Archaeology, archeology, or archæology is the science that studies human cultures through the recovery, documentation and analysis of material remains and environmental data, including architecture, artifacts, biofacts, human remains and landscapes.
The goals of archaeology are to document and explain the origins and development of human culture, understand culture history, chronicle cultural evolution, and study human behavior and ecology, for both prehistoric and historic societies.
It is considered, in North America, to be one of the four sub-fields of anthropology.
A modern archaeological project often begins with a survey.
Regional survey is the attempt to systematically locate previously unknown sites in a region.
Site survey is the attempt to systematically locate features of interest, such as houses and middens, within a site.
Each of these two goals may be accomplished with largely the same methods.
Archaeological excavation existed even when the field was still the domain of amateurs, and it remains the source of the majority of data recovered in most field projects.
It can reveal several types of information usually not accessible to survey, such as stratigraphy, three-dimensional structure, and verifiably primary context.
Modern excavation techniques require that the precise locations of objects and features, known as their provenance or provenience, be recorded.
This always involves determining their horizontal locations, and sometimes vertical position as well.
Similarly, their association, or relationship with nearby objects and features, needs to be recorded for later analysis.
This allows the archaeologist to deduce what artefacts and features were likely used together and which may be from different phases of activity.
For example, excavation of a site reveals its stratigraphy; if a site was occupied by a succession of distinct cultures, artefacts from more recent cultures will lie above those from more ancient cultures.