The history of archaeology
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The History of Archaeology. Archaeology is a young Science. Product of Western Civilization Scientific explanation of past, vs. mythic past, oral histories, etc. 18th and 19th century origins

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Archaeology is a young science l.jpg
Archaeology is a young Science

  • Product of Western Civilization

    • Scientific explanation of past, vs. mythic past, oral histories, etc.

  • 18th and 19th century origins

    • Enlightenment Movement in Europe (use of reason and science to explain natural world; critique of previously accepted ideas handed down from antiquity)

  • No ancient precursor science

    • Different from chemistry, philosophy, astronomy, mathematics – no Classical analog

  • Has grown rapidly and is worldwide today

    • Practiced in every industrialized nation

    • National Past, used for preserving heritage

      • Also used for political reasons

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Four Prerequisites for Archaeology

  • 1) Recognition that the Past exists

    • Western concept of linear time

      • Seems natural to us, but non only possibility

      • Allows for cause and effect; change over time

      • Concept of evolution/development

    • Many non-western cultures see time as cyclical

      • No beginning or end, just endless repetition of cyclical events

      • Example: Mesoamerican civilizations (Maya, Aztec)

        • Continuous cycles of creation and destruction of world

        • Dual calendars; 52 year cycle

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Four Prerequisites for Archaeology

  • 2 ) Interest in the past

    • 18th/early 19th century Antiquarianism – sparked European interest

    • Antiquarianism: interest in ancient art and architecture (exotic, beauty, rarity)

      • Pompeii and Herculaneum (Neoclassical movement)

      • Napoleon's Invasion of Egypt

      • Looting of Classical world by Europeans

        • Elgin Marbles

      • North America: Moundbuilder question

        • Thomas Jefferson

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Four Prerequisites for Archaeology

  • 3) Recognition that past was a long time

    • Contradicts Bible (4004 B.C. Genesis)

    • Extinct animals w. tools (Boucher de Perthes)

      • People had been around long enough for some animals to go extinct

    • Neanderthal skull (1856)

      • Sufficient time for some types of humans to go extinct

    • Developments in Geology: Uniformitarianism (Charles Lyell)

      • Huge amounts of time necessary for formation of geologic features through observed processes

      • Previous belief in “catastrophism”

    • Darwin/Wallace and Evolution

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Four Prerequisites for Archaeology

  • 4) Past can be investigated by excavation

    • Jens Worsaee: Stratigraphy

      • Adoption of concept from geology

      • Idea that layers of soil builds up over time; deeper you dig, the older stuff gets

    • Christian Thompson: Seriation

      • Idea that the objects used by ancient peoples changed over time

      • 3 Age System (Stone Age; Bronze Age, Iron Age)

    • Stratigraphy + Seriation = ability to form chronologies (change over time)

      • But only relative dates…no absolute dates

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Development of Archaeology

  • Late19th century, scientific archaeology develops in Europe and America

    • Developed differently due to local concerns

  • American Archaeology

    • Concerned initially w. Native Americans (as far back as Thomas Jefferson)

    • Bureau of American Ethnology (BAE)

    • Part of Anthropology

  • European Archaeology

    • Concerned initially w. Classical World (Greece, Rome) and literate societies (w. Writing)

    • Associated w. History, not w. Anthropology

  • Antiquarianism persists today (Antiquities Trade)

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Development of Archaeology

  • How to explain change over time?

  • Early 20th Century

    • Descriptive Period (Culture Historical Approach)

      • Exploring range of variation in archaeological record, without much attention to explanation

        • Diffusionism and Migration: major explanatory mechanisms

  • Middle 20th Century

    • Evolutionary Period (Processual Approach)

      • Use of Evolutionary concepts to explain change in archaeological record

      • Changes in material culture often explained by changes in the environment

  • Late 20th Century

    • Critical Period (Post-Processual Approach)

      • Criticism of previous approaches to explanation as simplistic and incomplete

      • Use of cultural explanations for changes in material culture (culture changes for its own reasons, not because of environmental factors)