What is archaeology? The word may bring to mind images of golden pharaohs and lost civilizations, or Neanderthal skulls and Ice Age cave art. Archaeology is all of these, but also far more: the only science to encompass the entire span of human history—more than three million years!
This Little History tells the riveting stories of some of the great archaeologists and their amazing discoveries around the globe: ancient Egyptian tombs, Mayan ruins, the first colonial settlements at Jamestown, mysterious Stonehenge, the incredibly preserved Pompeii, and many, many more. In forty brief, exciting chapters, the book recounts archaeology’s development from its eighteenth-century origins to its twenty-first-century technological advances, including remote sensing capabilities and satellite imagery techniques that have revolutionized the field. Shining light on the most intriguing events in the history of the field, this absolutely up-to-date book illuminates archaeology’s controversies, discoveries, heroes and scoundrels, global sites, and newest methods for curious readers of every age.
Part of the Little Histories series, A Little of History of Archaeology is a good overview of the discipline. As befitting of the subject, Fagan slowly uncovers the beginnings of the pursuit from King Charles of Naples, at Herculaneum, up until the present day. The enthusiastic introduction sets the book up nicely, throwing in some choice, lesser known facts to hook the reader and begin a globe-trotting journey through time.
We start the journey proper in Egypt, and travel all the way through to the present day, seeing the gradual honing of the archaeological craft, from haphazard digs chasing treasures – real or imagined – to the more careful, professional approach which has led us to a deep and ever-changing understanding of the past.
Throughout we meet some fascinating characters; adventurers, vicars, museum curators, army officers, and the like who all contribute in some way to the learning of an art and the teasing of knowledge, quite literally out of the ground, through their failures successes and frustrations. The writing style is very light and everything is set out in a simple manner giving the reader an engrossing narrative that can be dipped in and out of at anytime without undue confusion.
Apart from the well documented and popular tourist destinations, there were a lot of lesser known stories and names of people and places, who contributed to the evolving picture of the growing of the field of Archaeology. Everyone has surely heard of the Egyptians and Minoans but the Shoshone Indians and the city of Great Zimbabwe are less well-known and add some interesting stories.
The further forward we go through the book and in time, the further back archaeology begins to look backwards. With constantly better technology, those millions of years of pre-history are shown chronicling our slow growth and path towards humans of today can more accurately be traced. To see the tree of humans sprouting and branching out and to have all this at our fingertips is absolutely staggering,
The tantalising mystery of what else still remains to be uncovered (especially in China and perhaps, Mexico, to name but two countries), will excite every reader’s imagination. That uncovering the past is as much about the study of ruins and the local people’s oral histories, as it is about artefacts is really underlined here.
The short chapters make this a punchy, informative and up-to date read. The book manages to be both dramatic and scholarly at the same time, balancing both neatly as it also touches on other ‘ologies’ such as, philology, dendrochronology, and geology, which all combine to help us understand the past in more depth. A Little History of Archaeology is really well told and I enjoyed its readability, whilst eagerly racing through its pages.
What archaeology post would be complete without Mr Phil Harding? Sunday tea time just isn’t the same without Time Team.
Thanks to Yale University Press for sending me ARC.