The demand for Egyptian antiquities led to organized tomb robbing by men such as Giovanni Battista Belzoni. A new era in systematic and controlled archaeological research began with the Frenchman Auguste Mariette, who also founded the Egyptian Museum at Cairo. The British archaeologist Flinders Petrie, who began work in Egypt in 1880, made great discoveries there and in Palestine during his long lifetime. Petrie developed a systematic method of excavation, the principles of which he summarized in Methods and Aims in Archaeology (1904). It was left to Howard’ Carter and Lord Carnarvon to make the most spectacular discovery in Egyptian archaeology, that of the tomb of Tutankhamen in 1922.
Mesopotamian archaeology also began with hectic digging into mounds in the hopes of finding treasure and works of art, but gradually these gave way in the 1840s to planned digs such as those of the Frenchman PaulÉmile Botta at Nineveh and Khorsabad, and the Englishman Austen Henry Layard at Nimrud, Kuyunjik, Nabi Yünus, and other sites. Layard’s popular account of his excavations, Nineveh and Its Remains (1849), became the earliest and one of the most successful archaeological best sellers and is very relevant for the Bible researcher. Georg Friedrich Grotefendand George Smith must not be overlooked in Babylonian studies. In 1846 Henry Creswicke Rawlinson became the first man to decipher the Mesopotamian cuneiform writing. Robert Koldewey’s did the excavation of the mighty city of Babylon. Diggers like Layard and Koldewey, indeed the great Schliemann at Troy, were almost as destructive in their investigations as the first looters of Pompeii and the perennial robbers of Etruscan and Egyptian tombs, but these were early days, and the rough-handed pioneers were at least conscious of the significance and magnitude of the task upon which they were engaged. They have their place in the archaeological calendar.
Classical archaeology was established on a more scientific basis by the work of Heinrich Schliemann, who investigated the origins of Greek civilization at Troy and Mycenae in the 1870s. The main lesson of the astonishing discovery of Troy by this German genius was that a mound, or “tell” as it was called in the Middle East, was likely to be the accumulated ruins and occupation debris of an ancient inhabited site. In 1870, also, the American Palestine Exploration Society was founded, and it immediately set to work to complement the British survey of western Palestine by a similar survey of the eastern part of the land.
Interesting work was also done by M.A. Biliotti at Rhodes in this same period. Also notable was the German Archaeological Institute under Ernst Curtius at Olympia from 1875 to 1881; and the work of Alexander Conze at Samothrace in 1873 and 1875. Conze was the first person to include photographs in the publication of his report. Schliemann had intended to dig in Crete but did not do so, and it was left to Arthur Evans to begin work at Knossos in 1900 and to discover the Minoan civilization, ancestor of classical Greece.
In 1890 a thirty-seven-year-old Englishman, Flinders Petrie came to Palestine trained by ten years’ work in Egypt, where he had already learned to record systematically and in detail every find on a site. He had also glimpsed the possibility of using pottery for dating. In his excavations at Tell el-Hesi, Petrie reduced this invaluable idea to a time system. He was able to demonstrate that pottery could form a sequence and provide a key to the chronology of the stratified remains in any ruin mound. This fruitful discovery has been elaborated with the utmost sophistication and is now an indispensable skill for any archaeological investigation. The last decade of the 19th century is significant for its invention, establishment, and general recognition.
The same decade saw further excavation at Jerusalem by F. J. Bliss, the American who trained under Flinders Petrie in Egypt and became the first scholar of importance to recognize the value of Petrie’s pottery dating, along with his associate A. C. Dickie. William Mitchell Ramsay, professor of humanities at Aberdeen, was simultaneously busy with his epigraphical, geographical, and archaeological explorations in Asia Minor, and was writing the authoritative books which established so decisively the historical accuracy of Luke and the meaning 6f obscure chapters in the Apocalypse.
Toward the end of the 19th century, systematic excavation revealed a previously unknown people; the Sumerians, who had lived in Mesopotamia before the Babylonians and Assyrians. The most impressive Sumerian excavation was that of the Royal Tombs at Ur by Leonard Woolley in 1926.
The role of chance in the discovery of archaeological sites and portable finds is considerable. Farmers have often unearthed archaeological finds while ploughing their fields. The famous painted and engraved Upper Palaeolithic cave of Lascaux in southern France was discovered by chance in 1940: four French schoolboys were hunting for rabbits when their dog’ fell down a hole; they climbed down to retrieve him and found themselves in the middle of this remarkable pagan sanctuary. Similarly, the first cache of the Dead Sea Scrolls was discovered in 1947 by a Bedouin looking for a stray animal. These accidental finds often lead to important excavations. At Barnenes, in north Brittany; a contractor building a road got his stone from a neighbouring prehistoric cairn (burial mound) and, in so doing, discovered and partially destroyed a ‘number of prehistoric burial chambers. The French archaeologist P.R. Giot was able to halt these depredations and carry out scientific excavations that revealed Barnenes to be one of the most remarkable and interesting prehistoric burial mounds in Western Europe.
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- Friday Photo – 10th August 2012 (amateurarchaeologist.wordpress.com)
After his permission to excavate in Turkey was revoked by the ruling Ottoman government, Schliemann moved to Greece to continue his search for the legendary kingdoms of Homer’s epics and began digging at Mycenae, which he believed was the final resting place of the king Agamemnon. Schliemann’s excavations revealed a number of shaft tombs at the entrance to this Bronze Age citadel and among the treasures were six gold death masks, swords, a golden diadem and a silver rhyton in the shape of a bull’s head.
- Adventures in Archaeology: Kathleen Martinez Berry’s Quest to Find Cleopatra (knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu)
Kathleen Martinez Berry creates entire careers out of idle moments.
Martinez vowed to find out for herself, a daunting task in a small Caribbean island in a pre-Internet world. ” I read everything, Plato, Socrates, especially the Romans,” she says, adding that she came to understand the axiom that history is written by the winners.
Martinez continued her law practice but devoted her spare time to Cleopatra research.
Martinez had no team and no funding to undertake a major dig, certainly not under the time pressure. Using her own money at first and teaming with the Egyptian government and Zahi Hawass, the former Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs, Martinez returned to the site and began excavations in 2004.
- Is it getting better? Inflation and Archaeology Wages (dougsarchaeology.wordpress.com)
Wages from the Jobs in British Archaeology were used to determine the increase in wages for different positions (see past issues of the JBA for definitions of what each position is)
- 9 Important Archaeological Discoveries of 2012 (neatorama.com)
In December, we are inundated with lists that look back at the past year. My favorites are those that celebrate scientific discoveries, like the biggest breakthroughs in different disciplines. Geeks Are Sexy rounded up the top discoveries in archaeology, stories that will all add to the body of knowledge about our history.
- San José de Moro Archaeological Project Receives 2-Year Research Grant (peoplenotstones.org)
The San José de Moro Archaeological Project (SJMAP), recipient of SPI’s first community development and sustainable preservation grant, has been awarded a two-year grant from the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP)!
- Satellite Images Provide Blueprint for Ancient Egypt (history.com)
Satellites orbiting 400 miles above earth have revealed numerous hidden ancient sites across Egypt, including 17 pyramids, 1,000 tombs and 3,100 settlements, the BBC reported this week.
- Early Christian Archaeology (mediterraneanworld.wordpress.com)
The continued growth in the term Early Christian Archaeology in more recent decades derives in large part from the growing interest in the archaeology of Late Antiquity and the appearance of William Frend’s book The Archaeology of Early Christianity (1996) which explores the history of the discipline.