10 Analysis Essay Topics on the Archeological Record

Topics and ideas
Posted on December 28, 2016

While the field of archaeology can sometimes feel bone dry and difficult to write about, you’d be surprised how many interesting things there are to say about the archaeological record. With a little help on which facts to include in your essay writing, you’ll be inspired in no time.

In this first guide, we include ten facts on the archaeological record that could be incorporated into an analysis essay, as well as the sources from which these facts are drawn. An essay is only as strong as the facts that it incorporates, so by using this guide you’ll be well on your way to an effective analysis essay.

Our second guide outlines 20 topics for an analysis essay on the archaeological record, giving you ideas for how to weave together the facts included below. We also provide a sample essay on the archaeological record in order for you to see a model of how these different topics could be organized into a full analysis essay.

Our third and final guide provides a set of instructions and tips for creating an analysis essay on the archaeological record. With help on the actual academic structure of your analysis essay, producing an outline and a full-length essay will come much more easily.

So let’s get started! Here are ten verified facts on the archaeological record.

  1. The archaeological record includes anything that people have created or modified. This record is used in order to study past cultures and recreate to the best of our ability the lives that people lived in those past cultures and the conditions in which they lived those lives. The knowledge gained from studying the archaeological record gives us the opportunity to appreciate, preserve, and collectively share our common human heritage.
  2. The archaeological record, generally speaking, consists of the artifacts, residues, and other general remains of past cultures that have been discovered by archaeologists. More specifically, as is noted by famed archaeology professor Brian Fagan,2 the archaeological record often consists of those things that have been discarded or otherwise abandoned: garbage, scraps, litter, and anything that has been worn out, broken down, or left. Those things that were prized and used heavily often leave no remains.
  3. Archaeology attempts to discover past human culture. This refers to the characteristics specific to a particular civilization at a particular time, including the behaviors, beliefs, norms, and living style of that specific social group. The archaeological record cannot discover this directly, and instead represents what is called material culture.1 The material culture of a particular people group, in the absence of written language, is the best approximation we have of the culture of past human societies.
  4. As described in a 2013 book by professor Gavin Lucas called Understanding the Archaeological Record,3 there is currently a theoretical divide on how we should consider the truthfulness of the archaeological record. On one side sit the so-called “naïve empiricists,” who claim that the archaeological record is constituted purely by those things that have remained from past cultures and is truth given to archaeologists to discover. On the other side sit the “social constructivists,” who claim that that the archaeological record is a construction that archaeologists have created that may not necessarily represent the truth.
  5. As mentioned above, the archaeological record is generally defined as the historical legacy of those material things that people have acted upon. However, as argued in an article by Michael Water and David Kuehn,4 the archaeological record is also shaped by the same forces that act upon the landscape itself. Processes like erosion, severe weather, plate tectonics, natural disasters, and many other geological forces are constantly at work on the information preserved in the archaeological record.
  6. The archaeological record is always suspect to contamination and vandalism, whether intentional or accidental. According to an article published online,5 in various Middle Eastern countries it is becoming common practice to loot historically relevant sites and sell those items that are found for profit. Professional looters in the Americas are often referred to as “pot hunters.” Vandals who take pleasure in destroying valuable things are also in part responsible for the destruction of parts of the archaeological record.
  7. As described above, archaeology is best described as the study of the archaeological record. Therefore, any occupation dedicated to understanding the archaeological record falls under the professional heading of “archaeology.” However, in a quasi-experimental study published by archaeologist Ryan Sneiderman,6 it was demonstrated that a large percentage of people do not understand what archaeologists do, associating their work with fictional characters such as Indiana Jones.
  8. Addressing the idea that professional archaeologists do not live the life that characters like Indiana Jones portray in the movies, researchers Amy Ollendorf and Ian Burrow published a review of demographic information on professional archaeologists who joined the Register of Professional Archaeologists.7 Their results demonstrated that Registered Professional Archaeologists granted licensure from the years 2010-2012 included individuals from over 60 different fields of study, and were employed in a variety of different professions falling under the broad categories of private, academic, and government cultural resource management.
  9. Given the fragility of the archaeological record described above, archaeologists actively work towards ensuring the safety and preservation of sites that hold parts of the archaeological record. In a 2000 article, William Lipe,8 an anthropologist at Washington State University, argued that the conservation of major archaeological sites is necessary to prevent the illegal excavation and misappropriation of antiquities. Lipe argued that laws and governing bodies should be put in place to balance the economic interests that incentivize the destruction of sites central to the archaeological record.
  10. The artifacts and materials that represent the archaeological record differ widely on their age, location, size, and state of preservation. Different branches of archaeology are necessary for dealing with different parts of the archaeological record. Each branch may utilize different research techniques, may take interest in different time periods, and may represent different groups of scholars and archaeology professionals. These branches include prehistoric archaeologists, historical archaeologists, industrial archaeologists, ethno archaeologists, environmental archaeologists, experimental archaeologists, underwater archaeologists, and other branches defined by a particular time period.1

We hope these facts help you nail your assignment. Make sure to also check our guide on how to write an analysis essay on the archaeological record.


  1. Education Department, AIA (n.d.). Archaeology 101. Retrieved October 30, 2016, from https://www.archaeological.org/pdfs/education/Arch101.2.pdf
  2. Fagan, B. M. (1994). Quest for the Past: Great Discoveries in Archaeology. Waveland Press Inc.
  3. Lucas, Gavin. (2012). Understanding the Archaelogical Record. Cambridge University Press.
  4. Waters, M. R., & Kuehn, D. D. (1996). The Geoarchaeology of Place: The Effect of Geological Processes on the Preservation and Interpretation of the Archaeological Record. American Antiquity, 483-497.
  5. Ojibwa, B. (2015, January 11). The Archaeological Record. Retrieved October 31, 2016, from http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/11/1/1443070/-The-Archaeological-Record
  6. Seidemann, R. M. (2013). Maybe Indiana Jones Isn’t So Bad After All. SAA Archaeological Record, 23.
  7. Ollendorf, A. L., & Burrow, I. C. (2013). The Register of Professional Archaologists. SAA Archaeological record, 40.
  8. Lipe, William D. (2000). Conserving the In Situ Archaeological Record. Conservation: The Getty Conservation Institute Newsletter 15(1):17-20.
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