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How do you make an archaeologist really mad, really fast? Ask her if she’s found any dinosaurs. SciShow helps you Know Your Scientists by explaining the many differences between archaeology and paleontology, and how they’re each awesome in their own ways.

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Do you want to know how to make an archaeologist really mad, really fast? Ask her about the dinosaurs she's found.    People use catch-all, shorthand terms for things all the time, even in science. Like, we might refer to one kind of physicist as an astronomer, even if he's never set his eye to an eyepiece because the calculations that he works on have to do with the motions of stars and galaxies.    It's just easier for people to understand when you're at a cocktail party, and it's basically accurate, so no harm done. But, to use archaeology as a synonym for the study of dinosaurs and fossils and forms of ancient life, which actually called paleontology, is not lazy shorthand, it's wrong.   While the two disciplines do have some very basic principles in common, mixing up archaeology with paleontology is sort of like taking your sick kid to a wildlife biologist for a diagnosis, or ordering a birthday cake from a chemist. People might understand why you've made that mistake, but they would also tell you that you are way off.    So let me help you know your scientists. Archaeology, first of all, is the study of the human past through material remains. Not human remains at least the majority of the time, but through the traces that people have left behind in the process of living their lives. Those things could be artifacts, basically any objects that a human made or used, or features, things that people made that can't be moved, like a wall or a ditch or an old hearth full of charcoal.    Paleontology, by contrast, deals with the even more distant past; it's the study of ancient life of all kinds, mostly but not always by investigating fossils, the mineralized remains of living things.    It kind of makes sense that the two fields are often confused for each other because they both use science to understand history, and they both involve a lot of digging.    In fact, the main thing that archaeology and paleontology have in common is the basic understanding that the deeper down you dig below earth's surface, the farther back in time you go. The surface of the earth is always reworking itself, after all, whether it's because of plants dying and turning into topsoil, or volcanic eruptions covering everything in ash, or floods laying down new layers of sediment. That's why both archaeologists and paleontologists are trained in the science of reading these layers, a branch of geology called stratigraphy.    But that's about where the similarities end, because archaeologists and paleontologists explore the strata of earth at different depths, looking for different things. You might not have to dig too far to find, like, stone spear points from a few thousand years ago, but to reach back further into the past and find a fossil of a Pteranodon, you got to get into older layers of earth.   So archaeologists study human history, but humans have been around a long time, and we've left a lot of history lying around, so it makes sense that there are different kinds of archaeology.    Since most of our history hasn't been written down, a lot of archaeologists study prehistory. Now prehistory doesn't mean before there was history; obviously there's always been history, but simply a time before historical events were documented, either in writing or in oral traditions that can help us understand what we find in the ground.    So the investigation of cultures that thrived before they fixed their history into words, is prehistoric archaeology. The stone age dwellers of the Levant, the hunter-gatherers of America, even the cultures that created Stonehenge and the great houses of Chaco Canyon all fit into this category.    But even after historical records started to become a thing, there were still lots of gaps for us to fill in. So historical archaeology is dedicated to exploring the lives of people who lived during recorded history. Classical archaeology, for example, focuses on ancient western cultures like those of Greece and Rome. Industrial archaeology explores old ways of engineering, mining and manufacturing. There's even a whole sub-field of maritime archaeology, which just investigates shipwrecks.    None of these fields, you'll notice, involve raiding tombs or snatching golden idols from booby-trapped chambers, or punching Nazis.    Archaeologists just like to dig and find stuff, and more often than not, leave them where they found them. Paleontology is just as diverse.    As soon as I mention fossils, you probably go straight to thinking about dinosaurs, and yeah, lots of paleontologists study dinosaurs, but there are even more who study other kinds of ancient life, salamanders as big as people, sloths as big as bears, winged reptiles the size of giraffes.    All of these animals were once real and are now extinct, and they fall under the umbrella of paleontology. Not to mention all the other forms of life like invertebrates like insects and mollusks and plants and all manner of microscopic life.    There are even fields devoted expressly to the study of things like pollen and ancient animal tracks.   So, next time you're at a cocktail party and somebody says they're and archaeologist, ask them about what sites, artifacts or features they're working on. Maybe ask whether they do historic or prehistoric archaeology, or if they work in the ground or underwater.  Just please, for the love of Pete, do not mention dinosaurs or Nazis.    Thanks for watching this SciShow Dose, brought to you by our patrons on Patreon who help make SciShow possible. If you want to help us keep making videos like this, you can go to, and if you want to keep getting smarter with us, you can go to and subscribe.