Ask the Experts

Our Experts, who have volunteered to share their time and information, include researchers, university professors, AIA Board members, ancient art historians, field archaeologists, museum specialists, architectural historians, and more – all with specialized knowledge of specific ancient cultures and subjects.

We have created a catalogue of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ). In the FAQ section are answers to some of the questions archaeologists are most often asked, arranged by topic. If you want to know the meaning of a particular archaeological term, please check our online Glossary.

If you cannot find an answer in the FAQ, please leave a comment! Please be patient, since our volunteer archaeologists are sometimes excavating, teaching, or otherwise occupied, and may not be able to respond immediately.

Comments

NEXT November (2013 – yes I am planning ahead!) I will have 40 days between archaeological projects in Jordan.

These are volunteer projects and I am not 'attached' to any particular university or study program IN Jordan.

So I am investigating learning some basic Arabic over the 40 days. I know it will be very beginner level however it has to be a marked improvement on the 3 basic phrases I know now!.

Any suggestions for a language class conducted in November/December over such a short period – 40 days?

Location is not an issue since I finish in Wadi Musa (mid November 2012) and relocate to Tabaqat Fahl in the north at the beginning of January 2013.

Many thanks for any advice

Barbra Wagner

 

 

 

 

dear experts

i was wondering if you could tell me and others how archaeology has helped researchers understand the ways early stages of human religion are examined cross-culturally?   that is:  how have archaeological finds changed the way we understand things like shamans, religious experiences, shared beliefs, union of educational and other social functions within a belief system?   thank you.

jonathan sheriff

Dear Jonathan,

This is a great question that cannot be adequately answered in a forum like this. Tracing the origins of religion is a difficult issue. Archaeological investigations can help us identify “religious” objects, ritual spaces, and religious iconography. I qualified “religious” because the designation of an ancient artifact as religious is based on the archaeologist’s interpretation of the object. Furthermore, since we deal with material remains, we cannot say when religious belief first emerged but we can make statements about its manifestation in object form. Once objects have been identified as religious artifacts, we can usually trace how they changed (both in form and function) over time. Creating a chronology for the evolution of religion within different cultures allows us to compare and contrast them. Cross-cultural comparisons, however, have to be undertaken cautiously. Many cultures share superficial similarities. Archaeology shows us in material terms that human cultures have been dealing with ideological and “religious” issues for a very long time.

Best,

Ben

I have a clay doll found in Northern California that I would like more information on. It was found in what I believe was an area inhabited by indians. Would like to provide a photo.

Rich

 

 

 

Dear Richard,

Thank you for contacting the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA). The AIA follows a strict code of ethics that precludes us from examining undocumented objects like the clay doll that you have in your possession. To view our code of ethics please go to www.archaeological.org/about/policies.

Sincerely,

Ben Thomas
Director of Programs, AIA

Hello,

My name is Elena and i am 13 years old.  This year i am doing a project for history day on archeology. this year the theme is revolution, reaction, and reform.   I would love to speak with an archeologist and have an archeologist answer this question:  if / how has carbon 14 dating revolutionized archeology? and Has carbon14 dating changed the historical timeline? I may have more questions depending on the answer.

Thank you for your time.

Elena Kervitksy

Hi. I read that the earliest settlement at Merv in Turkeminstan is at a depth of 17 metres and is therefore inaccessible to researchers. I always wondered how exactly such sites became buried to such great depths. I mean, how exactly does a surface become buried in 5 stories of dirt?? The blowing wind? Or what? Thanks in advance!
Tim

What is the primary reason why their was development of city states in central and south America, but not North America ?   ie   The Maya, Aztec and Incas had highly developed city cultures...but to my knowledge this did not develop in North America....    Is there any books where this is examined ?

 

Thanks,

Craig Shores

Hello,

I'm 20 years old, and I'm currently attending the Carl D. Perkins Job Corps Center for a Hospitality course, but thats not what I want. I just did it because I was unable to find any great colleges for archaeology. Any suggestions? I'm looking for one that has Financial Aid. I'm interested in any thing that is available. This is truly what I want. Please email me if you have any suggestions. My email is j.gregory_41056@yahoo.com. Put "Archaeology" in the subject line please.

Thank you. 

I am glad to hear you are interested in archaeology!  Becoming an archaeologist takes a lot of hard work, but it is an interesting and fun subject to study. 

While searching for colleges with archaeology programs, it is important to remember that only a few schools have stand alone Archaeology Departments.  In most cases, archaeology is part of the Anthropology, Art History or Classics Departments. Look through the course lists and department descriptions of these majors for schools that peak your interest to see if an archaeology concentration is available through their programs. Although I cannot recommend a specific school for you, here is a list of universities that offer archaeology classes. Keep in mind it is not a complete list and you should keep looking for schools that interest you.

http://education-portal.com/archaeology_schools.html

Once you are in college, if you are studying archaeology, most programs will also encourage you to participate in an archaeological excavation (and there are even a few excavations that take on high school students).  You can find out about different excavations and opportunities around the world on our website: www.archaeological.org/fieldwork/afob

Specific required classes for an archaeology degree differ for each college, usually depending on what department the program falls under. Most will require classes on technique and field experience. The classes you choose are largely dependant on what cultures and areas of archaeology you want to study. For languages: many archaeological texts are written in French and German so they are useful, and again, languages pertaining to cultures of interest to you. Take into account that universities will usually have certain cultures that they focus on more than others dependant on where their faculty does their field work.

Finally, most archaeologists also go on to get graduate degrees and there are many schools that offer MA and PhD programs.

Please let us know if you have any more questions!

Best wishes.

is it true that a fossil was found in the glen rose limestone which is designated as middle cretaceous, supposedly 110 million years old and contemporary with the dinosaurs? also is it true that a unique iron hammer with partially coalified wooden handle was found in lower cretaceous limestone, supposedly 140 million years old

I assume from the title to your question that you are asking about human fossils. Many fossils have been uncovered in the Glen Rose limestone, however , none of them are human.

As for the hammer, it appears to be a lot younger than 140 million years. The style of the hammer would argue for a date of a few hundred years ago.

My general answer to both these questions is essentially the same--there is no evidence of humans from the time of the dinosaurs.

I live in New York and have found rocks that appear very old.  Who can I contact to find out the age of the rocks I have?

The right people to contact to know more about your rocks would be geologists. Archaeologists usually study a bit of geology, but we are no experts.

However I can tell you that rock formations are very old compared to the organic forms present on our planet. The area where you live was for a very long time covered by ice. When the ice retreated, at the end of the last ice-age, it "scratched" the surface of the earth creating several  geological features. Most importantly it exposed layers of rock formations from different ages. If you have the time you should use a geological map of the area where you found the rocks (they are available on line), the different colors in on the map will tell you what kind of rocks you can find in that area, and their relative age.

Best wishes.

Hello I'm an student from Syracuse Academy of Science and I'm writting a research paper on archeology and what it's like being an archaeologist if you can e-mail me some information or I can interview one of the archelogist of this site.

hey..

i am in dilema...

what kind of work can i do when i grow up?

can you explain the description of archaelogist?

i really want to know about it as i can decide what  i want to be?

First of all, choosing a career for when you grow up has a lot to do with what interests you today. What is that one thing that you would do day and night, and you never get bored of?

Archaeology studies past civilizations in all their aspects, and all over the world. There are a lot of things about humans that we still don’t know of. Questions like: how and when did we dominate fire, how did we invent bronze, or when did we start exploring the earth by land and sea… and many many others are waiting for you to be answered. If you like history, and museums. If you dream of discovering a long forgotten civilization, or slowly recreating a society from little pieces of a buried puzzle, then archaeology is just the thing for you. However you should know that you will have to study a lot, but if you are passionate and have good teachers you will love every moment of it.

Please let me know if you have any more questions!

Best wishes

I am a junior in high school. I am doing a reseach project on  what I want  to be when I grow up and I am thinking about archaeology. I want to know what do archaeologist do, how  they live in their jobs, do they have adventures like in the movie "Indiana Jones." Or is it more serious and just digging under the sun and finding artifacs of people who lived 1,000 years before us. Is there any adventure do you get to visit different places, meet new peopl. Is it easy to get highered by companies or people to go to a site in a country and stury the thigns you found and get to have fun. It would be really nice if I get descriptions about what made you decide to become an archaeologist, how was the education was it fun or out of the books and boring, once you graduated for your study was it easy for you to get a job in a site and go strait to finding new stuff, and is it easy or hard, what requirements do you need. Thank you so much.

Priscila o.

my email is -oliveros31294@hotmail.com

Dear Priscila,

I am glad to hear you are interested in archaeology!  Becoming an archaeologist takes a lot of hard work, but it is an interesting and fun subject to study.

Archaeologists study past civilizations, our focus are past humans, how they lived and died. We research on every aspect of past civilizations, from engineering knowledge, to their concept of art and beauty, from their religious beliefs to their fashion sense, from their technological and scientific knowledge, to what they eat and drank. We do this through both research on books and in labs, and through on site data collection (digs). Our lives are usually divided between the field and the classroom or library. You need both “brain and muscle” to be an archaeologist! We do travel a lot, and meet the locals wherever we go. This usually includes also learning their language and costumes to better adapt.

So up to this point it all looks quite like Indiana Jones’s life! What is fictional about the movies are the way he “discovers” things, and the gun fights! Although those look exciting on TV… I am sure that you wouldn’t like to risk your life at the hand of Nazis, or being buried with thousands of poisonous snakes!! YAIKS!! However if you go on a dig, you will find out that the discovery of even a small fragment of pottery, is the most exciting thing you have ever done! Imagine… being the first one in centuries, or thousands of years, to see and touch that fragment! And through it you can answer a lot of questions about the people that lived there and used that object.

There are field schools, where you can learn how to dig, that accept high-school students, you can find some on our website: http://www.archaeological.org/fieldwork/afob

Please let me know if you have any more questions!

Best wishes.

Hi, I want to take a course in nautical archeology. I am a dive master and tv producer. I am very interested in underwater archeology, and I need some advice.

Thanks

The following is a partial list of schools with Nautical Archaeology masters programs, they should be able to help you:

East Carolina University
Program in Maritime Studies
http://www.ecu.edu/cs-cas/maritime/

Florida State University
Research in Maritime Archaeology
http://www.anthro.fsu.edu/grad/

Texas A & M
Nautical Archaeology
http://nautarch.tamu.edu/

University of Miami
Management of the Underwater Archaeological Heritage http://mps.rsmas.miami.edu/degree-program/underwater-archaeology/

University of West Florida
Martime Archaeology
http://uwf.edu/anthropology/research/
 

I am a student in the Department of Anthropology in the third year and I'm from Egypt and I like working in excavations and in my country. Is it possible to work as a volunteer? I did not work before, but I like this life and the type of work.

A great number of archaeological excavations around the world accept volunteer workers, regardless of how much field experience these volunteers may or may not have. And with your background in anthropology, you may even be able to go as a student and perhaps receive college credit for the work you do. For a list of field excavations around the world, you can go to the AIA website at http://www.archaeological.org/fieldwork/afob. You could also ask the professors at your university if they know of any excavations that you may be able to participate on. Good luck in your search!

Kelly Lindberg

Programs Assistant

To whom it may concern,

First, my name is Devon, and I hope you can help me answer a question that is bothering me presently.  As you know, recently the earthquakes that occured just off the coast of Japan caused the tsunami.  Well, as an interested party, I was looking over the topography of the Pacific plate, when I stumbled over something that has been keeping me up at night.  The specific area is that of 45N and 160w, and the reason I went to check that area, was due to my own leap of logic that this would potentially be an upcoming danger area for eruptions or plumes. 

Now...what I saw there shook me.  From a distance of approximately 498miles in height I see this very distinct, very obviously created landscape.  I took from past underwater cities, and see similar though more eroded paths, in particular those in the area of 9s 43e. These in general are best viewed at approximately 643 miles in height.  I used Google earth, as well as topography going back to 2000.  And, in further I found an M.I.T study, partially funded by NASA, sent to the same area, as well as found it has a generally higher wave pool centering above it.  I can give you the link to the actual study by Charlotte if you see fit to look into this further. 

Next I tried to find the obvious, Glacier formation or erosion due to, and nothing is potentially viable under examination. This is no small area either, and rather large in scope and seemingly interconnected with other areas.  It was made, but as yet goes unexplored... While its far more prevalent in structure than anything else I can find thus far on the earth's surface.  It looks very laid out like a city, and a very very acutely made one at that. The angles, the unbelievable perfect measurments..  Im astounded there is nothing said of this area. It's far more noticeable, with topography, than even those of the nazca lines. 

So, I come to you, hopefully for answers, and better sleep *smile*

Thanks in advance for any of your time, and please, contact me if you can help

Sincerely,
Devon

Ive noticed that anthropology is a more commonly pursued class and career, and so far I have failed in finding any good colleges with a decent archaeology program. Also any advice or information about the education steps I should take for archaeology would be deeply appreciated, for I am only fourteen and my knowledge on colleges or majors is minimal. 

thank you 

-Amber

I would like to know what the demand for the job is if i were to pursue a career in the field of archeology.

Professional archaeologists, depending on their focus, can find a job in various areas. Posts as professional archaeologists are available at state and city level throughout the US. Archaeologists are also employed in national parks, and by private companies to do cultural research management (CRM). If you are more interested in scientific application to archaeology, such as dating, GIS, sourcing, chemical analysis etc, you could find a job in a lab. Conservationists are also part of the archaeological work force, and don’t forget museums also employ a lot of archaeologists. Last but not least, archaeologists can work for NGOs such as the AIA, or go into academia, and get employed by universities.

The demand, as for any other job, is tightly related to the offer, and the current economic condition. As you can see there are a lot of variants to be considered!

Best Wishes.

Good Morning

I am beginning my studies in archaeology next year. Now i have taken a General BSc degree and took archaeology and chemistry as my majors. Will I possibly get work with this combination and if so are there any other subjects i can group with these two subjects that will benefit me in the this field?

Regards

Stephan

What Scholarships are available to those who want to study archaeology?

hello, my name is Emily and im a 6th grader at high tech middle media arts in California, and in our science class we're learning about life science careers. We each picked one career and i chose archaeology. now everyone has to talk to or email or call an actual person that has that occupation, so i was wondering if u can tell me a little about archaeology, like how long do archaeologists usually work a day? Whats the oddest thing thats ever happened to you while working? and last but least, where do archaeologists usually look for dead artifacts and such? well, thank you please respond.

 

Question on carbon 14 dates,

Dear Sir/Mam

My question is about the possibility to date pots or vases made from red clay, using C14. Is it possible to do this?

Thank you in advance for taking this question!
Respectfully
G M Matheny

C14 is usually used to date organic material, pots or vases can be dated using this method if they have traces of it. Some ceramics were intentionally made mixing clay with different grasses. There are several examples of C14 being used to date entire sites using only these ceramics.

Best Wishes

Hi, im from Itasca ISD. My character teacher is asking us what we want career we want to take. If you dont mind i would like to ask some questions.

  1. Where all do you get to go?
  2. Do you only study bones and artifacts?
  3. Do you have to go through hands-on training?
  4. When you find the bones do you take them back to the lab?
  5. What do you like best about your job?
  6. How long in a day do you work?
  7. How do you know where to find artifacts?
  8. Is it hard to find artifacts?
  9. Do you go way under the ground to look?
  10. Where is the best college for this career?

I'm 32 & I am a single parent. I recently completed an Information Technology degree. I choose IT because it is the field I'm working in, and the work has always come naturally and been easy for me. But ultimately, it isn't what I want to do with my life. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to become an archaeologist. I think I may have waited too long to pursue my dream. My question is  - when is it too late to start? My life would require some sort of online degree program or waiting until my daughter is out of college herself. 

I have a passion for archeology but I don't know what classes I should take to become an archeologist. Can you tell me what classes I should take and recomend a good college to go to for those classes.

I am glad to hear you are interested in archaeology!  Becoming an archaeologist takes a lot of hard work, but it is an interesting and fun subject to study. 

While searching for colleges with archaeology programs, it is important to remember that only a few schools have stand alone Archaeology Departments.  In most cases, archaeology is part of the Anthropology, Art History or Classics Departments. Look through the course lists and department descriptions of these majors for schools that peak your interest to see if an archaeology concentration is available through their programs. Although I cannot recommend a specific school for you, here is a list of universities that offer archaeology classes. Keep in mind it is not a complete list and you should keep looking for schools that interest you.

http://education-portal.com/archaeology_schools.html

Once you are in college, if you are studying archaeology, most programs will also encourage you to participate in an archaeological excavation (and there are even a few excavations that take on high school students).  You can find out about different excavations and opportunities around the world on our website: www.archaeological.org/fieldwork/afob

Specific required classes for an archaeology degree differ for each college, usually depending on what department the program falls under. Most will require classes on technique and field experience. The classes you choose are largely dependant on what cultures and areas of archaeology you want to study. For languages: many archaeological texts are written in French and German so they are useful, and again, languages pertaining to cultures of interest to you. Take into account that universities will usually have certain cultures that they focus on more than others dependant on where their faculty does their field work.

Finally, most archaeologists also go on to get graduate degrees and there are many schools that offer MA and PhD programs.

Please let us know if you have any more questions!

Best wishes.

What are the most important tools of the trade used in archaeology? Were they developed through trial-and-error? Why do archaeologists use the tools that they use today?

Archaeologists use a wide variety of tools. Any tool that can help an archaeologist record a site through survey and mapping, position an excavation, carefully and efficiently move soil to expose artifacts and features, and help recover these objects and transfer them to a lab for analysis, is used on an archaeological project. Modern surveying and mapping tools like Total Stations and GPS mapping devices have made the archaeologists’ lives a lot easier. These tools allow us to gather and process data much more rapidly and efficiently than in the past. Computers are invaluable in helping to organize and process the large amount of data that are collected at archaeological sites. Positioning an excavation is often based on a combination of what is visible on the surface and an archaeologist’s experience at picking out clues that may indicate what lies below the surface. Additionally, modern geophysical tools like ground penetrating radars and magnetometers help us to “see” what is below the surface before we start digging. Once we are sure of the location for our excavation we use a number of different tools to actually move the soil and uncover the archaeological remains. The type of tool depends on the nature of the excavation. Often shovels and pick-axes are used to get through the top layers of soil that usually contain modern debris and roots. After that we switch to finer tools like trowels and when we encounter especially delicate deposits we may even use dental picks. Again, the goal here is to move dirt efficiently and carefully without damaging any of the archaeological remains. In most cases the soil that we remove from an excavation is sifted through screens which allow us to find any small artifacts that may have been overlooked in the excavations. Finally, all of these artifacts are brought back to the lab where they are cleaned, stabilized, cataloged, photographed, drawn, weighed, measured and subjected (if necessary) to special chemical analyses in an effort to retrieve every piece of information possible from these artifacts. After analysis the artifacts are conserved and stored. After all this is done, the archaeologist has to spend time writing and publishing the results of the work that was done so that people interested in the research can read about it.

Ben Thomas
AIA Director of Programs

I have just returned from Italy where I saw many examples of ancient, one piece, several meter tall, marble columns. The uniformity of columns in a particular building, and the apparent perfect shape of the individual column seems beyond belief. They look molded. Could you please direct me to a source that explains how the columns were constructed, and once constructed, how they were placed in a vertical position?

If you were looking at Roman-era remains, I suspect what you saw was actually a type of plaster, not marble. Since it was expensive to make columns out of marble, the Romans sometimes cheated and made them out of bricks, then plastered them over, shaping the plaster with regular flutes to make it look like a carved marble column. Finally they would paint the columns to complete the illusion that they were expensive marble. You can see a great example of this in the basilica on the forum at Pompeii. Today most of the paint has come off, so it often times looks like a dull cement column, but if you look closely at places where the plaster has chipped away, you can actually see the bricks underneath.

The uniformity of columns in a particular building, and the apparent perfect shape of the individual column seems beyond belief. They look molded. Could you please direct me to a source that explains how the columns were constructed?

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