3D scan of a whiteware plate fragment with a blue transfer “Waverly” print from Historic Washington State Park Collection, 1992-1273-79-1-2.

Madelyn Rose (Assistant Registrar, Arkansas Archeological Survey)
"Archeology is..." series - January 2024

Archeology and art history are two distinct disciplines that share certain commonalities in their study of human culture, but they differ in their approaches, sources of evidence, and objectives.
Archeology is multidisciplinary, incorporating aspects of anthropology, history, geology, and other fields. It studies various aspects of human life, including social organization, technology, economy, and belief systems. Art history places a strong emphasis on the study of artistic styles, aesthetics, iconography, and the cultural significance of artworks. It often examines the role of artists, patrons, and institutions in shaping artistic production.
3D scan of an effigy bottle from the Museum of Discovery Collection, 2011-502-90.
Art history primarily focuses on the study of artistic expression and aesthetic forms throughout history. It examines various art movements, styles, and individual artists, analyzing their techniques, themes, and cultural significance. Art historians employ visual analysis, historical research, and interpretation of artworks to understand their context and meaning within a broader cultural and historical framework. They often rely on written documents, artistic theories, and critical discourse to supplement their analysis of artworks.
In contrast, archeology is concerned with the study of past human societies through the analysis of material remains. It aims to reconstruct and understand various aspects of past human societies, including social organization, economic systems, technological advancements, and religious beliefs. Archeologists employ scientific methods such as excavation, surveying, and dating techniques to uncover and analyze artifacts, architecture, and other physical remnants. They study the spatial distribution of artifacts, patterns of cultural change, and the interconnections between different societies.
Despite these differences, archeology and art history can intersect and complement each other. For example, archeological discoveries can provide valuable insights into the historical context of artworks, while art historical analysis can enhance our understanding of the cultural significance and intention behind artifacts. Archeology and art history share some similarities in their study of human creativity and cultural expression. Both archeology and art history focus on material culture, albeit with different approaches. Archeology studies artifacts, structures, and landscapes to understand past human societies, while art history examines artworks as expressions of cultural values, aesthetics, and artistic traditions. Both disciplines employ visual analysis as a primary method of study. Archeologists and art historians closely examine and analyze the visual characteristics of objects, whether it’s the brushstrokes on a painting or the construction techniques of a historic structure. Archeology and art history are concerned with the preservation and conservation of cultural heritage. They contribute to the identification, documentation, and protection of important artworks, cultural artifacts and sites for future generations.

“Archeology is…” Series Information

In this series we plan to highlight the many and various things that Are Archeology, from Art to Zoology and everything in between. We hope you enjoy learning a bit more about the variety of things that archeologists do and specialize in and maybe it will inspire you to be an archeologist even if you love learning about things in another field. You can find all the entries here.