Archaeologists study the material remains of the human past. In Detroit, archaeologists examine the traces of the city’s changing landscapes and communities – excavated artifacts, building foundations, standing architecture, street layouts, neighborhoods, current residents and descendants of former residents – order to understand the past, reveal the unwritten histories of the city’s historically underrepresented communities, and promote the preservation of Detroit’s diverse cultural heritage.
Historical archaeology is a sub-field and specialization within the discipline of archaeology and anthropology. Historical archaeology connects things with people (and vice versa) by combining information from excavated artifacts, standing buildings, historical documents, and oral histories. Depending on a researcher’s questions, historical archaeology studies can investigate a wide variety of topics relating to daily life in the past, including: the composition and socio-economic statuses of households, foodways, health conditions, impacts of urbanization and industrialization, ethnic and race-based inequality, material culture, and various other themes. Analysis can bring new perspectives to the extant historical record and uncover unwritten histories. These contributions are especially important to present-day groups who wish to better identify with or understand their own personal and community histories. For examples in Detroit, explore the Research Pages tab above. To view Dr. Ryzewski’s Caribbean work on Montserrat click here. Many more examples of historical archaeological research are posted on the Society for Historical Archaeology and Society for American Archaeology webpages.
Contemporary archaeology is defined as a practice that uses archaeological concepts and methodologies to engage critically with extant material remnants in, and of, present-day or very recent societies. As an archaeology “in and of the present” (Harrison 2011), contemporary archaeology is notable for being a politically-engaged cultural practice. Click here for examples and explore the Contemporary Cityscapes pages. Contemporary archaeology shares many similarities with historical archaeology and the two sub-specialties are sometimes inseparable.
Becoming an Archaeologist
Archaeology may seem like an unconventional career path, but its interdisciplinary scope and international focus finds relevance in many professions. Most archaeologists do not work as professors in universities. Instead, the majority of professional archaeologists develop careers in a diverse range of fields, including: cultural resource management, consulting, digital technologies, publishing, mapping (GIS), museums, object conservation, law, urban planning, geophysics, historic preservation, non-profit institutions (e.g., UNESCO, private foundations), and local, state, or federal government agencies (e.g., National Parks Service, Army Corps of Engineers, FBI, State Department). For more information about archaeology training and research at Wayne State, visit the Department of Anthropology’s archaeology webpages.