When most people think of archaeology, they conjure up visions of pyramids, of stone tools, and of pottery. While this is part of what archaeologists 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 reconstruct past environments, provide calendar dates for artifacts, and 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 much of the human past. 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 historical-period 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 historical research methods also are offered, providing students with hands-on experience in the analysis and management of archaeological data. In addition to the department's teaching collections, students also have access to archaeological collections curated by the Center of Southwest Studies.
In addition to studying materials from the past (material culture), archaeologists live among modern 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 contemporary 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.