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in the field and in the laboratory, the methods employed by UCLA's
archaeologists have advanced dramatically. Global-positioning systems
enable researchers to accurately pinpoint excavation sites. Carbon-14
dating allows them to quickly determine the age of artifacts. With
DNA testing, researchers can determine whether skeletons from a
large burial pit belong to the same family, as a current UCLA project
in Turkey seeks to discover.
all of these new techniques, we can ask much more subtle questions,"
says Charles Stanish, associate professor of anthropology and director
of the institute's Andean Laboratory. "Now we can tell what people
ate, what they died from, whether a particular dynasty was endogenous.
The thought of even asking these questions used to be considered
the same time, much about archaeology hasn't changed. "We can use
modern technology to look for anomalies under the ground, but we
still have to excavate in a slow, careful way, and we still have
to make the interpretations," says Leventhal.
fact, much of the emphasis of Cotsen Institute archaeologists is
on qualitative aspects of societies such as religion, ideology,
social structure and politics. "We're asking questions about the
lives of ordinary people," says Morris.
the past, Morris explains, archaeologists were more focused on recovering
glamorous artifacts, lost cities and texts. Today they are more
apt to use the objects to better understand ancient societies -
and to view the artifacts as part of the heritage of present-day
some of the same reasons, conservation has become a major issue
in archaeology. A generation ago, archaeologists would typically
excavate and then backfill, covering up remains once their research
was complete. Today the job also includes preserving the past for
the future. Leventhal, for example, allocated half of his research
budget to preserving the architecture uncovered at his excavation
of a Maya site now visited by 25,000 tourists a year. "We must acknowledge
that we are not just researchers in the field, but also excavators
of people's past," he says.
preservation becoming all-important, the Cotsen Institute will join
with the Getty Trust in offering a master's-degree program in conservation.