How does archaeology help us understand history and culture?
Archaeology offers a unique perspective on human history and culture that has contributed greatly to our understanding of both the ancient and the recent past. Archaeology helps us understand not only where and when people lived on the earth, but also why and how they have lived, examining the changes and causes of changes that have occurred in human cultures over time, seeking patterns and explanations of patterns to explain everything from how and when people first came to inhabit the Americas, to the origins of agriculture and complex societies. Unlike history, which relies primarily upon written records and documents to interpret great lives and events, archaeology allows us to delve far back into the time before written languages existed and to glimpse the lives of everyday people through analysis of things they made and left behind. Archaeology is the only field of study that covers all times periods and all geographic regions inhabited by humans. It has helped us to understand big topics like ancient Egyptian religion, the origins of agriculture in the Near East, colonial life in Jamestown Virginia, the lives of enslaved Africans in North America, and early Mediterranean trade routes. In addition archaeology today can inform us about the lives of individuals, families and communities that might otherwise remain invisible.