Uncovering the Past: A History of Archaeology

Paperback | December 1, 1994

byWilliam H. Stiebing

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When one hears the words "archaeology" or "archaeologist," often what comes to mind is an image of a romantic figure: Indiana Jones exploring exotic places in search of treasure and adventure. Indeed, novels, movies, and many popular accounts of archaeological discoveries have made thisconcept widespread. Tales of abandoned cities, ruined temples, primeval monuments, or mysterious ancient tombs tend to kindle the urge for adventure, exploration, or treasure hunting that seems to lie beneath the surface of even the most timid and conventional individuals. Today, however,archaeologists seek knowledge rather than objects that are intrinsically valuable. Their ultimate goal is to sweep aside the mists in which time has enveloped the past, helping us to understand vanished peoples and cultures. In Uncovering the Past, William H. Stiebing, Jr. offers an absorbing nontechnical history of archaeology, tracing the study of ancient material culture from its beginnings in the Renaissance through its development into the sophisticated modern discipline we know today. The first study to focuson archaeology as a discipline, Stiebing has organized this concise history into the four stages of archaeological development. The first two stages (1450-1860 and 1860-1925), known as the "heroic age," focus on the exploits of colorful, dynamic excavators who have made their mark on history and ourimaginations. We read accounts of Giovanni Belzoni and the removal of the seven-ton colossus of Ramesses II, which was dragged by wooden platform and transported by boat from Egypt to London; we witness the clergyman John Peters's skirmish with Arab tribesmen, who surrounded his excavation site andfinally pillaged and burned his camp; and Heinrich Schliemann's quest to prove the authenticity of Homer's Iliad by searching for ancient Troy along the Turkish coast. And we watch as archaeology comes of age as an academic discipline, employing stratigraphical excavation techniques, typographicalsequence dating, and stratigraphically based pottery chronology--laying the foundation for universal archaeological activity. The third phase (1925-1960) marked the era of "Modern Archaeology," a time when, using the now generally accepted stratigraphical method of excavation, scholars were able tosynthesize data to define individual cultures and trace their development through time. This period saw a greater use of scientific instruments and procedures to locate, date, and interpret remains, such as aerial photography, metal detectors, and most importantly, carbon-14 dating and tree-ringchronology. Lastly, Stiebing discusses the fourth phase of development (1960-present) which introduced a greater desire and need for a more complete understanding of ancient cultures, including their ecology, and attempts to explain why certain cultural phenomena occurred. He goes on to examine thegreater emphasis on a cultural revolutionary approach, coupled with technological advances in robotics and computers over the last decade and a half and their commonplace role in modern archaeology. With over eighty photographs, illustrations, and maps, this vivid history is an outstanding introduction to the intriguing field of archaeology, chronicling the development of this former pastime of dilettantes into a rigorous science.

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From Our Editors

Despite popular portrayals, many archaeologists today covet knowledge rather than objects in their goal to understand vanished peoples and cultures. This absorbing nontechnical history focuses on the various phases archaeology as a discipline has moved through since its beginnings in the Renaissance. More than 80 illustrations, photos,...

From the Publisher

When one hears the words "archaeology" or "archaeologist," often what comes to mind is an image of a romantic figure: Indiana Jones exploring exotic places in search of treasure and adventure. Indeed, novels, movies, and many popular accounts of archaeological discoveries have made thisconcept widespread. Tales of abandoned cities, rui...

William H. Stiebing, Jr. is Professor of History at the University of New Orleans and author of the critically acclaimed Out of the Desert?.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:320 pages, 9.06 × 6.06 × 0.94 inPublished:December 1, 1994Publisher:Oxford University Press

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0195089219

ISBN - 13:9780195089219

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From Our Editors

Despite popular portrayals, many archaeologists today covet knowledge rather than objects in their goal to understand vanished peoples and cultures. This absorbing nontechnical history focuses on the various phases archaeology as a discipline has moved through since its beginnings in the Renaissance. More than 80 illustrations, photos, and maps

Editorial Reviews

"A good . . . history of the field and major discoveries."--John J. Shea, State University of New York at Stony Brook