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Thanks for registering for the STEM Family Adventure Camp! By attending the upcoming camp, your Scout will complete requirements towards the Uncovering the Past Nova Award. 

In order to fully earn the Nova Award, your Scout must learn more about archaeology. Scroll down to get started on this requirement!


Click below to find the Zoom webinar with archaeologist and expert, Patrick Carbon.

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About Patrick Carbon

Patrick received his Eagle Scout in 1998. He graduated from Youngstown State

University with a Bachelors in History and a Bachelors in Anthropology

specializing in Archaeology and Forensic Archaeology. His main experience in

Archaeology is cemetery exhumations and 19th Century Blast Furnaces. He

received his Masters in History from YSU with a concentration in Museum

Studies and Historic Preservation. Patrick was pursuing his Doctorate in

History through the University of Akron. He currently works as the College Credit Plus Academic Advisor and Adjunct History Instructor at Eastern Gateway Community College.


Imagine a boy living where you live now, but hundreds or even thousands of years ago. He might have been about your age. Like you, he had friends and enjoyed playing games. He had a home and a family. He shared the beliefs of people in his community. He spoke a language that sounded just right to him, and his way of understanding the world made sense.

But where you live now was a much different place when the boy of the past lived there. It might have been a dense forest or an open plain. His house might have been made of animal hide stretched over poles, or bricks of mud and straw baked in the sun, or slabs of sweet-smelling cedar split from huge trees and decorated with carvings of eagles, ravens, and salmon.

The boy might have been taught how to hunt with spears or bow and arrows, or how to plant grains and store the harvest for winter. He might have learned to heal sicknesses by using medicines from plants. He may have sung the songs that kept alive the stories of his people from one generation to the next.

The boy had no wristwatch, but he kept track of time by looking at the sun and observing shadows on the ground. In his religion, he may have worshipped the spirits of the fish or buffalo that fed his people. He might have believed that gods lived on mountaintops, inside volcanoes, or in the spirits of certain animals.

Sometimes the sun shone warmly on the boy's face, and sometimes he took shelter from storms. His life was as real then as yours is today-full of bright colors, smells, tastes, and sounds. Like you, he probably thought the world in which he lived would never change much. 

But that world has changed, and most of the people who lived long before us have been forgotten. Their homes have crumbled and disappeared. The bowls from which they ate and the tools they used have become scattered. Their languages and beliefs are largely lost. Their stories may now be but a whisper in the wind.


Even so, you can learn about that boy from long ago and the life he led. You can discover some of the ways that his life was like yours, and how it was different. To make these discoveries, you need a key to begin unlocking the secrets of the past. That key is archaeology.

Archaeology is the study of the human past by recovering and analyzing materials that people left behind.


Archaeologists are detectives who study how people lived in the past. They figure out what happened, when, how, and why. Using the clues that people left behind, they try to understand how and why human culture has changed through time.

Archaeologists do their work, in part, because they want to satisfy their curiosity. Like all of us, archaeologists love to find out about other people, other places, and other times. We all benefit from their studies because archaeologists like to share their discoveries with the public. They provide answers to our questions about the past.

Knowing about those who lived before us is important because the people of the past helped to make us who we are today. The beginnings of our knowledge can be found in the things people knew and did thousands of years ago. Our languages and our ways of doing things-that is, our cultures have been passed down through the ages.

We are only the most recent generations to inhabit Earth. Human culture has been enriched by all of the generations of people who lived, worked, and enjoyed life before us. As we learn about these ancestors of ours, we also learn about ourselves and how we got to be the way we are. By studying the past, we can learn much about the present.


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A culture is the way of life shared by a group of people and passed down from one generation to the next. The people of a given culture have the same language and similar customs, beliefs, ceremonies, habits, food preference, and so on.


The word archaeology comes from the Greek word archaios, meaning "ancient," and the Latin logia, meaning "to talk or write about"—that is, to study. Archaeologists study the material remains of past cultures-the things people left behind-to learn how people lived and how cultures have changed through time.

Archaeology is a branch of a larger science called anthropology-the study of human beings. While anthropologists are concerned with all aspects of human makeup and behavior, archaeologists focus on the stories of the people of the past-people who are no longer around to speak for themselves.

Much of archaeology is the study of people who did not leave a written history of their experience, or who left records in languages that we no longer understand. Even so, these people have left clues about themselves. Evidence of their existence may take the form of artifacts such as stone or metal tools, or pieces of broken pottery. Or we might find signs of human activity, such as rocks arranged in circles, or earth blackened by campfires from long ago, or trenches that show where walls once stood.


Many archaeologists specialize in studying groups of people who lived thousands of years ago. Some study the civilizations that built the great pyramids in Egypt and the temples in Greece, South America, and Asia. Some archaeologists are interested in ancient hunters whose spear points pierced the sides of mammoths in the American Southwest. Others devote their careers to studying the remains of early humans found in Africa.

Archaeologists also unravel puzzles about people who lived much closer to our own time. We get clues from items found in sunken ships, forgotten farmsteads, buried villages, and traditional American Indian gathering places.


An artifact is any object made by a human being. Usually, it refers to an object that has cultural or historical interest. An ecofact, or biofact, is any organic material that has been recovered and has cultural or historical significance. This might be bones, animal horns, plants, and so on. 


Physical remains are things left behind that were part of an animal - for example, body parts or fossils of body parts.


Bits and pieces of the human past have survived into the modem age. These prehistoric Caddoan artifacts provide information about vanished peoples and cultures.


The Great Sphinx at Giza in Egypt, with a pyramid in the background


The Great Hall at Grand Portage National Monument in Minnesota. The original structure was built in 1784 and was later reconstructed using information learned through archaeology.

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Instead of walking from Asia into Alaska, suggests one theory, prehistoric immigrants might have sailed across oceans to reach the New World. The first settlers on the eastern American coast might have been seafarers from Europe, members of the ancient Solutrean culture of Spain and France. During the height of the Ice Age, these sailors could have followed an ice shelf that stretched from Ireland to Nova Scotia. As they crossed the Atlantic Ocean, they would have hauled their boats up onto the ice occasionally to rest, hunt and fish, or take shelter from storms.


Recent excavations in South Carolina may provide evidence that people lived in the Americas earlier than scientists once believed. Archaeologists long thought the first human beings in the Americas were the Clovis people who crossed a land bridge over the Bering Strait into Alaska. Scientists believe these hunters of mammoths lived at the end of the last Ice Age, about 12,000 or 13,000 years ago. At South Carolina's Topper site, however, archaeologists have found stone tools, including small, simple chisels, that are older than the tools made and used by the Clovis people. The finds and their early dates suggest humans may have arrived in North America earlier than previously believed and may have come from many directions.

Named for the amateur archaeologist who discovered it, Topper is the site of a prehistoric quarry that was a source of chert, a flintlike rock used to make tools and arrowheads. Work there is directed by Al Goodyear, an archaeologist with the University of South Carolina. Excavation began in the early 1980s and still continues. Much of the work is done by volunteers, including teenagers, who come to the site each spring. Goodyear says it is possible evidence will be found showing that people were in the area of the Topper site long before the last Ice Age. “We may be in for some surprises," he says.


Archaeological artifacts are any items that have been made, used, or changed by people. Examples include stone tools, arrowheads, pottery, utensils, coins, bottles, and jewelry. Artifacts typically are portable and easy to carry around. The items were perhaps lost by their original owners. Some might have been broken and thrown away. Many were hidden for safekeeping or placed alongside the bodies of their owners in burial sites. To archaeologists, artifacts-and the relationships between artifacts and where the items are found-are windows into the lives of the people who once lived at that place.

This idea of relationships between objects is important. Think of all the little parts that go together to make a wristwatch. If you take the individual parts out of a watch and study each one separately, will that tell you how the watch functions? No. You must look at all of the parts in place inside the watch to see how they work together. The same is true of archaeological sites. Like a watch, an archaeological site is a complicated package that must be opened carefully and studied as a whole if we are to make sense of it.

A researcher who looks at only a few stone tools and a few kernels of corn might find that, by themselves, the artifacts reveal little. However, if the tools are found in a room with a hearth or fire pit, a grinding stone, and other

stone tools and artifacts, the researcher might conclude that the room was a prehistoric living

area. A few kernels of corn found in a space that did not have a hearth or any other artifacts

would suggest that the room was probably a storeroom.


The study of artifacts and the sites where they are found can reveal much about the

everyday activities of the past. We can learn where people lived, how they got their

food, and what they wore. Archaeological findings may also explain some of the

important events in the lives of people long dead-a war or a ceremony, for instance, or

a major fire or flood. Such discoveries can help us to understand what shaped entire



Several related sciences help to shine a light into the past. Geologists study Earth itself and how it changes over time. They examine the clues revealed by rocks, soil, and the shape of the land. Geologists are interested in the forces that form the physical features of the land and alter the land's appearance.

Paleontologists examine fossils of dinosaurs and ancient vegetation. They dig for fossils to learn about animal and plant life of long ago, and they share their findings by writing reports and creating museum exhibits.

To help you keep these "ologies" straight, here's a simple list:

  • Anthropology: the study of humans in the widest sense

  • Archaeology: the study of human activities and cultures of the past

  • Geology: the study of rocks, soil, and terrain

  • Paleontology: the study of fossils of ancient animals and plants


Did you know?

Fossils are the stonelike remains of living things that developed as minerals from the soil slowly replaced the chemicals in the dead animals or plants.


The study of history also is often useful in archaeology. One way to think of history is that it is the past revealed through written records. Journals, newspapers, shopping lists, legal papers, books, and letters are only a few of the sources of information historians draw upon to re-create moments of the past. Archaeologists may use written records to locate sites, to find out how artifacts were made and used, and to expand their understanding of earlier times. Even when they are investigating prehistoric sites, they may research the historic record for clues to the more distant past.


Archaeologists follow a careful step-by-step process designed to protect resources and obtain the most information possible. The process includes these steps: site location, site excavation, artifact identification and examination, interpretation, preservation, and information sharing.


Archaeologists find sites in many ways. They sometimes study old letters, maps, journals, and other documents for clues to the locations of historic settlements or American Indian camps. They may use aerial photographs and pictures taken from satellites to home in on the places they are trying to find. Sites are sometimes found during surveys that may be required before new roads, dams, apartment houses, or other structures can be built.


Archaeologists walk the entire area, looking for anything made by humans that is more than 50 years old. They may dig test pits or trenches in the pathway of the proposed construction. If artifacts appear, the site may be excavated before construction machinery disturbs the area. Luck sometimes plays a role in the discovery of archaeological sites. Scouts on a hike might notice an arrowhead on the ground, or a piece of pottery. They don't move the artifact, but report the location to archaeologists who can examine the item where it lies and determine whether it signals the presence of a site worth studying.

When archaeologists survey an area to find sites, they will usually examine rodent burrows. Burrowing rodents sometimes uncover artifacts. Such finds in or near burrows might be a clue that other items lie buried in Earth below. Newly plowed farm fields may also turn up buried artifacts.

When they have discovered a site, archaeologists thoroughly examine the area before disturbing it. They walk all over the site and look for artifacts and surface features to help them understand what might be found there, as well as how old the site or objects might be. They may dig test pits to get an idea of what is below the surface of the ground. They may use magnetometry, which measures changes in the magnetic field that can show features such as hearths, where the ground was once heated by fire. Archaeologists sometimes use ground-penetrating radar and metal detectors to locate buried artifacts, houses, or pits. Information from the initial survey must be written down so that the site can be found again. Archaeologists

often illustrate a site report with photographs, maps, and videos that help explain how a site

was found and what it looked like before any excavation was done.



A discovery might turn out to be an isolated find simply an artifact or two left in a place where

people did not spend much time. Perhaps an ancient hunter lost a spear far from camp. Maybe

an traveler along an old road threw away the container that held his lunch. The information that

can be gained from an isolated find is usually limited to the artifact itself, with little to be

learned from the artifact's surroundings.

Of greater value are sites-locations with a number of objects in the same place, perhaps the remains of fires or houses. A site might be a prehistoric camping area, a village, or a place for storing food. It might be a community that we know about from history, such as an early pioneer settlement or a fort. The artifacts found could be tools, weapons, household goods, pottery, remains of clothing, or trash.

Images scratched into rock surfaces are called petroglyphs. Painted images are called pictographs.


An isolated artifact such as a hunter's lost spear point usually provides few details about the culture that produced the object.



An Awesome Find In 1974 in China, a farmer digging a well broke through the roof of the tomb of an emperor who had lived more than 2,000 years ago. Archaeologists who excavated the tomb found an army of terra-cotta statues-more than 6,000 life-size soldiers with their horses and chariots, standing in rows to guard the dead emperor.


Although digging is only a part of the scientific process of studying and understanding a site, the work of uncovering artifacts is what many people think of when they think about archaeology. There is an excitement to clearing away centuries of dust or muck and finding artifacts that haven't been seen by humans in hundreds or thousands of years. But along with that excitement comes a great responsibility to plan and carry out a proper excavation and to preserve every bit of information that can be gathered. Archaeologists work slowly and record everything they observe about the artifacts and the surroundings in which these items are found. If possible, they may leave a portion of the site untouched for future archaeologists to explore with new and better techniques.

The reason for taking such pains is that much of the information a site holds comes not only from the artifacts themselves, but also from how the items are found. Much can be learned from the positions of the items, how close together they are, and in what layers of earth.

For example, Confederate soldiers killed in March 1862 at Glorieta Pass in New Mexico were buried one over another. Archaeologists excavating the site have taken care to reveal the burials layer by layer so that they can know which artifacts go with which skeleton. In this way, investigators can use the artifacts to identify the soldiers and to learn what job each man did in the army.

Archaeologists are especially interested in trash heaps where people threw out what they no longer needed or wanted. Called middens, the piles of trash or garbage often reveal much about the people who made them. There may be shell, bone, and plant remains that show what people ate. Broken plates, bowls, and other ordinary items in middens give an idea of what things people used in their everyday lives.

Once it has been moved from the spot where it was found, an artifact can never be returned to exactly the same place. Excavation destroys a site, so data must be recorded before an artifact and its surroundings are disturbed. The records that archaeologists make include site maps, photographs of features like houses and pits, and drawings of artifacts.

When accurate records are kept, archaeologists will be able to study a site even if they were not present during the excavation. Ideally, archaeologists study and write up their findings soon after a site has been excavated. Researchers of the future, however, might want to use new tools and new methods to reexamine the data from an excavation. Accurate records are essential for those future archaeologists who will rely on data gathered today, or even five decades ago, for research that might not be done until many years from now.

The excavation tools used by archaeologists include shovels, buckets, wheelbarrows, trowels, whisk brooms, brushes, and wire screens. Surveyor's instruments are used at large sites that have many excavation areas. At some sites, excavation is done with water sprayed through hoses. Other tools that are just as important are graph paper, notebooks, pencils, cameras, and measuring equipment to record findings as they are being made.

An archaeologist's excavation tools include trowels, whisk brooms, brushes, shovels, buckets, wheelbarrows, and wire screens.


Archaeologists begin working at a site by establishing a grid over the area with lengths of string tied to wooden stakes. They may use a compass or a surveyor's transit to establish straight lines, and a tape measure to space the lines evenly. An excavation will have a primary datum point that is used as a reference point for laying out the squares of the grid. Ideally, the primary datum point is marked permanently so that archaeologists of the future can measure from it and establish exactly where the earlier excavation took place. The marker might be a cement post or a steel pipe, or the datum point might be located on a permanent natural feature such as a rock outcropping.

When it is complete, the grid will look like a big checkerboard. Each square is usually one or two meters (about 3 to 6 feet) on a side. Each square is given a grid number: Anything found within a certain grid square will be given the number of that square. That way, archaeologists can record the exact spot in a site where each artifact is discovered.

Excavators also determine a datum point on the surface of the ground to use in making vertical measurements. Usually, the elevation for each 6 WS WA W W2 corner of the grid is known. Archaeologists can use the datum point or elevation to measure how deeply in Earth each artifact is buried. An artifact's vertical depth is known as its depth below datum.


A grid system helps archeologists record the exact location where each artifact is found. 

Working their way down into Earth, archaeologists slowly uncover a site. When they find artifacts, they use small brushes to clear away the dirt. Then they record the grid number and the depth at which an item was found, and any other information about the artifact's position, appearance, and how close it is to other artifacts.

If excavators find a cluster of artifacts, a feature such as a hearth or a campfire, or a piece of a structure such as a wall, post, pit, or floor, they will document what they find even more carefully. They will make photographs and drawings to show how all of the materials relate to one another.

With proper and accurate records and measurements, it is possible to re-create a site on paper. It's also possible to use a computer to develop a three-dimensional figure that shows the relationships between artifacts (objects that can be collected and taken from the field) and features (unmovable elements of a site such as fire pits, houses, storage areas, and burial chambers).

After all information is recorded, each artifact can be placed in a plastic or paper bag. The bag is carefully labeled with information about the object-the site number, grid number, depth below datum, date of the excavation, and names of the archaeologists. This process preserves information about what was found together.

Soil that seems to contain no artifacts is sifted through a wire screen. Sifting may reveal small artifacts, bones, charcoal, tiny flakes or chips of stone (the leftovers of stone tool making), and other fragments that might otherwise be overlooked by excavators. A sample of soil may be washed in a process known as flotation to separate out any seeds or plant remains (clues to what plants people were eating).


When archaeologists excavate a site, they search for clues that can help them piece together the lives of the people who used that bit of ground. They attempt to establish the context of the site-where artifacts were found, how the items relate to one another, and what the site as a whole reveals about the people who were once there.

For example, an excavator who finds a clay bowl in the living area of an ancient house might conclude that the bowl was a simple household object with no special meaning. If the bowl were found in the tomb of a king or on the altar of a ruined temple, however, the excavator may determine that the bowl might have had sacred or ritual meaning.

After all information is recorded about the exact spot where an artifact was found and the context in which it was found, the item can be removed from the earth, bagged, and labeled.


You are on a Scout hike and you spot an arrowhead. Naturally,

you're excited. You want to pick it up to look at it more closely. You

want to put that artifact in your pocket and take it home with you

as a souvenir. You found it, but is it yours to take? Before you slip

that arrowhead into a pocket, think of all the information that is

lost when an artifact is pocketed and removed from the place

where it was found. Picking up arrowheads-or bits of pottery or any other artifact-is not as harmless as it might seem.

  • A projectile point (as archaeologists call arrowheads and spear points) found on the surface of the ground might be evidence that an undiscovered wealth of archaeological information lies waiting at that place.

  • By its shape and size, the point could help archaeologists identify which culture left it. If the point is made of a material not found locally, it might give clues about whom the people who once lived there traded with, or where they went to quarry their stone.

  • The arrowhead might be the key to dating the entire site.


When you take an artifact, you take away a unique clue that the archaeologist might need to determine a site's age, who lived there, or how they lived.

DID YOU KNOW? Other clues to the origin of a projectile point may lie in the way it was made, a process called flint knapping. Typically, arrowhead makers hammered a chunk of flint with a stone tool to remove most of the unwanted material and roughly shape the point. For detail work, such as thinning, fine shaping, and finishing a point's sharp edge, they pressed a piece of bone or antler against the flint to break off small flakes. Flint-knapping methods leave distinctive marks on projectile points. To an archaeologist, these marks are almost like fingerprints in identifying the method used. The material and the process used to make a projectile point, as well as the point's size and shape, are clues to the culture that produced it.


By carefully recording the context of a site, archaeologists can gain information that helps to tell the full story of the people who lived there. Researchers consider lots of evidence as they establish a site's context. Among the important factors are the formation processes that shaped the site.

Sites are created by the activities of everyday living and by the reuse of a site over time. Trash is tossed in the same place day after day, creating a midden. Rooms are lived in, eventually abandoned, and possibly reoccupied by later arrivals to the area. If a room is reoccupied, the new owners may clear away debris and discard artifacts some other place.

In most cases, formation processes are gradual. New build ings are erected on the ruins of old structures. Dust carried by the wind slowly covers the remains of an abandoned homestead on the prairie. As the years pass, such factors as erosion and changes in climate can affect the appearance of an area and the locations of artifacts within a site. Though quite rare, catastrophic events such as fires, floods, avalanches, and volcanic eruptions may drastically reshape an area. By paying attention to the formation processes that have been at work, archaeologists can better understand the context of a site.

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