The main focus of archaeology is the study of human past that deepens our understanding of the world in a more meaningful and resourceful manner. The study of human past means the study of human behavioural and cognitive systems within a given socio-politico-cultural context. The human behavioural activities could be discerned through material evidences whereas the cognitive systems could be realised by understanding the cultural values that stand behind the material. To get a coherent picture of human behavioural and cognitive systems, archaeology has developed certain methodological approaches in collaboration with various specialized scientific fields. The specialized scientific fields such as physical, chemical, biological, anthropological, mathematical, geological, computer sciences, remote sensing and many more such allied scientific fields, in addition to the humanities and social sciences such as history, art, architecture, language, linguistic and religious studies are increasingly playing a greater role to decipher the human foot-prints in a more reliable manner. The intellectual tie-ups with scientific disciplines have facilitated in solving several research problems. All traditional and scientific approaches basically depend upon the nature of material evidences that are being unearthed by the archaeologists through well planned explorations and excavations.
Collections and Interpretations
The collection and interpretation of material remains are so important in archaeological studies. These are conditioned by two important means, yet interrelated areas, namely methods and theories. The way archaeological research is being conducted or the way the material remains are being collected and studied could be interpreted as method. Thus, the means of collection of maximum retrievable information are known as archaeological method. Theory means an idea or a set of ideas intended to explain facts or events. In archaeological context, the way the collected material remains are being interpreted to explain a particular event or series of events of the past can be called as archaeological theory. A method or theory followed in a particular context may become irrelevant in another context. Therefore, archaeologists design their research method to suit the needs of the problem of study. Both the archaeological method and theory play a dominant role in our understanding of the human past. There are several methods of collections of data since the nature of material evidences that are embedded in the soil in varied ecological zones differs. In the same way, the interpretations of the archaeological material also vary depending upon 3 the nature of theoretical approach. Thus, the reconstruction of the past basically stands on these two workable platforms of intensive academic field of inquiry viz., theory and method. The study of material remains of the ancient culture and civilization reminds us cultural continuity. The cultural continuity, discontinuity, integration and transformation are part of cultural process that are conditioned by various factors. The long-felt field experience advocates that domain knowledge plays a dominant role in understanding a particular culture. In the backdrop of field experience, archaeologists must take utmost care in the application of theories and methods in the interpretation. Archaeologists must be flexible, open-minded and receptive in their approach. Due to ever-growing field of science and technology, the study of archaeology has become more complex and responsive. Several established methods and theories are being constantly questioned and revised due to advances in science and technology. The progress made in science and technology sometime forces us to refashion our approach towards archaeology. As one experiences today, the development of science and technology in the past also must have played a greater role in changing the activities of the ancient society at large. For instance, the introduction of iron or development of water management system or navigational techniques must have changed the society at large. The researchers in the field of archaeology should approach each problem with open-mind and they must prepare to accept the outcome of the result that may even go against their wishes. The archaeologists must have a physical strength and mental ability to withstand the biological strain in the field and intellectual stress in the analysis at the laboratory. Thus, the duty of archaeologists is to discover, document, decode, describe, discuss, determine, disseminate and declare the results of findings for the advancement of knowledge on ancient society, to full-fill the aspiration of the contemporary society and to provide a good guidance to the future generation.
Definition and Scope
The term archaeology is derived from the Greek word. In Greek, archaeos means ancient and logos means discussion, reason or science. Thus, archaeology is a science involving the study of human past through material remains. It methodically and meticulously studies to obtain a complete picture of human behavioural and cognitive systems. In short, archaeology is the study of human behavioural and cognitive systems to understand the cultural changes or processes that happened in the past through material remains. To understand the cultural process, archaeologists study all physical traces encountered both in excavations and explorations as movable and immovable objects and also tangible and intangible evidences. Among the physical remains, artefacts (portable human-made objects) occupy a primary position. Archaeologists try to discern the non-material life of the people through these movable and immovable objects. Archaeologists follow certain specific methods and a body of theories to get a comprehensive picture of the material and nonmaterial life of the people. In method, the focus is on the collection of data. In theory, the focus is on the interpretation or giving a better explanation on the collected material. In the past, archaeologists generally intended to give descriptive data to a site, but today, they apply theoretical systems for better interpretation of the data. In this attempt, they create certain conceptual basis to understand the human past. The human past has both a prehistoric (the period of human history before the advent of writing) and a historic antiquity (the period of human history after the advent of writing, preciously speaking after the decipherment of particular writing system). These historical moorings have gone through a slow process of biological evolution and cultural development. Human has lived on the earth in a particular social, physical and environmental context as one of the biological products. These contexts are dynamic and not static. In this dynamic process, the human use to live and leave their imprints in the form of material remains. These remains are generally observed in stratified deposits, which we 4 call it as cultural remains or culture. This culture is subject to change brought out by human in their adaptation to environment. These inherent changes are reflected in assemblages of artefacts. These assemblages are recorded and studied to show how this culture has been transmitted and adopted by others. Edward Tylor, an anthropologist, defined culture as ‘knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by a man as member of the society” These cultural pointers are stayed back as cultural deposits on a landscape. Therefore, the whole landscape comprising several archaeological sites is a document and each archaeological site is a part of that document. Human interacted, both culturally and spiritually, with the landscape that are reflected in the form of settlements, architectural features, worshiping places, ritual spaces, burial monuments or in any human-made features. In certain cases, they collectively create a landscape such as sacred landscape. On certain occasions, the natural landscapes like mountains, caves, rivers and seas are considered as sacred landscape that are culturally associated in a more powerful manner. Beyond material evidences, certain natural substances are venerated as God in a particular belief system and these are culturally very explosive both in the past as well as in the present. Therefore, archaeologists must study the entire landscape with a specific goal to get an appreciable data for better interpretation and understanding.