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Sites containing signs of the first simple but purposeful burials in graves date to as early as 40,000 years ago in Europe and Southwest Asia.

By the time people lived in civilizations, burials and funeral ceremonies had become extremely important and elaborate rituals.

The earliest subjects of archaeological study date from the origins of humanity.

These include fossil remains believed to be of human ancestors who lived 3.5 million to 4.5 million years ago.

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.Archaeology became established as a formal discipline in the 19th and early 20th centuries.At that time, most archaeological work was confined to Europe, to the so-called cradle of civilization in southwestern Asia, and to a few areas of the Americas.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.

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