Archaeologists learn about people who lived in the past by studying artifacts that people made or used in their daily life. Archaeologists search for objects left behind every day.
Archaeologists use tools to locate artifacts. Some objects they find include:
- Tools made of stone, bone, or metal
- Pots, baskets, dishes, and cookware
- Buildings, dams, campsites, and villages
- Clothing and footwear
- Rock art and inscriptions
Archaeologists call these things material culture. Often these items are found on or under the ground. They use tools like radiocarbon dating, stratigraphy, artifact typology, and remote sensing. These tools help archaeologists analyze when objects were made and how people used them. They can figure out when people lived in a place and what their lives were like at that time.
Think of all the little things you use everyday–like your toothbrush. You may not think much about it, but even a single toothbrush communicates a lot about who you are. To an archaeologist a toothbrush could signal that the user took good care of themselves, the brand tells what part of the world you lived in, and the residue on the bristles could reveal what you ate.
With these tools, archaeologists learn a lot about people who didn’t leave many written records behind, such as early Native Americans. They also study people who left written records, like most communities in the past several hundred years. Comparing peoples’ artifacts to the writings and photographs they left behind helps archaeologists and historians to better understand people who lived in the past.