Archaeologists learn about the human past by studying the materials people left behind. Those materials include artifacts and other physical traces of a past human presence on the landscape. Some of these traces may be visible on the surface of the ground; others are buried and require excavation or special detection methods to be observed and studied.
Documentation—in both the field and lab—is an essential part of the research process. Accurate, detailed recording of observations allows archaeologists to construct extensive data sets that can be examined, reexamined, and shared with others.