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What is Archaeology?

Throughout human history, our species has aimed to have as comprehensive an understanding of our past as possible. The imprint of humanity on the planet, the cultures that have risen and fallen, empires that have been lost to the ravages of time, and physical remains that point to a previously unknown era of human life have all been uncovered through this diligent and scientific practice. That is what archaeology is, at its core: the discovery of information based on excavated remains.

Recorded history only tells historians so much, which leaves wide gaps in our understanding of the world as it used to be and the effect that humans have had upon it. One specific area of concern to archaeologists is culture. What’s been written in the history books is only a fragment of what has transpired over the course of the planet’s habitation by humans. Through the practice of archaeology, we obtain a deeper understanding of the cultures and societies that have come and gone throughout our history – even if that history predates any written record.

Anthropology is the study of human cultures, and archaeology is a subfield in this broader study. While much of anthropology lays a focus on written texts, recorded materials and similar recordings of human culture, archaeology uncovers new information – quite literally – through the process of excavation.

Are There Different Branches of Archaeology?

Indeed, there are numerous focuses in the field of archaeology. Many of these areas overlap with one another, or perhaps numerous other areas, but they do remain distinctly separate as studies much of the time. Let’s learn more about classical archaeology, historical archaeology, underwater archaeology and ethno-archaeology.

Historical Archaeology

This subfield of archaeology is where history collides with archaeology. Historical archaeology pertains to the lives lived by societies and cultures that have become extinct. Archaeologists of this specialty focus on the physical remains of these cultures to improve the world’s understanding of that period and place in time.

Classical Archaeology

Greek and Roman civilizations fall under the purview of classical archaeology. Not only does this field of study look to the major centers of these societies, but it also covers the extent of their conquests and other cultural influences.

Underwater Archaeology

Not all archaeological sites are above-ground. Beneath the water lies shipwrecks and other evidence of cultural life. Sites that have been buried underwater contain untold anthropological treasures that have much to teach us about history and culture.


The study of hunter-gatherer societies is covered under the expertise of ethno-archaeology. Australia, the Arctic and Central America is host to modern hunter-gatherer groups that archaeologists study to gain an understanding of how their ancestors lived.