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Topic – Learning About the Past

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Learning About the Past

Experts are always trying to learn more about history—what happened in the past. Historians and archaeologists are experts that investigate the past in different ways.

How Do Historians Investigate the Past?

Thomas Butler Gunn Diaries, December 15, 1857

Historians mostly use information that was written down by people in the past. A historian can discover useful information in many different kinds of writing. For example, historians might use letters people wrote, words carved into stone, or speeches people made that were written down.

vintage map of the world, 1778

Historians can also learn useful information from pictures created in the past. For example, a historian might learn where an explorer travelled by looking at maps the explorer drew.

How Do Archaeologists Investigate the Past?

Archaeological Digging Site:  Cleaning Cultural Artifacts with Brushes and Tools

Archaeologists learn about the past by studying objects from the past. These objects might be very large, such as a building, or small enough to fit in the palm of a hand, such as an earring or a tooth.

Over hundreds or thousands of years, objects from the past may slowly be buried by dirt or sand that settles on top of them. To find objects from the past, archaeologists usually have to dig. The hard part is knowing where to dig to find these old objects. The surface of the land may not give archaeologists any clues about where important objects have become buried.

Archaeologist carefully handles the discovery – part of a medieval clay vessel.

Archaeologists study the objects they find to learn more about how people lived in the past. You might be surprised how much an archaeologist can learn about how people lived by studying just one object.

Working Together

Historians and archaeologists often share information. For example, an archaeologist might dig up many pieces of old weapons in a particular spot. A historian might know from written records what battle took place there, and why two groups were fighting.

By investigating the past in different ways, historians and archaeologists have helped us learn much more about the history of Canada and our world.


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