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Canadian History 11
Methods and Tools Used to Investigate Our Past
There are a number of methods for historians, archaeologists, and anthropologists to
recreate our history. They must often take on the role of detectives; they must look at the
artifacts they discover and decide on their purpose, how they were formed, what type of
technology it was and the age. The following are useful terms when it comes to
understanding the historian’s job:
Primary source: this method uses information from the time the event occurred;
actual articles or stories from eyewitnesses.
Secondary source: this source uses second hand accounts of stories/information
from people who are reporting, researching, or just retelling the event or information.
Anthropology: the study of human beings, in particular the study of their physical
character, evolutionary history, racial classification, historical and present-day
geographic distribution, group relationships, and cultural history. Anthropology can be
characterized as the naturalistic description and interpretation of the diverse
peoples of the world. Archaeology is a branch of anthropology.
Archaeology: the scientific study of the material remains of past human life and
activities. These include human artifacts from the very earliest bones and stone tools
to the man-made objects that are buried or thrown away in the present day.
Archaeological investigations are a principal source of knowledge of prehistoric,
ancient, and extinct cultures. The materials that are archaeology's subject of
research and study include everything made or used by human beings: tools, utensils,
weapons, ornaments, buildings, settlements, monuments, and inscriptions.
Legend: traditional story or group of stories told about a particular person or place.
Legends resemble folktales in content; they may include supernatural beings, elements
of mythology, or explanations of natural phenomena, but they are associated with a
particular locality or person and are told as a matter of history.
Myth: a story, usually of unknown origin and at least partially traditional, that relates
actual events to explain some practice, belief, institution, or natural phenomenon, and
that is especially associated with religious rites and beliefs.
Forensics: the science used to gather information from fingerprints, insects, DNA,
hair, blood traces etc. Scientists can study and perform tests on ancient skeletons
(such as the Kennewick Man) to determine important information that will help
historians more accurately interpret and understand the past.
Carbon-14 Dating: all organic matter (material that was once part of a living thing)
contains a certain amount of radioactive carbon. Once the living thing dies, the
quantity of this radioactive carbon it contains begins to diminish at a constant rate. In
5730 years, the organism will have lost ½ of its original amount of carbon-14. Using
this information, dating can be determined for organic matter up to about 50 000
years old.
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