A Little History of Archaeology – Brian Fagan

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. Continue reading “A Little History of Archaeology – Brian Fagan”

Advertisements

Ages in Chaos: A Reconstruction of Ancient History from the Exodus to Akhnaton – Immanuel Velikovsky

YonksAgoIn this book, Immanuel Velikovsky takes you on a fascinating journey through ancient history – beginning with the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt to pharaoh Akhnaton. You will meet an Egyptian eyewitness of the biblical plagues and the mysterious Queen of Sheba. You will find out to where her legendary visit led her. You will, moreover, learn surprising details about the temple of Solomon and learn who was behind its sacking.

Above all, Velikovsky establishes the astonishing fact that conventional history books describe a 600-year-period which, in reality, never took place. After reading this work, you will never again look upon a book of written history with the same eyes.

Whilst partaking of a perusal of the inviting spines in the second-hand bookshop, I came across Ages in Chaos and it immediately brought back nostalgic thoughts of a summer long ago when I first read David Rohl’s alternative chronology of Egyptian and Biblical history and was suitably intrigued about all things historical and covered in sand.

There is something about books like this, that challenge preconceived ideas and providing they aren’t compete nonsense they occasionally come up with some interesting points.  Sadly the easily dismissable ideas usually gains the headlines but for me, it’s all about the small details.

Biblical archaeology has always been an interesting subject, with it usually throwing up more questions than satisfactorily answering them so despite this book being published in 1953 there is a still a need – and an appeal – of books like this to question if we are going wrong and where the conventional chronology needs to be revised (if at all).  Although the text is now dated, containing such gems as ‘the history of the Hittite empire is entirely invented’, it does have some interesting ideas and of course debating them however erroneous they may seem should always be tackled and disproved wherever possible.

I love the etymology of words and place names, the corruption of both in other languages and the piecing together of such, it does make the reader feel like a literary Indiana Jones probably including the fear of snakes.  There is plenty of that here as well as ancient writings aplenty all compared and contrasted as well as an abundance of speculation on such things as the ten plagues of Egypt and their causes, were the Jews guided out of Egypt by a volcano and so on and so forth.  Theories that may stand up or not, either way it is fun to indulge in a flight of fancy now and again. Continue reading “Ages in Chaos: A Reconstruction of Ancient History from the Exodus to Akhnaton – Immanuel Velikovsky”

The Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek – Barry Cunliffe

PithySome 2.300 years ago a Greek adventurer named Pytheas set out on an astonishing expedition: to find out what lay in the fabled lands of Northern Europe.  Rumours abounded of these fearsome barbarian territories, but Pytheas was the first literate man ever to visit them.  Here Barry Cunliffe recreates his staggering journey as he sailed to the islands of Britannia, home of our distant ancestors – the ‘tattooed folk’ – and beyond, all the way to Ultima Thule, the mysterious Arctic limits of the known world…

I hadn’t heard of Pytheas before this book and these days this obscure chap is a marginalised figure, a brief footnote of history.  Thanks to Cunliffe, this intrepid Greek now comes out of obscurity and is revealed as an adventurer, a man of curiosity who explored Britain and parts of Scandinavia before many of the famous travellers of antiquity.

As well as being a travelogue and biography – albeit a little less than expected – there is also lots of a lot of scene setting, involving lots of explanation about the current politics and customs of the day, not to mention plenty of lift hitching…maritime style.

Pytheas wrote about his adventures which are sadly lost to us apart from a few fragments, so this book is also a detective story, with the author using later writers’ comments on Pytheas’ book as sources in conjunction with archaeology.  The irony of using these authors is that most disbelieved that P. has actually made his journey so gives a fascinating look at the jealousy and petulance of great writers and the character assassination they descend to when wishing to appear the supreme authority on matters.

The book is therefore going to be based on educated assumptions and these are always reasonable and established through evidence from a wide range of varying sources.  It’s a captivating journey, digging through various archaeological strata of earth and memory and not only brings the voyage to life but also the wider economic and social situation of the time. Continue reading “The Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek – Barry Cunliffe”

Valley of Thracians – Ellis Shuman

Valley-of-ThraciansA Peace Corps volunteer has gone missing in Bulgaria and everyone assumes he is dead, everyone except his grandfather, who refuses to give up hope. Retired literature professor Simon Matthews launches a desperate search only to be lured into a bizarre quest to retrieve a stolen Thracian artifact—a unique object of immense value others will stop at nothing to recover.

A novel set in Bulgaria?  This is something new for me and it’s nice to get an insight into and learn about a country that is arguably – and perhaps unfairly – best known for its football team of the 1994 world cup.

My first impressions were that this was going to be a Da Vinci Code style book but I am happy to report that it isn’t and that makes me happy…very happy.

From the outset the author’s words radiate a genuine passion and a deep sense of love for the beauty of Bulgarian culture and history and gives the story that authentic feel.

The book is a slow burner with many plot threads that are unravelled then twined together and developed for the inevitable finale.  With the story sometimes reading like a travel book or perhaps an advert for the Bulgarian tourist board,not that that is by any means a criticism, I like the picturesque.

There was something soothing about viewing mountains from afar, as if the capabilities of nature to create such majesty could easily solve the trivial concerns of those who fell captive to their wonders.

The story is divided neatly into parts which seamlessly transition between plot and cultural lessons of Bulgarian idiosyncracies, geography and pronunciation.  There is a nice change between third and first person perspectives at one point as we are introduced to key character Scott which helps the book feel fresh and had me sympathising with him more than I perhaps would have done in third person…the workings of the mind render characters ever more intimate. Continue reading “Valley of Thracians – Ellis Shuman”