Dig Deeper Blog,  Exhibits

Dig Deeper: What Is Archaeology?

Dig Deeper is a monthly blog focusing on the basics of archaeology by taking a closer look at the exhibition Archaeology 101, which is currently featured at the Center.

What is Archaeology?

Archaeology is the study of human history, prehistory, and past cultures through the excavation of sites and the analysis of material remains. Archaeology is important. By studying and exploring the cultures that came before us, our understanding of the past becomes even more comprehensive.

What is an Artifact?

An artifact is an object that was made or used by a human. Additionally, archaeologists study ecofacts. An ecofact is any object that indicates human activity, like an animal bone that has signs of butchering, or a sea shell that was used for food.

What Do Archaeologists Study?

Artifacts and ecofacts become buried over time, and archaeologists must recover them carefully so that they can be identified and studied. By studying the remains of human history, archaeologists can recreate aspects from past cultures that tell us how and why people lived the way that they did. One artifact can indicate many details that increase our knowledge of the past. The location of the found artifact also may indicate details about the past that archaeologists can learn from. There are many pieces to the puzzle, but each is an important clue and may indicate gender, age, cultural and societal aspects, ethnicity, technology, and other qualities that will help increase our understanding of past cultures.

How Has Archaeology Changed?

Archaeology has gone through many changes in recent years. Excavating by hand is still done in the field, but with new technologies and advancements, archaeologists are able to use computers, satellites, drone technology, and software to dig deeper into the mysteries of time unlike ever before.

Types of Archaeology

There are many different types of archaeology. From environmental archaeology, which focuses on the environmental conditions of specific time periods, to marine or underwater archaeology where material remains found below sea level are uncovered and examined, there are many different specialties within and archaeologists may focus their careers on one or more of these areas. Additionally, archaeologists frequently work closely with scientists from other disciplines, such as geologists and botanists. By doing so, the information gathered during a project can be researched and developed by specialists in their field and this makes the newly uncovered knowledge stronger and tells a more complete story about the past.

Archaeological Sites in San Diego County

In San Diego County, there are more than 34,000 recorded prehistoric and historic archaeological sites. These sites cover a time span of approximately 10,000 years of past San Diego human history. San Diego County has been able to protect and preserve these sites because of important California and federal laws that help protect cultural resources.

Laws to Protect Archaeological Sites

  • CEQA: The California Environmental Quality Act of 1970 requires developers to evaluate potential development sites for natural or cultural resources. If natural or cultural resources are discovered, the developer must avoid, cover, or excavate to preserve these places.
  • ARPA: The Archaeological Resource Protection Act of 1979 governs the excavation of archaeological sites on federal and Indigenous lands in the United States and forbids the removal of collections from these sites.


Archaeology is the study of artifacts or material remains that were left behind by previous generations. But how do archaeologists know where to dig? How are stone tools made? Each week, this blog will dig deeper into this fascinating world of archaeology by explaining many of these basic principles that define archaeology as we know it today. Next month, we will explore the different types of tools that archaeologists use during excavations in the field and after, once they are brought into the lab.

By Jessica McPheters, Collections Manager

Learn More

Archaeology 101 Exhibit
Dr. Arty Fax’s Archy Facts


Volunteers work in the Center’s Research Library, cataloguing materials and organizing on a computer-based system.

Marketing and Administrative Volunteers assist the Development Office or Administration Office with data entry, updating marketing materials and clerical tasks. Computer experience is a plus.

Docents welcome visitors and answer general questions regarding the Center and exhibits. Docents staff the gift shop and help out with administrative and curatorial tasks.

Volunteers support event activities at the Center, such as the Annual BBQ, lectures, workshops, and fundraising events. Be a part of the party!

Volunteer provide support for K-12 programs offered at the Center. These are fun, hands-on programs that kids really enjoy. Teaching experience is a plus, but not required. Background checks are required.


With the assistance of Center staff, the intern will use photogrammetry to prepare one or more archaeological collections for digital preservation, as well as create a virtual museum exhibit for our Public Archaeology department. Per approval, special projects of the intern’s choosing are also available. During the research and planning, the intern will receive guidance as appropriate to their selected project. Prospective interns should already be familiar with photogrammetric procedures, and Agisoft Metashape.

Collections Management

With the assistance of Center staff, the intern will prepare one or more archaeological collections for curation. During the course of the internship, the intern will learn to identify artifacts and ecofacts common to the San Diego region, including lithics, ceramics, historical objects, and faunal, botanical, and mineral specimens. Center staff will instruct the intern on archaeological laboratory procedures such as basic artifact analysis, manual and computer cataloguing, storage requirements, and preventative conservation. In addition, the intern will become familiar with historical trends in archaeological practice in the San Diego area and will be introduced to current legal and ethical issues in archaeological curation as well as the concerns and rights of culturally affiliated groups with regard to archaeological materials.

Development and Marketing

Under the direction of Center staff, the intern will support the department in various activities, including, but not limited to, fundraising and grant research; e-newsletter development; social media marketing; and website maintenance. This internship will give the intern valuable, real-world experience in non-profit fundraising and marketing.

Geographical Information Systems in Archaeology

Prospective Interns must have completed three courses: Introduction to GIS, GIS Database Management, and Intermediate/Advanced Methods in GIS. The intern will be assigned a project where they will create shapefiles and maps for curated archaeological collections, museum exhibits, and/or public outreach using ArcGIS 10.6. Center staff will instruct the intern on archaeological GIS laboratory procedures such as computer cataloguing, storage requirements, and database management.

Library Science

With the assistance of Center staff, the intern will arrange and catalog materials in the Center’s library. During the course of the internship, the intern will take a leading role in the cataloging, sorting and storing of research files and creating user guides for these collections. Center staff will instruct the intern on archival procedures, computer cataloging, storage requirements, and preventative conservation.

Public Archaeology

Harness your passion for Public Archaeology and gain hands-on experience with K-12 museum field trips, lectures, and public outreach. Additional projects may include creating virtual museum exhibits and activities, assisting in the development and implementation of K-12 curricula programs, planning and presenting public facing content, or educational field trip content of your own design. Must be able to pass a Live Scan.