of Forensic Medicine / Monash UniversityMelbourneAustralia
  2. 2.The Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (Equipo Argentino de Antropología Forense, EAAF)Buenos AiresArgentina
  3. 3.National Museum of Natural HistorySmithsonian InstitutionWashingtonUSA