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Archaeology is the study of people and things from the past. Archaeologists try to discover how a group of people lived, what was important to them, what sort of religious beliefs they had, and how they interacted with their environment and with other groups of people.

These discoveries are usually made through excavation, which is the systematic digging up of an area used by people in the past (a site). Excavation reveals artifacts: objects made or used by humans that provide information about the people who used them. In other words, archaeologists study the things people leave behind in order to understand their culture.

The excavation of an archaeological site is a complex process, involving many people and taking many years to complete. Because different people may have inhabited a site at different times, it is important to preserve the context of the artifacts found during excavation.

Preserving an artifact's context involves recording where it was found and what it was found with. If an artifact has no context, it is very difficult to reconstruct its significance to the people who may have used it, since many artifacts could be used in different situations with different meanings. For example, if a piece of jewelry is found in a tomb, it has a very different meaning than if it were found in a jewelry workshop. The jewelry in the tomb was someone's personal property and indicates his/her wealth; the jewelry in the workshop, on the other hand, was probably being produced to be sold, and thus can provide information about jewelry manufacture.

When archaeologists record the context of artifacts, they not only note where the artifact was found and what it was found with, but also at what level of excavation it was found, that is how deep below the surface the artifact was. When archaeologists excavate a site, they dig down in layers because archaeological material is usually buried over time, with the older material being deeper than the newer material. This layering of material is called stratigraphy. By establishing the different levels at which artifacts are found, archaeologists can reconstruct a time-line, or chronology, for the site.

Tel Beth Shean. Through stratigraphic excavation of a tel, archaeologists can establish the history of occupation at the site.

In Canaan and ancient Israel, archaeological sites are most often mounds, which have been built up by thousands of years worth of habitation in the same place. These mounds are called tels (in Arabic, tells). Tels are created by the accumulation of debris over time. The people who lived on tels made their houses out of mud bricks. As the bricks deteriorated, the people would often knock down the houses and build new ones on top of them. After many generations, huge mounds were built up consisting of many stratigraphic layers, which represented the different phases of habitation at the site.

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