People have been curious about the past since the earliest beginnings of time. They have found artifacts from previous generations, and unearthed monuments, and even cities built by people that left no known written history. Thousands of years ago, some of these cities and tombs were unearthed, out of curiosity, but eventually they were mostly plundered for whatever riches could be found. While a few historians kept what records they could on the past, the actual scientific field of archaeology is relatively new in the history of the world.
Early archaeology was haphazard at best compared to the skillful and meticulous methods used today. Sites were excavated quickly to glean what valuables or historic items could be found, and record keeping was minimal. By 1738, a more scientific approach was employed by Marcello Venuti, an expert in antiquities. Venuti was commissioned by King Charles of the Two Sicilies to excavate the city of Herculaneaum. This was the first truly organized and supervised dig and the forerunner of many more to come.
Thomas Jefferson, a man of many interests, excavated an Indian burial mound, but only partially, in order to determine the contents. While he did record his findings in 1781, he did not pursue the investigation. Unfortunately it did inspire others to excavations, and in the United States and Europe alike, Indian mounds and other historical sites were ransacked, destroying many valuable archaeological finds in the process.
Of course, in the world of archaeology, nothing generated more interest than Egypt. In the early 19th century, Napoleon Bonaparte brought an entourage of specialists with him to Egypt to study ancient Egypt. It was during this time that the now famous Rosetta Stone was discovered. It was several decades later, however, until Jean-Francois Champollion deciphered the stone, leading to the interpretation of hieroglyphics.
By the mid 19th century, the study of Egyptology was well under way, as were archaeological findings in England, and other parts of the world. During this time, there were several notable archaeologists who began to refine the process and improve on record keeping, however, several problems remained prevalent. Individual archaeologists, more often than not, amateur historians, and archaeologists, took their finds home with them to their own country.
Today, archaeology is a trained profession, a course of study in universities, and a science. Sites are meticulously maintained and examined, and with the introduction of radiocarbon dating, and mapping techniques, more accurate records are possible.