The word "考古" (Archaeology) arose long ago in the Chinese vocabulary. Lü Dalin in the 7th year of the reign of Emperor Yuanyou the Northern Song dynasty (1092 CE), compiled a catalogue on antiquities, entitled "考古圖" (Kao Gu Tu); however, archaeology at that time was intended to find and classify ancient artefacts1 and had a different meaning from what it currently has. The term "Archaeology", deriving from the Greek «Αρχαιολογία», a word composed of «άρχαΐοs» (meaning antiquity and ancient things) and «λóγοs» (meaning science, knowledge), originally referred to the study of ancient history2. Only after the 18th century did it refer generally to the study of all antiquities and monuments3.
Archaeology, nowadays, is a science dedicated to the study of past societies and cultures, through the recovery and analysis of archaeological remains, such as features and artefacts, known as "material culture".
Material culture includes, for example, stone tools, pottery, porcelain, metal, jewellery, tools, as well as biofacts or ecofacts, such as animal bones, charcoal, remains of plants and pollen, among others. With the in-depth study of the archaeological finds, we can learn more about how people lived in the past and about the various phases of human development. One of the main stages in archaeology is the gathering of archaeological remains, and the principal method is the development of prospective excavation works. However, before an archaeological excavation takes place, it is important to carry out a preliminary study of the site, based on numerous techniques and scientific methods available, being crucial the gathering of relevant historical data and respective analysis, supported by different types of archival supports and materials, such as, documents, images and maps. In this way, we can learn more about the site intended for excavation, which also provides a good basis for the preliminary intervention and study plan, also aiding the preparation of the following stages. During the excavation process, all archaeological finds and structures are carefully exposed and systematically recorded, according to certain scientific methods, which include recording the respective spatial and stratigraphic location, therefore enabling archaeologists to estimate a period of time and correlate the remains with various human activities or livelihoods. After an excavation is completed, all archaeological finds collected from the site are catalogued for research purposes, with the aim of gathering information that explains the way people lived in the past.
1) Zhang Guangzhi, 《考古學專題六講》(Six Lectures on Archaeology), 2nd edition, Taipei: Daw Shiang Publishing, 1993, pp. 53-54;
2) Xia Nai and Wang Zhongshu, 《中國大百科全書‧考古學》(Encyclopaedia of China‧Archaeology), Beijing: Encyclopedia of China Publishing House, 1994, p.1-4; Thomas, Julian, “Archaeology and Modernity”. Routledge. E-book. ISBN 0-203-49111-4. 2004. Pp. 1-4;
3) He Xianwu and Wang Qiuhua, 《中國文物考古辭典》(Archaeological Dictionary of Chinese Cultural Relics), Liaoning: Liaoning Science and Technology Press, 1993, p.1.