Skip To Content

Athabasca University


Archaeology provides a unique link between the diverse cultures of the past and our cultures today. This sub-discipline of anthropology helps us understand not only where and when people lived on the earth, but also why and how they have lived. Archaeologists examine the changes and causes of changes that have occurred in human cultures over time, seeking to identify and understand patterns of activity. To conduct archaeology means to study ancient and not-so-ancient human behaviour through investigation of the archaeological record: the excavation and documentation of archaeological sites, and analysis of material remains (artifacts, features, and ecofacts) found in context (i.e. the relationship that artifacts have to each other and the situation in which they are encountered).

Anthropologist Dr. Meaghan Peuramaki-Brown on site

AU Faculty member, Dr. Meaghan Peuramaki-Brown, documenting an ancient Maya building platform (ca. 250-900 AD) in Belize, Central America. (Photo by Marla Peuramaki, 2010.) (left)

Anthropologist Sheila Greaves on site

AU Faculty member, Dr. Sheila Greaves, excavating a possible pithouse site in Jasper National Park, on the east bank of the Athabasca River. (Photo by Gwyn Langemann, Parks Canada.) (left)

From million-year-old fossilized remains of our earliest human ancestors in Africa, to the Victorian era building located just down the street from your home, archaeologists analyze the physical remains of the past in pursuit of both broad and detail-specific understandings of human culture. These pursuits are typically classified into two main subfields:

  • Prehistoric Archaeology: The study of past cultures that did not have written language.
  • Historical Archaeology: The study of past cultures that existed (and may still) during the period of recorded history, which can be several thousands of years in areas such as the Near East.

Some additional subfields:

  • Underwater Archaeology: The study of the physical remains of human activity that lie beneath the surface of oceans, lakes, rivers, and wetlands.
  • Urban Archaeology: The study of the material past of urban centres.
  • Bioarchaeology: The study of human remains recovered from archaeological sites.
  • Cultural Resource Management Archaeology: The vocation and practice of managing cultural resources, including the investigation and salvage of archaeological sites and materials that are threatened by destruction due to modern development projects.

AU Archaeology Courses

In addition to the theoretical understandings, practical tools, and specific knowledge of the discipline, archaeology students acquire the following skills:

  • Deal with diverse society.
  • Work in teams.
  • Work carefully and patiently.
  • Assimilate and communicate information.
  • Solve problems.
  • Make logical deductions.
  • Analyze scientific evidence.
  • Write reports.
  • Deal with disappointment.

Updated March 18 2015 by Student & Academic Services

AU, CANADA'S OPEN UNIVERSITY, is an internationally recognized leader in online and distance learning.