History of Archaeology

Early History of Archaeology
January 26, 2015
“Everything which has come down to us from
heathendom is wrapped in a thick fog; it belongs
to a space of time which we cannot measure.
We know that it is older than Christendom, but
whether by a couple of years or a couple of
centuries, or even by more than a millennium,
we can do no more than guess”
-Rasmus Nyerup (1759-1829)
History of archaeology…
Is commonly seen as the history of great
But its not!
• It is the history of ideas, of theory and ways of
looking at the past and investigating those
• Then it is the history of discoveries
*Every view of the past is a product of its time*
Humans have been interested in
history since the antiquity….
History had to fit into the biblical time
• Up until 150 years ago or so most people in
the western world believed that the earth was
created in the year 4004BC
• No thought of a “prehistory”
• Took all historical knowledge from ancient
Greek, Egypt and Near Eastern historians
• During Renaissance (14th-17th centuries) a new
interest in the past is awakened
• Well to-do’s star to collect “artifacts” and
relics and display them
• Roman and Greek history is studied
• Not interest in understanding the past just in
collecting the past
• Romantic ideas of past civilizations
• Early archaeologists viewed the success (and worth)
of ancient cultures based on their artistic and
technological achievements.
• Fast excavations to find the most treasures!
• Which cultures do you think antiquarians
were most interested in?
• Which were they least interested in?
Early “Excavations”
• William Stukeley- systematic studies of stone
monuments in England and decided that they
were not built by giants
Early “Excavations”
• Thomas Jefferson
• Some consider “first scientific archaeological
• Dug a trench-section across a burial mound on
his property in 1784
• Concluded that they could have been built by
Native Americans-not by a lost white race
Early “Excavations”
• Napoleon lead a military expedition into Egypt
between 1798-1800
• A solider tripped over the Rosetta stone
• Jean-Francois Champollion broke the code of
Egyptian Hieroglyphics in 1822 after 14 years
of work
Early “excavations”
• John Lloyd Stephens traveled to Yucatan, Mexico
• Published illustrated books in the 1840’s with
Frederick Catherwood
• For the first time the west saw the amazing ruins
of the ancient Mayan
• Believed (rightly so) that the monuments were a
“creation of the same races who inhabited the
country at the time of the Spanish conquest”
• Notice similar hieroglyphs which led him to argue
for cultural unity (they would not be deciphered
until the 1960’s however)
Early “Excavations”
• Pompeii and Herculaneum
• All but forgotten from 72 AD until the 1700’s
• Prince Elboeuf in 1709 investigated what turned out
to be Herculaneum and took art for his collection
• King and Queen of Naples took ancient pieces to
embellish palaces
• Johann Winckelmann published findings in 1757
• 1860 Giuseppe Fiorelli started well-recorded
What is wrong with Antiquarianism
• What ‘s wrong with this approach?
• What do you think Antiquarians were missing
by focusing only on the treasures?
• Is this form of approach ethical?
People start to think that maybe
everything doesn't’t have to fit within
a biblical time frame…
• Jacques Boucher de Perthes published in 1841 evidence for the
association of human artifacts with the bones of extinct animals
• Argued that this was evidence for human existence before the
biblical flood
• John Evans and Joseph Prestwich validated his findings
• The need for knowledge of the distance past was established
Three Age System
• 1808-Colt Hoare recognized stone, “brass (or
bronze) and iron artifacts
• The three ages: Stone, Bronze, Iron
• First studied by C.J. Thomsen in 1830’s
• Conceptually important-things could be
ordered chronologically by classification
• Archaeology was moving towards becoming a
scientific study
• Charles Darwin publishes The Origin of
Species in 1859….everything changes!
• Darwin has essential explained the
development of the human species
• Helped to Created Cultural
Evolution theory
• At the same archaeologist realize that
studying modern living communities can
inform their knowledge of past communities
• For example archaeologists used contact with
modern Native American societies to better
understand early British inhabitants that used
the same types of tools.
Cultural Evolution
• The idea that cultural “evolves” over time to
create a more “civilized” species
• Anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan and
Edward Taylor publish works explaining how
societies evolve from savagery through
barbarism to civilization in the 1870’s
(hunting/gathering->simple farming-> highest
form of society)
How would this effect archaeological
thinking of the time?
What would this type of theory mean
for the wider population outside of
What had to happen to create a
scientific archaeological approach ?
• The acknowledgement of a distance past
needed to be established
• A mechanism for establishing chronology (if
not exact time) had to be created
• A theory of the way that animals and humans
evolve needed to be put forth
Archaeology no longer means treasure
• Looking back on the discoveries discussed this
class how do you think the interpretation of
them changed after the establishment of
cultural evolution theory?
• What do you think the next theoretical frame
work in archaeology would be?