A Little History of Archaeology – Brian Fagan

My last post mentioned that we’d just been away on holiday and, for once, I didn’t take anything set in the area (the Hebrides and Skye) to read. However, we did visit lots of archaeological sites so reading the latest in Yale’s ‘Little History’ series seemed very appropriate. I’ve always been interested in archaeology – I’m old enough to remember both the raising of the Mary Rose back in 1982 and the Tutankhamun exhibition in London in 1972 (good old Blue Peter…), I followed Living in the Past in 1978 (bedtime permitting) and, of course, I do love a bit of Time Team. Also I worked for quite a few years in academic bookshops: always in stores connected to Universities with highly regarded archaeology departments. Let’s face it, I’m a stones and bones groupie…

36125250This short book (less than 300 pages) gives a whistle-stop tour of the history of archaeology from the early days of, effectively, tomb-robbing to the present where technology has almost taken away the need for digging at all. Of course, as well as explaining the development of archaeology as a science the book also explores the human history which archaeology covers. From early stone tools, through the rise of farming, the splendours of Egypt and other near-Eastern civilisations and onto the Romans and Greeks. We also visit China – the amazing terracotta armies – and cultures in North and South America, and in Africa we go beyond the usual to look at Greater Zimbabwe.  As well as the history and the science we also meet the archaeologists themselves: from the early days of gentleman amateurs to increasing levels of scientific and academic rigour. For every showboating Schliemann there is the less well-known Vincent Gaffney. (Which then takes me back to the years I worked at Bradford University where his brother Christopher developed the ‘geophys’ used on Time Team, and his niece Bella, a talented local folk singer – talk about six degrees of separation…). I feel I know a fair bit about archaeology and still managed to learn from this book. Because care is taken to explain any even slightly specialist term it is also a great introduction for anyone (from a keen youngster onwards) who wants to delve deeper than just watching an Indiana Jones film.

Jane

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