Advantages and limitations of using Archaeology as a source of information on History

Archaeology is the study of man’s past through scientific analysis of the material remains of his culture.

advantages of using Archaeology as a source of information on History

  • Unlike other sources, it gives detailed information on material culture.
  • It provides a sense of time as artefacts are dated.
  • It complements other sources of information.
  • It provides diversified information, depending on the materials found.
  • It enables the researcher to directly observe the site and to classify the artefacts.
  • The general principle that identifies culture by an assemblage of material possession is only practicable in archaeology. Only Archaeology discovers and proves that remains are found in layers of succession, with the oldest at the bottom and the latest at the top.

limitations of using Archaeology as a source of information on History

  • One cannot study present materials or events.
  • Archaeological information could be inaccurate as it is often based on conclusions and reconstructions.
  • It is difficult to trace archaeological sites.
  • Archaeology estimates but does not provide precise dates.
  • It is a time-consuming venture since preparation for excavation and transportation of artefacts to laboratories for analysis is long and laborious process.
  • There are few archaeological experts to interpret data.
  • Some materials are fragile and could easily break, thereby misleading analysts.
  • It is expensive to excavate and analyse artefacts.

how archaeologists and palaeontologists discover historical sites.

They look for areas where faulting or erosion have occurred, exposing surfaces that may give some clues to the point of finding fossils and artefacts. Sometimes they have to dig deep to find physical remains.

Identification or differentiation of the physical features of an area from those of the ground in places around. For example, a small part of an early settlement, such as a few
stones in a regular pattern may be seen on the surface in such an area.

Enquiries on sites mentioned in a historical document or an oral narrative of the geography and other historical features of the area cited. This may lead to important insights to past civilizations, such as Troy, Ur, Babylon, Omo River valley and Olduvai Gorge.

Long experience in identifying a potential site for archaeological excavation.

Accidental exposure of ancient objects during cultivation and building construction, which could arouse the curiosity of researchers.

In what ways is Archaeological study and analysis done?

The Archaeologist studies what evidence remains of the material culture of a people’s past.

Activities of prehistoric people are reconstructed from various evidence, e.g. traces of weapons and tools they used, clothing, bones, earthworks, dwelling-places, etc.

Concepts or understanding of a people’s civilization at the time the artefacts were in use are formulated. E.g. hunting and pastoralism could be indicated by rock paintings of certain animals on cave walls.

Man’s relationship with his environment is interpreted and dated. Here, the archaeologist works with Palaeontologists, Geologists, Ecologists, Chemists, Physicists and other natural scientists.

how fossils are dated.

Geological periods, are characterised by climatic changes and the successive types of plants and animals found.

Chemical dating. This is of two kinds i.e. Radio-Carbon dating and Potassium-Argon method. Radio-Carbon dating measures organic substances and the rate of decay of carbon14 in fossils. Potassium-Argon method measures the amount of potassium and the amount of Argon-40 to assist in dating volcanic ash and minerals.

Stratigraphy i.e. the study and interpretation of the layers of rock successively deposited at one place. It is useful in determining dates for areas affected by sedimentation.

Fission Track dating. This is useful in dating Pleistocene samples. The age of glass and other mineral objects is determined through this method.

Statistical dating. This helps in determining the length of a generation for a particular society by estimating dates for events associated with certain generations.

Lexico Statistics dating. This is the statistical study of the vocabulary of languages to determine their age and historical links with other languages.

It is based on the assumption that all languages have a basic vocabulary that will gradually change at a common rate for all languages at all times.

Glotto-Chronology, which is a subdivision of Lexico Statistics, attempts to establish that languages are historically related. It helps in expressing rates of language development by formulae precise enough to enable dates when the change occurred to be calculated. More than one method of dating can be useful in order to ascertain the dates of either fossils or artefacts.

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