Historians must then interpret the evidence and explain what it means. Often, the historian's goal is to determine the causes of a certain event, such as a war or an economic collapse. By explaining why things occurred in the past, historians can help us understand current events and, possibly, what might happen in the future.

Generally, historians try to give a straightforward account of events. However, personal experiences, cultural backgrounds, or political opinions sometimes affect their interpretations. Other times, historians disagree with one another about what the evidence proves. Such differences can lead to lively debates.

The first historians began writing thousands of years ago. Early historians wrote mostly about the deeds of well-known people, such as kings and queens, or about great battles. Their histories were generally about political events.

Today, historians still write about political events. Yet other historians study the lives of ordinary people, They study social or economic history at the local level. How did workers earn a living? What was family life like? How were women or children treated? The answers to these and other questions increase our understanding of the past.

Investigating Prehistory

The study of prehistory began in the 1800s, when scholars and scientists started to investigate the age of the Earth and the life it supported. They developed fascinating new fields of study that shed light on people and their lives, from prehistoric times to the present.

The Field of Anthropology

Since ancient times, people have been interested in the study of their own and other societies. By the mid-1800s, thinkers had begun the organized study of anthropology, or the study of humans, past and present. Anthropologists wanted to learn about the origins and development of people and their societies.

Anthropology includes all aspects of human life in all parts of the world. This field of study is so huge that modern anthropologists specialize. For example, some anthropologists study the bones of our ancestors to understand how physical traits changed over time. Others focus on the characteristics of human culture.

In anthropology, culture refers to the way of life of a society, which includes its beliefs, values, and practices. Culture is handed down from one generation to the next through learning and experience.

The Field of Archaeology

Another branch of anthropology is archaeology (ahr kee AHL uh jee). Archaeology is the study of past people and cultures through their material remains. These remains include artifacts such as tools, weapons, pottery, clothing, and jewelry. Buildings and tombs are other remains that reveal much to archaeologists. Some archaeologists specialize in the study of prehistoric people, while others look at artifacts from historical times.

By analyzing artifacts, archaeologists learn about the beliefs, values, and activities of our ancestors. Archaeologists recognize that the story of the past is never fully known. Often, they uncover new evidence that causes them to revise their ideas about a culture they are studying.

Archaeologists at Work

Finding and analyzing artifacts can be difficult, but archaeologists have devised useful techniques to help in their work. In the 1800s and early 1900s, archaeologists picked a likely place, called a site, to dig for artifacts. The deeper they dug, the older the artifacts they found.

Photo of woman holding measurement tools standing in a shallow rectangular hole dug in a grassy area, with a large ruler placed against the long side of the hole. A man sitting nearby is using a pencil and ruler to take notes on a piece of paper.

Analyze Information

When researching an archaeological site, scientists use exact measurements. Why do you think archaeologists have to be so precise?

Sometimes, the long-buried objects they found crumbled as soon as they were exposed to light and air.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments