Culture is an important goal in the study of archeology.
Archeologists study about the cultures of past human societies and civilizations. In archeology, the aspect of culture can be referred in two ways – non-material and material. Non-material culture refers to the intangible or non-physical aspects of a culture. Things that cannot be held or touch like speaking language, behavior, beliefs, religion and value systems. These things cannot be preserve and cease to exist when a particular civilization or society becomes extinct. Material culture, on the other hand, encompasses the physical leftovers by the past ancient peoples.Fossils and artifacts such as tools, weapons, buildings and etc. are the physical remnants of the past.
These remnants are usually preserved through the centuries by the natural elements from elements of rust, corrosion, erosion and decay. However, it’s not always that these remnants are preserved in a complete good condition. Things do not turn up in complete sets. Usually, they are worn out and fragmented pieces from a certain artifact or fossil. This is due to exposure in the places or soil which they are found to also elements of decay and corrosion.It may also be due in part to human or animal activities which cause these things to be lost or fragmented.
Ancient civilizations and societies usually turn up with little or no written records at all about them and if there are, they have never been found. This is where archeology is different from the study of history. Since archeologists have very little to no written recordings of ancient cultures and since culture in and by itself is non-material, they can only rely on the physical evidence left behind by the ancients to tell and help them document and record about the past.This is where material culture is most important to archeologists. Like forensic experts, archeologists conduct extensive studies and research on these artifacts and fossils of evidence and try to reconstruct a picture the cultures of the ancient as completely as possible. From this, they deduce a relative idea of the culture, lifestyles of these ancient civilizations.
Things like statues and buildings from the past give a general idea or picture of how the people might look and dress physically and how they might have lived or work.They also might give an insight to their beliefs and religions. Movies like Indiana Jones often give people the false impression that archeology is adventurous treasure hunting in far off exotic places. That was how archeology started out in the past. People were more concerned in great findings of exotic and beautiful artifacts and structures. It was not until very much later when archeology became recognized as a science that people began to focus more on finding the small or ordinary things left behind by a culture or civilization.Things like tools, cutlery, weapons, clothing, utensils and even stationery usually speak more volumes on the culture and lifestyle of the ancients than those huge finds.
They reveal more especially about the general population of commoners of that time, not only the rulers or nobles. Through material culture, archeologists are able also to place a certain civilization in an approximate time period. Using a number of dating methods, archeologists are able to assign various artifacts and fossils to a certain age on the timeline of humankind.Though these dating methods are not totally accurate, they nevertheless provide insights to when a civilization lived in relation to the others. Though non-material culture has a minor contribution to the study and research of archeologists, it still however has its use in the understanding of past human societies. Observations of modern populations in their habits, behaviors, technologies or tools sometimes help to link physical clues to past ancient societies. Archeologists sometimes ‘borrow’ modern cultures to interpret past cultures based on the artifacts they find.Ultimately, however, in the study of archeology it still provides us with nothing more than an approximation of the things and cultures of the distant and ancient past.
That is why ancient cultures and civilizations continue to be define and redefine by discoveries of new and important artifacts and fossils. Then again, however vague or inaccurate it may be, it gives us an idea about how people live and work, their technologies and achievements in the past. It helps us understand the remarkable diversity and uniqueness of the human race even in the ancient past.