Archaeology is the scientific study of the human past. It is the means whereby we are able to extend our knowledge of human history beyond the limits of written records. In eastern North America, written history goes back only a few centuries; and, throughout the world, inscriptions on stone and clay tablets are only a few millennia old. Such meager records encompass only a small fraction of the human story. Archaeology gives us access to the entire spectrum of human experience, spanning more than 14,000 years in North America and several million years in Africa. This enormous time depth offers the potential to study long-term cultural processes, such as the rise and fall of civilizations, and the opportunity to learn the lessons of countless cultures. Recovering this knowledge may prove vital to our own survival. For examples, see Jared Diamond’s book Collapse and David Stuart’s book Anasazi America.
Even if the lessons learned do not turn out to have such an immediate and practical value, filling in the blank pages of Ohio's and the world's history is an intrinsically worthwhile endeavor. Moreover, historical archaeology can supplement or clarify the knowledge gleaned from more traditional histories. Finally, by increasing our understanding and appreciation of the achievements of ancient cultures archaeology can provide a significant boost to heritage tourism.
For a defense of archaeology as a career, check out my blog post on Retrieving Lost Stories.