What Is Archaeology?

Contributor: Nichole Brooker. Lesson ID: 11909

Would you like to get paid for playing in the dirt? That's what archaeologists do, but it's not all play; it's hard work! These scientists find things from the past. Try it out with a hands-on "dig"!


Social Studies

Social Studies
learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!


Fun Fact: The word "archeology" can be spelled two ways. Both "archeology" and "archaeology" are correct! If you were an archaeologist, what would you want to dig for? Why? Dig into this lesson for the dirt on archaeology!

Have you ever heard the term, "archaeologist"?

Have you ever heard of archaeology? Before you answer that, print the Graphic Organizer - KWL Chart from Downloadable Resources in the right-hand sidebar.

  1. Fill in the first column under Know. Make a list all of the things you know about archaeology or archaeologists.
  2. When you are finished, move to the next column, Want to Know. List all the things you want to know about archaeologists. Some suggestions are:
  • What does an archaeologist do?
  • Where do they work?
  • What are they looking for?
  • What have archaeologists discovered?
  • When did archaeology begin?
  • Why do archaeologists do what they do?
  • Who becomes an archaeologist?
  • How do archaeologists do their job?

Hmmm . . . what do you think an archaeologist does? Did you write it on your KWL chart? Did you write that an archaeologist is someone who digs up the past? Or did you write that an archaeologist is "a person who studies human history and prehistory through the excavation of sites and the analysis of artifacts and other physical remains." Well, OK, that is the official definition from Webster's Dictionary of what an archaeologist is, so you probably didn't write that exactly. Were you close?

You may have heard of a paleontologist, someone who specifically digs for fossils and dinosaur bones. Paleontologists are different from archaeologists because one looks for fossils while the other looks for human artifacts and remains.

In this lesson, the focus will be on archaeology and the study of human remains and history.

Humankind goes back for many thousands of years. How do we know that? We know that because archaeologists have been studying how human beings lived many years ago by digging up the past and examining it.

While you explore the article, Archeology for Kids, by the National Park Service, on a piece of paper make a list of key words and phrases that are associated with archaeology. Learning vocabulary about a new concept can help explain it and make it more concrete for you. Your list should be at least eight or more words. Be sure to click on each of the tabs in this website and read the information.

How many vocabulary words did you write down? Did you write down the following words? —

Dig, dirt, clues, past, story-telling, sites, collections, excavate, tools, puzzle, artifacts, research

When an archaeologist finds an artifact, it is extracted from the ground very carefully with special tools. These tools look like this:

archaeology tools

The pieces of history that are discovered by archaeologists are like puzzle pieces that explain how the Earth has changed over time. The information that is discovered by digging out artifacts helps lead human beings to how culture has changed, and how our ancestors lived. Their discoveries shape our world and help historians write history books and help explain how cultures have changed over hundreds of years.

In the Got It? section, you will use those vocabulary words to create your own explanation of what archaeologists do and how archaeology works.

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