Although there is little existing evidence of how life once was for ancient people much information can be gathered to create a full picture of what it was once like. To discover how it used to be there are three basic goals set by archeologists and other scientists. These goals consist of chronology, reconstruction and explanation. They are set to shed light on cultures and lives that were forgotten so long ago and link them to our own modern lives.
Chronology is the records that archeologists and historians keep and use to gain a better perspective of time and to which era where each culture is placed. Excavations are an important aspect of chronology they are the basis for everything found. Excavations reveal the order that and remnants were left in relation to other artifact layers. This aids in determining the approximate age of each component of the layers contents. However there are other ways to make sure these dates are even more accurate and precise. As possible data and other artifacts are found at excavation sites they are sent for laboratory analysis, where such methods as carbon dating take place.
Chronological data is important as it provides information on such things as the spread of technology from one tribe or region to another and how long and what patterns it took to get there. Through careful excavating and attention to detail scientists are able to find and fit together what some might say are meaningless shards with no value and discover that it is the missing piece that shows the spread of one culture to another. An example of spread of technology and its evolution might be a cylinder seals commonly found in the near east. These cylinder seals were first produced around the year 3500 B.C. in Sumaria. These early seals were simple in the beginning. They were rather large tubes with decorative engravings ranging in size from four cm to six cm in length. Many cylinder seals have been found throughout other near eastern excavations where they have been documented and tracked. As time went on they became smaller (around two cm.) and much more detailed. By these later time periods people began experimenting with many different kinds of materials such as stone, shell, bone and also ivory. This illustrates the progression of cylinder seals and how they were changed over a period of time.
Reconstruction is based on information gathered from chronology and the physical evidence found at excavation sites. Archeologists and historians take this information to recreate the way things could have been in past cultures. Reconstructions are also subject to change as more data is found and studied it may be added, altering the way scientist originally thought it things may have been. Reconstruction is all subject to interpretation of documented material remains and also environmental remnants in their chronological contexts. Environmental remains may be such things as animal body part or plant remains.
In the 1960’s Richard MacNeish headed a group of archeologists and scientists from other fields reconstructed the way people of Mexico’s Tehuacan Valley obtained and produced food. In the 1980’s researchers refined this reconstruction. They analyzed the composition of materials from the original study and newly found environmental samples. The results of the analyses revealed a shift in subsistence patterns over a 9000- year period. Showing inhabitants of the valley shifted from seasonal migration surviving on a diet of plants and some game to a more stable community based on agriculture.
Archaeologists often use what is called a theoretical model and observations of the world as it exists today truing to explain the happenings of the past. Through these models and observations inferred explanations are created. Explanations usually include environmental factors like, population changes, and also patterns of thought and behavior. The difference between reconstructions and explanations are that reconstructions are based on physical remains to create the past, whereas explanations are only attempts to answer questions about the past that cannot be gathered from physical proof.
Like the example of the Tehuacan Valley these changes that took place among the settlement cannot be explained, but there are those who attempt to clarify the possible factors that fit into place with the already existing physical evidence.
By trying to explain the mysteries of the past they have unlocked and gained insights in our own lives. Helping us realize that we are not so different from our ancient ancestors. Like in the times of the Egyptians and the people of Ur. Monumental structures reaching for the heavens were created for religious purposes. This tradition has carried on for thousands of years until present time with our own modern buildings and skyscrapers. Also we are similar in our love for decoration and adornment. Ancient vases were decorated and adorned to appeal to human senses. Just as today in our own society almost all things are used to appeal to the human senses.
It is important to learn about the past and all that can be derived from the small bits and pieces left behind. It should always be remembered that no matter how small the fragment much can be learned from it and applied to these three main goals. Each miserable scrap could become the most important missing link to the puzzle left to us to piece together. Through the use of these three main goals, chronology, reconstruction and explanation we are better able to understand ancient civilizations and in exchange better understand our own lives in the process.