Archaeology is an important field of anthropology, which is the broad study of human culture and biology.

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With its focus on the ancient past, archaeology somewhat resembles paleontologythe study of fossils of long-extinct animals, such as dinosaurs.

However, archaeology is distinct from paleontology and studies only past human life.

Archaeology plays a major role in the study of early civilizations, such as those of the Sumerians of Mesopotamia, who built the city of Ur, and the ancient Egyptians, who are famous for the pyramids near the city of Giza and the royal sepulchers (tombs) of the Valley of the Kings at Thebes.

Other sites that represent great human achievement are as varied as the cliff dwellings of the ancient Anasazi (a group of early Native Americans) at Mesa Verde, Colorado (see Mesa Verde National Park); the Inca city of Machu Picchu high in the Andes Mountains of Peru; and the mysterious, massive stone portrait heads of remote Easter Island in the Pacific.

Many of the objects left behind by past human societies are not present in the archaeological record because they have disintegrated over time.

The material remains that still exist after hundreds, thousands, or millions of years have survived because of favorable preservation conditions in the soil or atmosphere.Archaeological research spans the entire development of phenomena that are unique to humans.For instance, archaeology tells the story of when people learned to bury their dead and developed beliefs in an afterlife.Archaeologists have also recorded how primitive forms of humans spread out of Africa into Asia about 1.8 million years ago, then into Europe about 900,000 years ago.The first physically modern humans, Homo sapiens sapiens, appeared in tropical Africa between 200,000 and 150,000 years agodates determined by molecular biologists and archaeologists working together.Today, archaeologists study the great cultural diversity of humanity in every corner of the world.