Subfields of archaeology

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As with most academic disciplines, there are a number of archaeological sub-disciplines typically characterised by a focus on a specific method or type of material, geographical or chronological focus, or other thematic concern.

By civilization[edit]

Certain civilizations have attracted so much attention that their study has been specifically named. These sub-disciplines include Assyriology (Mesopotamia), Indology (India ), Classical archaeology (Greece and Rome),Etruscology (Etruria), Egyptology (Egypt), and Phoenician-Punic archeology (Phoenicia and its colonies), Sinology (China).

By historicity[edit]

Another main division of archaeology distinguishes:

  • historical archaeology, which examines civilizations that left behind written records; and
  • prehistoric archaeology, which concerns itself with societies that did not have writing systems. However, the term is generally valid only in Europe and Asia where literate societies emerged without colonial influence. In areas where literacy arrived relatively late, it is more convenient to use other terms to divide up the archaeological record.

In areas of semi-literacy the term

  • protohistoric archaeology can be adopted to cover the study of societies with very limited written records. One example of a protohistoric site is Fort Ross on the northern California coast, which included settlements of literate Russians and non-literate American Indians and Alaska natives.
  • Ethnoarchaeology is the study of modern societies resembling extinct ones of archaeological interest, for archaeological purposes. It is often difficult to infer solid conclusions about the structure and values of ancient societies from their material remains, not only because objects are mute and say little about those who crafted and used them, but also because not all objects survive to be uncovered by scholars of a later age. Ethnoarchaeology seeks to determine, for instance, what kinds of objects used in a living settlement are deposited in middens or other places where they may be preserved, and how likely an object is to be discarded near to the place where it was used.
  • Taphonomy is the study of how objects decay and degrade over time. This information is critical to the interpretation of artefacts and other objects, so that the work of ancient people can be differentiated from the later work of living creatures and elemental forces.

By time period[edit]

A selective list of sub-disciplines distinguished by time-period or region of study might include:

Other sub-disciplines[edit]

The following is a list of other sub-disciplines. Some of these are not areas of study in their own right, and are only methods to be used in larger projects.

Post-excavation analysis also makes use of a wide variety of further techniques.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ POPULUS Project; Leveau, Philippe, eds. (1999). Environmental reconstruction in Mediterranean landscape archaeology. Oxbow Books. p. 25. ISBN 9781900188630. Retrieved 2013-10-01. Anthracology is the study of charcoal from archaeological sediments and soils.
  2. ^ "settlement archaeology". Oxford Reference. Retrieved Oct 13, 2018.

External links[edit]