Modern Revolutions in Archaeology

I find it very interesting at how much modern technology can help us advance our knowledge of the past, and of archaeology.  Previous to the 21st century, much of the information gained from archaeology had to be gathered by hand.  But now, with revolutions in science and medicine, we don’t even have to touch the artifacts to gain knowledge from them.

One revolution in archaeology would be the use of MRI and other medical techniques to view an artifact without touching it.  In the case of Egypt, this method is very useful, because archaeologists can view mummies without ever opening their sarcophagi.  This means that these mummies can be preserved even better, and perhaps will last long enough to see the next revolutions within technology.  Using medical techniques on mummies, we can also find out many things about who a person was, and how they lived.  For example, with Tutankhamen, scientists and archaeologists were able to collaborate, and create an image of what he may have looked like.  Beyond this, they were also able to find that Tutankhamen may have had Marfan Syndrome.  This lead to the discovery of how Akhenaten may have been Tutankhamen’s father, because they share this genetic disorder.

Beyond the use of medical techniques to examine artifacts, the discovery and overview of sites has been revolutionized by satellites. Nowadays, many archaeologists would use Google Maps as a resource to get a quick preview of a site.  Sometimes, simple methods like this have led to the discovery of new sites.  This method also allows archaeologists to look at the big picture of sites.  From the ground, some massive structures that do not exist anymore may not be easy to see.  However, from discoloration of the Earth, these sites can be viewed more readily from space.  Beyond satellites, archaeologists also have many other detection devices that help them see what is underneath the ground.  From the use of magnetics to radar, archaeologists no longer have to dig to see what is under the Earth.  This means that less time is spent digging and destroying potential artifacts, and more time can be spent on analyzing the importance of the site itself.  Without these devices, archaeologists would still be digging massive amounts of sites, and many sites may have never been discovered.

Although archaeology deals with some of the oldest remaining artifacts on Earth, the methods used to collect and analyze these artifacts are state of the art.  Without many of the technological revolutions, much of the sites and discoveries in archaeology would not exist today.

2 thoughts on “Modern Revolutions in Archaeology

  1. I liked your post, it was very informative! I think that it’s awesome how much technology has been able to help us become more efficient, not just in archaeology, but in other areas as well. We don’t have to waste so much time digging up sites and hoping that something will be there. We discussed in class how archaeology uses destructive techniques and that once you dig up a site, that’s it. You only get one shot. I think that technology makes it a lot easier to preserve sites and minimize destruction. It also helps us paint a better picture of the history of the artifacts that archaeologists find. Like you were discussing with Tutankhamen, with modern medical practices we are able to tell a lot more about the lives of the mummies that we examine. We can make a lot better predictions about living conditions and also about the presence of possible diseases.

    I recently read an article, written a little under a year ago, about how scientists were able to diagnose a disease in a 500-year old mummy. The article discussed how the scientists used a method called shotgun proteomics to compare the mummies proteins to proteins in the human genome. I think that’s crazy, but also very intriguing that scientists are able to pinpoint a disease in a mummy that lived so long ago. Here is a link to the article:

    It makes you wonder what we will be able to discover in the future. Assuming that technology will continue to advance, perhaps we will be able to uncover many of the mysteries that surround archaeology today.

  2. I found this post to be incredibly insightful in the dichotomy that exists between the archeology and past being studied and the methods of analysis being used. It seems ironic that the further we get from the past the better we are at understanding it. Carbon dating and MRI’s are both recently developed methods are used to progress the understanding of ancient societies. I feel as though the rapid progression of scientific understanding can only help to further explore the ever more distant pass. Each day scientists move away from the times they studies, but even so they become closer in their understanding of past culture. I believe that seeking further understanding of the past is not completely rooted in the exploring of ruins of ancient times; exploring new methods of analysis should be equally important to archaeology. By progressing the way in which the past can be studied archeologists can advance the understanding of their field.
    Alongside the dichotomy between the past and the present, the other interesting piece your post highlight is how interconnected archeology is to other fields of science. MRI technology, originally used in a medical setting, is now capable of being used to better understand the past. Satellites are another technology, originally used for communication and mapping, that have been retooled to be used in an archeological setting. One of the greatest strengths of archaeologists is their innovativeness with using all of the tools at their disposal. Unlike many scientific disciplines, each archeological find is entirely unique and the application of past knowledge can sometimes be limited. By being flexible and knowledgeable about numerous different sciences, archeologists are capable of utilizing tools from different fields to maximize their understanding of a site. By highlighting both of these things in your post I feel as though two very important facets of this field were very well addressed and the information was incredibly insightful.

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