Archaeology, or archeology (from Greek ἀρχαιολογία, archaiologia – ἀρχαῖος, arkhaios, "ancient"; and -λογία, -logia, "-logy"), is the study of human activity in the past, primarily through the recovery and analysis of the material culture and environmental data that they have left behind, which includes artifacts, architecture, biofacts and cultural landscapes (the archaeological record). Because archaeology employs a wide range of different procedures, it can be considered to be both a science and a humanity, and in the United States it is thought of as a branch of anthropology, although in Europe it is viewed as a separate discipline.
Archaeology studies human prehistory and history from the development of the first stone tools in eastern Africa 3.4 million years ago up until recent decades. (Archaeology does not include the discipline of paleontology.) It is of most importance for learning about prehistoric societies, when there are no written records for historians to study, making up over 99% of total human history, from the Palaeolithic until the advent of literacy in any given society. Archaeology has various goals, which range from studying human evolution to cultural evolution and understanding culture history.
The discipline involves surveyance, excavation and eventually analysis of data collected to learn more about the past. In broad scope, archaeology relies on cross-disciplinary research. It draws upon anthropology, history, art history, classics, ethnology, geography, geology, linguistics, semiology, physics, information sciences, chemistry, statistics, paleoecology, paleontology, paleozoology, paleoethnobotany, and paleobotany.
Archaeology developed out of antiquarianism in Europe during the 19th century, and has since become a discipline practiced across the world. Since its early development, various specific sub-disciplines of archaeology have developed, including maritime archaeology, feminist archaeology and archaeoastronomy, and numerous different scientific techniques have been developed to aid archaeological investigation. Nonetheless, today, archaeologists face many problems, ranging from dealing with pseudoarchaeology to the looting of artifacts and opposition to the excavation of human remains.
The purpose of archaeology is to learn more about past societies and the development of the human race. Over 99% of the history of humanity has occurred within prehistoric cultures, who did not make use of writing, thereby not leaving written records about themselves that we can study today. Without such written sources, the only way to learn about prehistoric societies is to use archaeology. Many important developments in human history occurred during prehistory, including the evolution of humanity during the Palaeolithic period, when the hominins developed from the australopithecines through to the early homos in Africa and finally into modern Homo sapiens. Archaeology also sheds light on many of humanity's technological advances, for instance the ability to use fire, the development of stone tools, the discovery of metallurgy, the beginnings of religion and the creation of agriculture. Without archaeology, we would know little or nothing about the use of material culture by humanity that pre-dates writing.