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Archaeologists excavate a grave carefully.Archaeologists excavate a grave carefully. Archaeologists find out about the past by excavating (digging up) the sites of ancient buildings or settlements. They study the artefacts they find, such as tools and pottery, to piece together a picture of everyday life in the past. Today, archaeologists can make very accurate assessments of their finds. For example, they can use scientific methods to calculate how old things are. When human remains are found, archaeologists can study the bones or stomach contents to find out about the person's health and diet, or even what they ate for their last meal. Without archaeologists, we would have only a very sketchy knowledge of early history, and the lost cities of the ancient world would have stayed buried for ever.

Excavations at the Forum in Rome, ItalyExcavations at the Forum in Rome, Italy
A 19th-century excavation in GreeceA 19th-century excavation in Greece

The beginning of modern archaeology

People have always been curious about the past, but for centuries most people’s knowledge of early history came from myths and legends. They did not begin to search for real evidence until the 16th century, when European scholars began to travel and collect curiosities from the ancient world. 

Evidence was easy enough to find in Greece and Rome, where buildings and sculptures were there for all to see. But in the Middle East, for example, whole cities lay buried deep in the earth until Europeans began to search for objects from the past.

British archaeologist Sir Arthur EvansBritish archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans 

The search for remains

In 1947 a young Bedouin shepherd made a major archaeological discovery in the West Bank. He came across a collection of earthenware jars containing ancient parchment scrolls known to us today as the Dead Sea Scrolls—Jewish texts that date mostly from the 2nd century BC to the 2nd century AD.

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