Perhaps archaeology is just as some have said, men and women going to exotic locations throughout the world to dig in the dirt in hopes of discovering ancient art and treasure, all cloaked in the respectability of a science.
To some archaeology is all about picking through the garbage left by past civilizations. To others archaeology is about finding ancient tombs of prosperous and important men and women of the past, and therefore a study of the wealthy and privileged throughout time. To some archaeology is more about the architecture left in ruins that mark where people once lived, while for others archaeology is more about learning the ways symbolism and artistic style of past generations can change over time. Archaeology can be about finding our genetic "missing-link", and describing a time when humanity didn't even exist, a time when hominids that were as much primate as humanoid, were the most advanced creatures on the planet.
When defining archaeology I would have to say that in my mind the main goal of archaeologists is to alter the fabric of history in some way through a better understanding of the evidence left behind at the scenes of humanity's development. Through interpreting the physical remains left by previous generations, archaeologists seek to prove what we know as history to be correct or incorrect through their analysis of the evidence before them. By providing new facts about the development of humanity, archaeologists seek to change or alter, in some way, the fabric of the tapestry of time that makes up our collective history. Archaeologists are constantly seeking out new ways to alter our understanding of humanity and it's development and thus change how we perceive ourselves in a historic context.
To me archaeology offers an appreciation of humanity's connection with time and the knowledge that history offers. Archaeology can be less about answering questions with new facts as it is in developing entirely new lines of examination about humanity's development, or creating whole new perspectives on how humanity has progressed and developed leaving new gaps to be discovered, or trying to find out out when and why humanity or specific civilizations changed the way they it did in a particular place on the planet at the same time.
Through deciphering clues, and using the latest scientific tools, archaeologists can retrace our past and even rewrite our collective history based on data acquired though their association with artifacts from dig sites. This is where luck comes in, as an archaeologist must be lucky enough to have the knowledge and education it takes to understand the history of an ancient site as well as be lucky enough to have access to resources and trustworthy people to help them excavate a site. Then, of course the archeologist must be lucky enough to find something that is of scientific value and be able to unlock the knowledge gleaned from the ancient people who created the artifact. Archaeologists must be able to use their own education to use the information that they generated from a site and apply it to a historic context, hopefully one capable of altering or changing how humanity sees itself.
As I see it, this final analysis of facts can come from an examination of garbage left behind by an ancient people or through a new respect for the arts left in a magnificent tomb, however the goal of the archaeologist is the same. Archaeologists seek to alter the fabric of history through interpretation of the artifacts that they dig up from the dirt that covers anything ancient over time.
Through the understanding that we all have a finite capacity to alter history through our own abilities, archaeologists seem to use their knowledge and their wits to alter the fabric of time while trying to change their own fate and place in history. In this way, the science of archaeology is as much about how humanity depends on luck and fate as it does on it's own ability to record or mark it's achievements and advancements to help understand who we are.