A Brief History Of Archaeology: Classical Times to the Twenty-First Century

Paperback | March 4, 2004

byBrian M. Fagan

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This brief but comprehensive book tells the story of how archaeology changed from a romantic adventure into a science. Its vivid narrative combines tales of archaeological discovery with the changing social conditions and theoretical perspectives that helped turn archaeology into a sophisticated discipline. Containing a simple, jargon-free style—and a lifetime of teaching experience—this writer shares with readers his unrivaled experience as an archeologist and an author. Unique coverage includes both major discoveries, and significant, theoretical and methodological developments of the history of archaeology—from a global perspective. For anyone interested in an interpretation of our archeological past that will yield an understanding of today—its beginnings, and the ideas that nurtured it.

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This brief but comprehensive book tells the story of how archaeology changed from a romantic adventure into a science. Its vivid narrative combines tales of archaeological discovery with the changing social conditions and theoretical perspectives that helped turn archaeology into a sophisticated discipline. Containing a simple, jarg...

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This brief but comprehensive book tells the story of how archaeology changed from a romantic adventure into a science. Its vivid narrative combines tales of archaeological discovery with the changing social conditions and theoretical perspectives that helped turn archaeology into a sophisticated discipline. Containing a simple, jargon...

Brian Fagan is a leading archaeological writer and internationally recognized authority on world prehistory. He studied archaeology and anthropology at Pembroke College and Cambridge University. He then spent seven years in sub-Saharan Africa working in museums, monument conservation, and excavating early farming sites in Zambia and Ea...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:304 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.75 inPublished:March 4, 2004Publisher:Pearson EducationLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0131776983

ISBN - 13:9780131776982

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Lost civilizations, richly adorned royal burials, overgrown cities emerging miraculously from clinging rain forest: Archaeology has a long and romantic history of spectacular discovery. But there is much more to archaeology's history than the finding of palaces and ancient states. I would go so far as to say that you cannot understand today's archaeology without a thorough knowledge of its beginnings, and of the ideas that nurtured it. Archaeology's achievements have been remarkable. Over the past century and a half, archaeologists have pushed back the story of human origins to a time more than 2.5 million years ago. They have traced the origins of modern humans—ourselves—to tropical Africa more than 150,000 years ago; chronicled the beginnings of agriculture; and reconstructed the minutest details of ancient life. The same 150 years have seen archaeology turn from an amateur pursuit into a sophisticated, multidisciplinary science in the hands of thousands of professional specialists. This history has unfolded against a background of changing intellectual and social environments: from the philosophical speculations of classical writers, and versions of human origins based on the Old Testament, to elaborate theories of multilinear evolution, cultural ecology, and the so-called "postprocessual archaeology" of the 1990s. This book is a brief introduction to the diverse strands of the history of archaeology, both intellectual and nonintellectual. It's a history that melds stories of compelling personalities and eminent archaeologists with accounts of spectacular and not-so-spectacular discoveries, and with ideas about the interpretation of our past. A Brief History of Archaeology is a journey through the intriguing highways and byways of a discipline that has been a science for less than a century. Books like this are hard to write, because they combine people, discoveries, and ideas in ways that can easily become a confusing melange of information. For this reason, I have chosen to write this book as a simple narrative, passing from archaeologists and their discoveries to changing ideas about the past in as seamless a way as possible. Chapter 1 traces the beginnings of archaeology to the curiosity of Babylonian monarchs and the philosophical musings of classical writers. We show how theological beliefs limited archaeological inquiry until the nineteenth century, and describe early antiquarian researches, including the first excavations at the Roman cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii. Chapter 2 discusses the establishment of human antiquity in the mid-nineteenth century, tracing the roots of the ideas that led to the development of archaeology as we know it today. In Chapters 3 to 6, we describe the beginnings of archaeology in Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Central America. We also discuss the Three Age System for dividing prehistory and the simplistic ideas of linear human progress that dominated nineteenth-century thinking about the prehistoric past. We visit Heinrich Schliemann s excavations at Homeric Troy and describe the beginnings of biblical archaeology. Chapter 6 ends with the work of Flinders Petrie along the Nile and that of Arthur Evans on the Palace of Knossos on Crete after 1900. Their researches ushered in a new era, which saw a new emphasis on artifacts, dating, and science. Chapter 7 traces the roots of such efforts in Europe and the Americas, combining a new emphasis on stratigraphic observation and dating with new discoveries in the Andes and Mesoamerica. Chapters 8 to 10 describe archaeology's coming of age. This was an era of spectacular discoveries like the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun and Ur's royal cemetery, but also of much more sophisticated excavation methods and new ideas for explaining and understanding the remote past. Chapter 10 carries the story into the 1940s and 1950s, with the development of a sophisticated culture history in the Americas and the first efforts at ecological and settlement archaeology, as well as Julian Steward's development of cultural ecology. The story continues in Chapter 11, with the development of radiocarbon dating and increasingly pointed critiques of culture history. We also trace the beginnings of multidisciplinary research, and of salvage archaeology, and the development of world prehistory as a viable intellectual concept in the late 1950s. Chapters 12 and 13 carry the story from the 1960s through the new millennium, beginning with the intellectual ferment of the 1960s, which saw the birth of the so-called "new archaeology," today called processual archaeology. We assess its significance and its legacy. Chapter 13 surveys the many new theoretical approaches that developed, and are still developing, as a reaction to processualism, as well as other developments such as cultural resource management and the study of an engendered past. Finally, Chapter 14 takes a look at the developing archaeology of the future. Guides to Further Reading at the end of each chapter provide sources for additional research. A Glossary of Archaeological Sites and Cultural Terms at the end of the book gives additional information on the more important sites mentioned in the text. This book is not a history of archaeological theory, nor is it a history of archaeology by personality or discovery. It's an attempt to provide a balanced, and, I hope, entertaining account of the history of a relative newcomer to the world of science. As these pages will testify, the discovery of the prehistory of humankind ranks among the greatest scientific achievements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The perspective is international, for I believe that archaeology is a global enterprise, not just a narrowly focused view of the past based on, say, North America, Europe, or the eastern Mediterranean. A Brief History is written in as jargon-free a style as possible and is aimed, in general terms, at readers with no experience of archaeology whatsoever. However, beginners might be advised to acquire a short introduction to archaeological method and theory if they are hazy on the basic principles of the subject.

Table of Contents



 1. “The Backward Looking Curiosity.”


 2. The Antiquity of Humankind.


 3. Pharaohs and Assyrians.


 4. Human Progress and the Three Ages.


 5. Early American Archaeology.


 6. Scriptures and Civilizations.


 7. The Birth of Culture History.


 8. Egypt, Iraq, and Beyond.


 9. Archaeology Coming of Age, 1920-1940.


10. Culture History and Beyond.


11. Radiocarbon Dating and World Prehistory.


12. The “New Archaeology”?


13. After Processualism.


14. The Future.


Glossary of Archaeological Sites and Cultural Terms.


Index.