In a narrow sense, Archaeology examines material legacies in order to analyse living conditions of human societies through the ages, their nature and their evolution. It thus consists of a broad study of material culture. According to this understanding, the study of the diverse textual evidence from various cultural periods is not part of Archaeology, but rather of several neighbouring disciplines belonging to ancient studies (Ancient Near Eastern Philology, Egyptology, Classical Philology, Ancient History, etc.).
In a broader sense, however, Archaeology is aimed at tackling both the infrastructure and superstructure of human societies and can thus also be used as an umbrella term for all disciplines that generally deal with the cultural and social history of humankind, and its global environment. This is the understanding of Archaeology that ARWA pursues and emphasizes. Our aim is to contribute to reviving the semantics of the term as it was commonly used among ancient Greek scholars who, from Hellanikos of Lesbos and Hippias of Elis (see Plato, Hippias maior, 285 d-e), to Strabo (11.14.12), Diodorus of Sicily (2.46.6), and Dionysius of Halicarnassus (1.4.2), used it to refer either to the science of the past (as we intend here) or else to antiquarian lore.
Archaeology covers an immense period of time worldwide, from the Palaeolithic up to modern times, and consequently deals with very different cultural regions. Depending on the respective area and cultural level, the remains studied also diverge considerably. For this reason, numerous specialized domains of Archaeology emerged shortly after the founding of Archaeology as a university and academic discipline. In addition to the orientation towards epochs (e.g. Medieval Archaeology) or regions (e.g. Near Eastern Archaeology), there is also specialization in various subject areas (e.g. Underwater Archaeology, Industrial Archaeology). In the definition used by ARWA, Archaeology encompasses the following main (and non-exclusive) branches of knowledge and research:
- Archaeology stricto sensu (Land, Underwater, Landscape, Survey, Remote Sensing),
- Art History & Visual Studies,
- Heritage (Protection, Conservation, Restoration, Museology),
- Environmental Studies,
- Bioarchaeology (Archaeobotany, Archaeozoology, Isotopic Studies, Biological Anthropology, DNA Research),
- Physics applied to Archaeology & Dating Methods,
- Digital Practices & Computer Sciences.