Monday, August 23, 2010

The World's First Archaeologists and Their Role in Defining History

The roots of archaeology – “the study of human history and prehistory through the archaeology excavation of sites and the analysis of physical remains,” to quote the Oxford English Dictionary – can be traced back in their most basic form as late as the age of the last emperor of Babylon, Nabonidus, in the 6th century BC, and perhaps even further, to the ancient Egyptians.

In the thousands of years that have passed since, the discipline has become a highly professionalised pursuit, with a broad and firmly-established range of techniques and practices, a complex theoretical framework and a strong ethical code. But it hasn’t taken a direct route to get there.

The origins of archaeology as an actual science were only really established after the Enlightenment in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, when the likes of Englishmen John Aubrey (1627-1697) and William Stukeley (1687-1765), Italian Count Marcello Venuti (circa 1738) and German Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-1768), started conducting systematic, recorded studies of sites and artefacts using techniques recognisable to modern antiquarians.

These were the Founding Fathers of archaeology, who first broke ground in the discipline as we know it today.

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