People Who Study the Past
Our knowledge of history depends upon the work of many people who make their living by studying the people, places, and things of the past.
Archaeologists - people who dig into the past
Through their work, archaeologists teach us about prehistory and ancient history. Much of the time, they have few, if any, written records to guide them. Archaeologists must rely on fragments of evidence, which they uncover by exploring sites of ancient cities or villages. These fragments include such wide-ranging items as tools, seeds, coins, bones, household utensils, and building materials.
In the past 50 years, technology has come to the aid of archaeologists. One problem that archaeologists have faced has been dating the artifacts, or objects made by human work, they find. That problem was solved in 1947 by the development of carbon dating. Because the carbon in organic matter decreases over time, the age of something can be determined by measuring the amount of carbon that remains in it. Other recent technological advances allow archeologists to see images of the interiors of artifacts without cutting into them.
Anthropologists - people who study customs
For many years, archaeologists were primarily concerned with the recovery and preservation of artifacts. However, in recent years, anthropologists have begun to influence the way in which archaeologists work. The interests that anthropologists have in the customs and relationships among people are important in reconstructing history. Anthropologists have encouraged archeologists to look for clues to the behaviors of ancient people.
Paleontologists - people who study fossils
Paleontologists help us understand what life was like in prehistoric times. They do that by studying fossils, or hardened remains, of plants, animals, and humans. These fossils are found under layers of earth and rock that have helped preserve them. Fossils can show how large the earliest humans were, what they ate, what tools they used, and how they lived.
Geologists - people who examine rocks
Geologists add to our understanding of the past by studying clues in the earth itself. Geologists examine the size, shape, and age of land formations. They gather information about how layers of soil and rock have changed.
From their studies, geologists can provide valuable information about past civilizations. They can describe the climate of previous eras and can detail natural disasters that may have struck early people. These include ice ages, floods, earthquakes, and eruptions of volcanoes.
Historians - people who look backward
The main task of historians is to search for the story of human history. They constantly use what they know now to help them understand people and events of the past. To do this, they often collect information from other sciences, such as the ones mentioned in this lesson. They organize vast amounts of information about the past in ways that we can understand. Their work gives us a window through which we can look at the contributions of people who lived before us.
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