When most people think of archaeology, they conjure up visions of pyramids, of stone tools, and of pottery. Whereas this is part of what archeologists do, it only scratches the surface. In an integrated approach to anthropology, like that employed here at Fort Lewis College, archaeology is more properly characterized as the subfield that explores the critical relationship between human beings and their material culture at all times and in all places. Hence, archaeology is that part of anthropology that explores human technology and its evolutionary relationship to culture, language and human biology.
Archaeology has many facets, with theoretical roots in the natural and social sciences, as well as the humanities. For example, archaeologists draw upon the hard sciences to help to reconstruct past environments, to provide calendar dates for artifacts, and to understand the physical properties of the objects people make and use in their daily lives. Archaeology is also history. Because 99% of the human experience on the planet occurred before the advent of writing, artifacts provide our only record of human culture. Whether this record is “written” in stone tools, pottery, or rock art, archaeologists explore this history. The Department of Anthropology offers a variety of New World and Old World archaeology courses, including courses focusing on the American Southwest.
At Fort Lewis College, the summer archaeological field school offers students the opportunity to participate in archaeological fieldwork at historic and prehistoric sites in the Southwest. Field school students participate in all aspects of fieldwork from survey to excavation to artifact analysis while learning to use the latest technologies in archaeological fieldwork. Classes in archaeological laboratory techniques and are also offered, making use of dissecting microscopes, comparative collections of soils, lithics, ceramics and faunal skeletons, as well as the latest computer software. Students also have access to an extensive pottery collection from the Four Corners area curated by the Center of Southwest Studies.
In addition to studying materials from the past (material culture), contemporary archaeologists live among contemporary populations around the world, participating in daily activities and observing people’s use of various objects in order to better understand the use of similar objects in the past. Others dig in landfills to help understand modern artifact use and disposal patterns, or replicate and use tools from the past to help understand these practices in the past and in the present.
Archaeology has also become synonymous with heritage preservation. Most archaeologists practicing today are engaged in cultural resource management (CRM), helping to preserve the non-renewable record of human activities around the world. The Department of Anthropology at Fort Lewis College is dedicated to providing intensive training in cultural resource management by offering one of the few undergraduate certificates in CRM in the United States.