History and Archaeology sciences looked at #4 Nature of archaeological work #2

Archaeology ἀρχαιολογία (lit. ‘discourse on things ancient’) coming from the Greek archaia (“ancient things”), and logos (“theory or science”) has us looking at the ancient things, material remains of man’s past.

Its Latin equivalent, antiquitates, yielded the English word ‘antiquities’ which long served to define a branch of historical inquiry that concerned itself with materials and records of all kinds, in so far as they could be used to illustrate the condition of earlier societies.  {Cross, F. L., & Livingstone, E. A. (Eds.). (2005). In The Oxford dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd ed. rev., p. 97). Oxford;  New York: Oxford University Press.}

Biblical Archaeology Review

Biblical Archaeology Review (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As Bible-scholars we are mostly interested in Christian or Biblical archaeology, the historical science of the monuments of early Christianity,

the function of which is ‘to make known as fully as possible the thought and religious life of Christian antiquity’ (G. P. Kirsch). In this context, ‘Christian antiquity’ is usually taken to mean the first six cents. of the Christian era. {Cross, F. L., & Livingstone, E. A. (Eds.). (2005). In The Oxford dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd ed. rev., p. 97). Oxford;  New York: Oxford University Press.}

We are open for different techniques which may be used as long as no damage is done to the environment and everything to do the Christian archaeology (survey, excavation, recording, dating, interpretation, and reconstruction) runs according to the rules of the country concerned and according the same rules as those employed in other fields of archaeological science. Special interest may go to main classes of early Christian monuments  like cemeteries, buildings (chiefly churches, baptisteries, and monasteries but also, on occasion, private houses), sculpture, paintings, mosaic, textiles, liturgical apparatus, together with such objects as glass, lamps, medals, and rings.

A source for identifying graphemes, clarifying their meanings, classifying their uses according to dates and cultural contexts, and drawing conclusions about the writing and the writer – trilingual inscription of Xerxes at Van Fortress in Turkey

We also take an interest in “epigraphy“, [from the Classical Greek epigraphein (“to write upon, incise”) and epigraphē (“inscription”)] the subsidiary historical discipline that studies inscriptions, mainly from the ancient and medieval periods, on hard materials, such as stone, metal, or clay, and being a special branch of Christian archaeology, and in paleography, the study and interpretation of old ways of recording language. Where buildings and artefacts are studied for their aesthetic qualities, they form the subject-matter of a history of Christian architecture, church architecture and art, an important part of which is concerned with the pedigree of representational themes (iconography).

As an adequate and objective taxonomy or classification is the basis of all archaeology, and many good archaeologists spend their lives in this activity of description and classification we are curious what they may classify and how they can place it in a historical context. Still there is much more information needed to supplement what may be already known from written sources, and, thus, to increase understanding of the past. Ultimately, then, the archae­ologist is a historian: his aim is the interpretive descrip­tion of the past of man.

The artefacts the archaeologist studies should be studied in their environmental contexts; and botanists, zoologists, soil scientists, and geologists are a necessary asset to be brought in to identify and describe plants, animals, sous, and rocks. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that the archaeologist is first a craftsman, practising many specialized crafts (of which excavation is the most familiar to the general public), and then a historian.

The justification for his work is the justification of all historical scholarship and historiography, namely, to enrich the present by our knowledge of the experiences and achievements of our predecessors. To get a better picture of what happened in the past and why certain things happened we should have an eye and an ear to the findings of archaeologists. Because it concerns itself with things people have made, the most direct findings of archaeol­ogy bear on the history of art and technology; but, by inference it also yields information about the society, religion, and economy of the people who created the artefacts. Because religion is interwoven with culture we should come to know the culture of the peoples concerned. By looking at the culture and practices at certain  places we can create a picture how and why religion took certain path at those places. Also, it may bring to light and interpret previously unknown written documents, providing an even more certain form of evidence about the past.

But no one archaeologist can cover the whole range of man’s history, and there are many branches of archaeol­ogy divided by geographical areas (such as classical ar­chaeology, the archaeology of ancient Greece and Rome; or Egyptology, the archaeology of ancient Egypt) or by periods (such as medieval archaeology and industrial archaeology).

Prehistory witnesses -Massive stone pillars at Göbekli Tepe, in southeast Turkey, erected for ritual use by early Neolithic people 11,000 years ago.

We also should not limit ourselves to the archaeological studies from the time people had written material. For us the period of unwritten sources is also very important because lots of the religious knowledge and practices rested on vocal tradition. The aspect of archaeology that deals with the past of man before he learned to write, assuming writing began 5,000 years ago in Mesopotamia and Egypt; its beginnings were somewhat later in India and China, and later still in Europe, the prehistoric archaeology, or pre-history has the archaeologist looking for the only sources being material and environmental.

While the correct interpretation of the material finds made by Christian archaeologists regularly depends on a thorough understanding of the relevant literary evidence (including that of papyri), archaeological research also provides much information on the early history of the Church that could never be obtained from the literary record alone.

Deutsch: Christian Ernst Hanßelmann, German ar...

Christian Ernst Hanßelmann, German archivist and archaeologist (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For us religion is interwoven with the feeling of man and with his surroundings and environment and is also inseparable from his spiritual background and general education knowledge or study. The background of a person determines a lot how he copes with natural phenomena, things he cannot understand, gods and God. The place in society, rank or order, also shall determine a lot of how he looks at life and at religious aspects and how he shall or shall not worship certain things, gods or the God.

Taking into account the findings of archaeologists with the written documents we already have we may put all the jigsaw puzzle pieces together and with regard to the lives of members of the lower orders of Christian society and the ordinary routine of Christian observance we can better place certain ideas which came into existence in Christendom or evolved in Christianity.

In view of the improbability of any major future increase in our literary documentation, it is indeed likely that ‘for the year-to-year growth of his subject the Church historian will continue to look to the archaeologist’ (W. H. C. Frend). {Cross, F. L., & Livingstone, E. A. (Eds.). (2005). In The Oxford dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd ed. rev., p. 97). Oxford;  New York: Oxford University Press.}

We should always remember that the archaeological record, like any historical record, is fragmentary and will never provide a complete picture of prehistoric life even when they may constantly seeking new analytical techniques that will allow them to extract additional information from material remains. We also should provide enough information over our culture and our time so that in the future archaeologist can look at our times and make some good conclusions. (That for in case Jesus has not yet returned in a few centuries time, which is quite unlikely though.)


Preceding articles

Archaeology and the Bible researcher 1/4 Knowing what happened in previous times

Archaeology and the Bible researcher 2/4

Archaeology and the Bible researcher 3/4

Archaeology and the Bible researcher 4/4

History and Archaeology sciences looked at #1 Encyclopedism and enlightenment

History and Archaeology sciences looked at #2 Co-operative of excavators, archaeologists, anthropologists, historians and culture morphologists

History and Archaeology sciences looked at #3 Nature of archaeological work #1


Further reading

  1. How to spot an archaeologist
  2. UCL Press: Key Concepts in Public Archaeology
  3. Slow Archaeology, Publishing, and Collaboration
  4. The aim of archaeology
  5. Optical Luminescence Dating
  6. Data, Interpretation, Publishing
  7. Knowledge Feature – Theory
  8. Archaeological futures III
  9. Opening Up Archaeology…
  10. Teaching Biblical Archaeology and Numismatics
  11. Finding Archaeological Sites from the sky using high-tech advances in archaeology
  12. Science vs. Fanaticism
  13. Discussing Archaeological Issues & The Bible
  14. Bible Confirmations & Discoveries
  15. Biblical Archaeology: History Has Gone to the Toilets-The Ancient Latrine of Lachish
  16. Responding to Harry Kroto’s Briliant renowned academics! Sir Raymond Firth, Professor of Anthropology at London School of Economics, “Religion [is] an essentially human product” (Includes a portion of my 5-15-94 letter to Dr. Firth)
  17. Taharqa, Sennacherib and Hezekiah – The Untold Story
  18. Canaanite Offering Unearthed at Tel Gezer
  19. The Ophel Inscription–Writing from the time of King David
  20. City of David: Uncovered
  21. Not Your Ordinary Shepherds, These Guys Were Special
  22. The Four Anchors of The Book of Acts
  23. Petra Part Two: Prophetic Refuge, Ancient Stronghold and Present Wonder
  24. The Missing Link, by Richard Cassaro
  25. You won’t believe what scientists found inside 50,000-year-old crystals in a Mexican Cave
  26. DNA evidence proves a maternal dynasty existed in North America 1,200 years ago
  27. Mapping human influences on the uplands and mountains of Scotland
  28. Can We Really Trust the Bible?
  29. Biblical Archaeology: 12th Dead Sea Scroll Cave Found!
  30. Archaeologists have discovered well preserved structures that date back to the time of King Solomon
  31. From the Midwives to Carchemish
  32. Seal the Deal
  33. Mummy Mask May Reveal Oldest Known Gospel
  34. Megiddo, Fought Over And Prophesied About
  35. Bible, Book of Mormon Side-by-Side Facts
  36. Retouched Flake
  37. A million-year-old mystery
  38. Sarah Parcak fulfills people’s dreams about Archaeology
  39. The fall of a great empire!-Samonella
  40. Ossuaries of interest
  41. Cuneiform tablet confirms the gruesome story of Jeremiah 39
  42. The Relocation of Royal Proportions
  43. The Remains of Great Zimbabwe
  44. The Colour of Commemoration: A History of Slavery & Emancipation in Five Monuments
  45. Call for Papers: The Medieval Countryside
  46. Dig House Living: Seasonality & Materiality
  47. A Walk Through Time in the Rousay Landscape
  48. Diving on the German High Seas Fleet Scrap Sites – Scapa Flow, Orkney
  49. [Workshop 6 April 2017] Ritualizing Funerary Practices in the Prehistoric Aegean: acts of transforming and viewing the human body
  50. Gold and the Gods – Exhibition of Ancient Nubia
  51. Nubia
  52. A Visit to the Ashmolean
  53. Visiting the Terracotta Army Museum
  54. Yuha Man
  55. Student Spotlight: Rachel Dewan
  56. Interview with Professor Yossi Garfinkel
  57. Vacancies: Research Associate, Universität zu Köln/Universität Bonn
  58. Vacancies: 11 doctoral posts, Universität Bonn/Universität zu Köln





2 thoughts on “History and Archaeology sciences looked at #4 Nature of archaeological work #2

  1. Pingback: History and Archaeology sciences looked at #3 Nature of archaeological work #1 | Bijbelvorser = Bible Researcher

  2. Pingback: History and Archaeology sciences looked at #3 Nature of archaeological work #1 | Bijbelvorser = Bible Researcher

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.