Archaeological sites are repositories of information and knowledge about how humankind has lived, suffered, worshipped, built and destroyed, survived and died. They comprise the physical evidence of our journey on the planet, from the bones and tools of our earliest ancestors millions of years ago to the recent past. Sites are the history books from a past when no written histories existed and a supplement to periods when history was written by the few or the elite. Wherever we have wandered, our species has left traces behind: 3 million-year-old footprints, architectural monuments, post holes, wondrous creations of sculpture, rock art, mosaics and wall paintings and the trash heaps of everyday life. It is this evidence of past lives and endeavours that archaeology brings to light and interprets and that conservation seeks to protect and preserve. Methods of inquiry about the past certainly did not begin with archaeology and do not end there, but for 200 years it has been a principal means of understanding earlier periods. Methods of doing archaeology have evolved, with both science and conservation playing an increasing role, but excavation has always been core to the discipline. William Lipe’s prescient call in the 1970s for a conservation ethic to guide archaeology was a response to the destruction of archaeological sites from development and construction and was intended as an alternative to the ‘exploitative model’ of archaeology in which excavation is central (Lipe, 1974).
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