What is archaeology?
Archaeology is the study of the people of the past: how they lived, where they lived, what they ate, and what their environment was like.
When did scientific archaeological methods start being used?
Towards the end of the 1900s, a British soldier and collector, Lt-Gen Augustus Pitt Rivers, started to excavate sites methodically and record what he found.
How do archaeological sites become buried?
Not all are buried, but some are covered by sand over thousands of years, or by ash from a volcano, or deliberately buried by people.
How are the sites found?
They may be discovered by people out walking in open areas, or digging up places to make roads or construct buildings. People are not allowed to dig at the site themselves or take away artefacts, only an archaeologist with a permit from the government is allowed to do that.
What sorts of things are found on archaeological sites?
Some of the common items found from long ago are pieces of pottery, animal bones, beads, pollen, charcoal and stone tools. Archaeologists also look for rock art. Those interested in more recent times study documents too.
How do you become an archaeologist?
There are four South African universities offering degrees in archaeology: the University of the Witwatersrand, University of South Africa, Pretoria University and the University of Cape Town. Students need to have studied maths, physical science and English at school. You need to be a patient, methodical person to succeed in archaeology, and sensitive to people’s concerns about culture and heritage.
Where can you work?
You can work in museums, government departments, universities and heritage agencies, or as a consultant. You might be contracted by developers to undertake archaeological impact assessments.
What is a day in the life of an archaeologist like?
You might be working outdoors, sifting carefully through sections of an excavation, or in a laboratory, analysing artefacts and biological samples using different scientific techniques, or writing up results.