Exploring Ways of Knowing

How do we know about the past?

A tapestry created by Emperor Qianlong to express his concern for people suffering famine and homelessness from floods in China.

Watch the video below to learn from a real archaeologist about what methods we can use to discover clues about the past. Field Museum Anthropology curator Gary Feinman shares information about his field work and research, and why he is interested in studying the past through survey and excavation archaeology.

As you watch, consider the following questions:

  • What is the difference between excavation and survey archaeology? 
  • Why might gaps in evidence exist? How could this skew our understanding?
  • In what ways can we ensure a fuller picture of the past?
  • Can we really know about the past from things left behind?
  • Can we describe the past accurately through objects?
  • What do we miss when we rely solely on objects?
  • What can we do about gaps in archaeological records?

If you are not able to watch the video in the viewer below, navigate to Vimeo to watch, then come back to continue working through this resource kit.

Survey and excavation archaeology are powerful tools to discover about the past, or Ways of Knowing.

In the next two activities, explore two ways Way of Knowing: A technique scientists have devised to determine construction dates of structures built in the past, and knowing about the past through oral histories and ancestral knowledge.