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Why archaeology?

Archaeology is the study (by all available means) of how and why we have become what we are: the story of human origins and history from the earliest times to the present day and of our engagements with the world around us. It necessarily focuses on material culture and remains in the prehistoric periods, and embraces texts and other sources in the historic periods. It especially offers the potential to encounter some of the (vast majority of) people not included in the elite’s written history of the world until the modern era.

Archaeology as a field has undergone a remarkable intellectual expansion over the last few decades. On the one hand, the field has embraced new techniques developed in the physical and chemical sciences for analyzing sites and objects in increasing detail. The burgeoning sub-field of archaeometry (or archaeological science) has carried archaeological analysis to the elemental and atomic level with advanced chronometric, geochemical, and radiometric techniques. At the same time, ongoing engagements with archaeological theory have pushed the field towards increasingly sophisticated accounts of the materiality of social reproduction from the remote past to the immediate present. Hence, archaeology has redefined itself from a study of past artifacts to an encompassing approach to the historical development of human relations with our material world (landscapes and things).

At Cornell we aim to pursue this conversation joining the humanities, social sciences, and physical sciences via the Cornell Institute of Archaeology and Material Studies (CIAMS): http://ciams.cornell.edu/about-ciams/.

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