The first "archaeologists" were grave
robbers. It is the custom to this day in many cultures, to
bury prominent people with their riches. Grave robbers have
located the graves of many of these wealthy people removing the
treasures they have found. They are not interested in the
meaning of the societies that built the graves. They usually
melt down the treasures of precious metal or otherwise destroy the
treasures in order to profit from them.
Today, archaeologists have come to focus on learning about
the daily lives of the peoples they study. A broken piece of
pottery, called a potsherd, is as sought after as any other
find. Potsherds have become the "fingerprints" of
In nearly 200 years of archaeological research there has
been a gradual change from the robbing techniques to the cautious
methods used by modern archaeologists. Archaeologists no longer
try to restore all of a site to its original condition.
Instead, they map the site into a grid, and only portions of the
grid are excavated. This process leaves major parts of the
site untouched for later archaeologists, who may have improved tools
and techniques. Every bit of soil that is excavated is sifted
for tiny artifacts that can reveal the details of daily life.
Instead of carting most of the material to faraway collections or
museums, as much as possible is returned to local
repositories. Scientific archaeology of today is a far cry
from the work of the grave robbers.