Archaeology is the study of the past through its material remains.  Historical archaeology is the study of literate societies.  In historical archaeology, we use the landscape, the documents left behind as well as the artifacts we excavate to understand the past.  The part of archaeology with which most people are familiar is our data collection stage when we excavate sites, but that is only a very small part of our job.  Artifacts alone tell us nothing, it is from their context — where they are found, what is around them — and from knowing about the history of the site that we can begin to build an interpretation.  After the excavation, more research is done and those artifacts, the maps we draw carefully, and our extensive notes, are analyzed.  It is this process that is archaeology.  And, is why some archaeologists don’t ever put a trowel into the ground!

Digging Northampton’s History is a public archaeology project, which means that everyone is invited to work alongside the archaeologists as we do the important work of discovering what life was like in Northampton 300 years ago.  We are guided by federal and state laws as well as the codes of ethics from our professional archaeology organizations like the Society for Historical Archaeology, the World Archaeological Congress, and the Society for American Archaeology.  Archaeologists like to say that archaeology is the only social science that kills its informant. This means that once we excavate a site, it is destroyed and its data — the artifacts and their contexts — is disturbed.  For this reason, we should only conduct an archaeological excavation if there is a compelling reason to do so.  And, when we do excavate, we need to carefully document everything we do.

Finally, we remember that we are collecting the property of people who lived before us and we must respect their rights as well as those of their descendants.  We must be respectful of their wishes and approach our fieldwork with great care.

Are you interested in archaeology?  Here are some links that will give you a good orientation to the field and other archaeological sites in Massachusetts and New England.

The National Park Service maintains great websites about archaeology and how to be involved in projects on their parks.  Click here to be taken to their site.

For Kids

Archaeology is a great way to learn critical thinking and the scientific method.  Even better, it’s a lot of fun!  Here are some great websites that allow kids to learn more about archaeology.

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