Focus On...Archaeology

by YPU Admin on May 20, 2013. Tags: archaeology, careers, history, pathways, and study


Archaeology: Digging Up the Past

Have you ever wanted to discover ancient remains in a distant land? Do you feel excitement when watching a team of archaeologists on TV reveal human bones, bronze tools, gold jewellery and pottery? Are you riveted by the details of how a Roman bathhouse worked or how an Iron Age roundhouse was built? If your answer is yes, then archaeology might just be the thing for you.


What is archaeology?

Archaeology is the scientific study and interpretation of past peoples and their lives through studying the material remains they left behind. Archaeologists look at a wide range of artefacts from large buildings and colourfully painted graves down to small clay pots, paintings, stone arrowheads, bone fragments and even pollen and seeds.

The most common way to find past artefacts is by excavating, or by doing a field survery where you collect remains that are visible on the surface. As these activities destroy the precise locations and context of the artefacts, archaeologists record, draw and photograph all information accurately for future generations. All finds are then washed, analysed and interpreted. Finally, the artefacts need to be preserved, possibly reconstructed and stored – frequently in a nearby local museum. All of this work is rarely done by archaeologists alone, but requires a team of specialists, such as geologists, botanists, osteologists, computer specialists, and conservators. Once the analysis has been completed, the findings are published in articles, books or magazines.


Studying archaeology

In order to get expertise in archaeology, an undergraduate degree is the best way to go. Here at Manchester, we offer both single honours and joint honours degrees (with Ancient History, Anthropology or History of Art). With our teaching stretching from the Neanderthals through to modern day and our research areas ranging from Europe, the Near East, Africa through to Australia, the UK and the Pacific, we offer a truly global introduction to the discipline. Our main focus at Manchester is on exploring the social dimension of the past human experience. We offer a unique combination of theoretical enquiry, a concern with the contemporary social context, and a commitment to practical field work (You can watch a video of Manchester's archaeologists here). In addition, we have strong links to the archaeological sciences at the university and to the Manchester Museum whose collections we are able to make use of in our teaching and whose staff members regularly contribute specialist lectures.


Career paths

Archaeology is one of the most varied careers as it draws on the sciences, social sciences and arts. It is also one of the most diverse subjects as it combines activity out in the field with intellectual study and scientific analysis in the laboratory. Archaeologists can be found in the private, public and academic sectors: You could find yourself working at the shovel’s edge in charge of uncovering new sites and finds. Alternatively, you might be working in a museum, designing exhibitions, talking to the public and looking after the collections. Maybe you are employed by the council in charge of providing guidance to developers. Or possibly you are working as a lecturer at university and are undertaking your own research projects throughout the year. Depending on your interests, you might find yourself working at home in Britain, on a hot island in the Mediterranean, on a lone mountain in South America or the cold expanses of Siberia. One thing is for sure: it’s a hugely rewarding career that combines painstaking discovery with stimulating interpretations about past people’s lives.

Even if you don’t see yourself pursuing archaeology as a career, it is an excellent foundation for your future that will serve you well in a wide variety of interesting careers: studying archaeology alerts you to the great diversity between people and social practices; it provides a rigorous training in evaluating evidence and ideas; it encourages the development of creative and critical thinking, verbal and written communication, and a wealth of practical and team working skills that are sought after by employers. As a subject it is challenging, intriguing, satisfying and hugely enjoyable.


The Archaeology of beer!

One recent project carried out by archaeologists (with the help of archaeology students) at Manchester has been the excavation of a Bronze Age beer production installation on Cyprus. A two by two metre domed mud-plaster structure (shown in the picture) was used as a kiln to dry malt for the production of beer three-and-a half-thousand years ago. The beers were brewed from malted barley, and fermented with yeasts produced from fruits such as grape or fig. All the ingredients have been found as carbonised seeds at the site, along with stone tools for grinding the grains and pots for heating the mixture.


Additional clues on beer production on Cyprus come from large decorated pottery bowls like the one shown in the image. You can see people grinding grain and a couple sitting relaxing drinking beer from bowls!



Find out more about archaeology…

To check out Archaeology at Manchester, go to the department's webpage

The Council for British Archaeology supports archaeology across the UK and you can find out about the latest finds, excavations and the Young Archaeologists’ Club from their website.

For up-to-date news about archaeology as well as articles about different topics, go to: http://archaeology.about.com

A recent BBC series uses planes to detect archaeology. Find out more with the ‘flying archaeologist’ blog.

BBC History has excellent website about archaeology (and some self-test quizzes).


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