Learning Center: Expert in Archaeology
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The Value of Using Primary Sources
I first became interested in archaeology at the age of seven. To feed my desire to learn more about the science I began to read books about the great pyramids of Egypt, mummies, and the famous King Tutankamun. Through my middle and high school years I took classes on ancient civilizations and found the study of different cultures extremely fascinating. When I was 15 years old I had a chance to participate in an actual archaeological dig in South Dakota. The first site I excavated had a prehistoric trash pit full of deer bone and waste flakes from prehistoric tools thrown away hundreds of years ago.
Since earning my Ph.D. in Archaeology, I have worked for the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT). At ODOT I am involved in all transportation related projects in the northern half of the state. My most recent academic projects include the excavation of the Donner Party site near Truckee, California. I am also a Research Associate at the University of Oregon.
The historical resources used most often by archaeologists include historic-period maps; newspaper archives; city directories; census records; photographs, and secondary histories. Written documents are common when working on historic-period urban archaeological sites. Unfortunately, rural archaeological sites are limited to general maps, long deed searches, and, occasionally, census records.
Urban archaeological sites can usually be associated with a current street address and that address can then be traced back to the time period that we are interested in searching. Archaeologists find city directories useful when trying to determine who lived at a certain address and what businesses operated from a particular location. It is important for archaeologists to know the function of the site, the ethnicity of the people, and the numerical household composition of a place so accurate conclusions can be drawn about a site.
The Federal census has been taken every 10 years since 1790. Depending on the year, census returns can provide the name, sex, age, occupation, place of birth, parent’s place of birth, handicaps, illiteracy, wealth, and religion of the people enumerated. In addition to personal data, census records are very important to archaeologists since living descendents can be located and contacted for additional information.
Local newspapers are an invaluable source for conducting research on a myriad of subjects. The same subjects that make headlines today are the same events published in historical newspapers. Obituaries are often very useful in locating living relatives. Descendents often have photographs and may be interested in conducting an oral history related to the historical archaeological site.
• Elementary School Lesson Plan in Archaeology
• Middle School Lesson Plan in Archaeology
• High School Lesson Plan in Archaeology
• Bibliography in Historical Archaeology
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