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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Amazing Historical Accuracy of the Bible

Don Stewart :: What Is Archaeology? What Do Archaeologists Do?

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What Is Archaeology? What Do Archaeologists Do?

The Amazing Historical Accuracy of the Bible – Question 3

One of the tools available for helping to determine the historical reliability of the Bible is the discipline of archaeology—sometimes spelled archeology. The word archaeology is derived from two Greek words: archaios, means, “ancient, or from the beginning,” and logos, “the study of.” The word, therefore, means the study of ancient things. Ancient writers used the term for the study of history.

However, the modern sense of the word has a different meaning. It refers to the study of the physical or material remains of the past—archaeology is the study of ancient debris. It looks at all of the material things that a civilization left behind. This includes the smallest pieces of broken pottery to great buildings. Therefore, archaeology is concerned with all of the physical things that civilizations left behind. The archaeologist discovers and observes the things that have been left behind by those who lived in the past. It helps us understand how other peoples lived. From a careful study of the things that societies left behind, we are able to reconstruct much about them.

Important Observations on Archaeology and Archaeologists

There are a number of important points that need to be made about archaeologists and the role of archaeology. They include the following:

1. Archaeology Is Not Merely the Study of Written Records

A distinction needs to be made between the written records of a civilization and the debris that they left behind. A study of written records falls under the work of historians, not archaeologists. It is not the same as archaeology. Archaeology fills in some of the gaps of the written records. The archaeologist literally digs up that which was left behind by a civilization. This sometimes includes written records. However, the archaeologist is interested in more than the written material of a civilization.

The importance of archaeology increases where there are no written records. While written records may be untruthful, the physical evidence does not lie.

There is something else. Ancient writing was often limited to a certain class of people who had their own perspective on events. In contrast to the possible bias of some ancient writers, archaeology describes how all ancient people, from the peasant to the king, lived their lives. It fills in the gaps left by written documents.

2. Archaeologists Do Not Spend All Their Time Digging

Those who practice the discipline of archaeology do not spend all their time in the excavation of ancient sites. Indeed, most of their time is spent in planning the dig, analyzing the results of what they found, and then placing it into the larger picture of the time period. The actual excavation is only a small part of their work.

There are two basic parts to the work of the archaeologist. The first is the discovery and collection of ancient remains and the second part consists of analyzing, interpreting and publishing that which was collected.

3. Most Archaeologists Become Specialists

Most archaeologists become specialists in a limited part of the world and usually within a limited historical period. This is because there is just too much information available to become an expert in more than one limited area and one historical period. Since new information is constantly being gained, archaeologists must limit themselves with respect to the subject matter in which they study. This is true for those who study biblical archaeology.

4. Archaeology Is Not the Same as Geology

Archaeologists are often confused with geologists, or those interested in rock formations. However, the archaeologist is interested in rocks only to the degree that it can give them information about the ancient civilization they are uncovering. When technical issues of geology need to be investigated, the archaeologist will usually employ a trained geologist.

5. Archaeology Is Not the Same as Paleontology

Most archaeologists are not experts in the area of fossils or the bone structure of prehistoric animals. This is the area of study for the paleontologist. When the subject matter of the dig deals with fossils, often a paleontologist will be part of the team to evaluate the finds.

This briefly sums up the science of archaeology as well as those who do this important work.

Summary – Question 3
What Is Archaeology? What Do Archaeologists Do?

Archaeology is the study of ancient debris—the things a civilization leaves behind. It is important to have a correct understanding of archaeology and archaeologists because there are a number of misconceptions about what archaeology is and what archaeologists do.

For one thing, archaeology is not the study of written records of the past as much as it studies the material that was left behind. Archaeologists examine the physical remains that a civilization has left behind.

Furthermore, archaeologists do not spend most of their time digging. Indeed the dig is only a small part of their enterprise.

Since there is so much information that has been left behind by ancient civilizations, most archaeologists have to specialize in a certain historical era. This means that no one archaeologist knows everything about the past. Finally, archaeologists are neither geologists, nor paleontologists. The discipline of archaeology is mainly interested in past civilizations and how the people lived.

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What Are Some Important Things to Understand about Archaeology and the Bible? Next Section →
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