In single word what is Archaeology? We can answer easily the study of our ancestors through objects that is material remains left by the then people produced by their subsidiary task. But
if someone ask us about the history of Archaeology . It seems just like jigsaw puzzle that never been solved . Because of the politics of knowledge as well as nationalistic thinking related to it . However I like to mention that it started when the people started to unearthed the material remains of their ancestors in a systematic way as well as the research. The history of archaeology is a long and checkered one. If there is anything archaeology teaches us, it is to look to the past to learn from our mistakes and, if we can find any, our successes. What we today think of as the science of archaeology has its roots in religion and treasure hunting, and born out of centuries of curiosity about the past and where we all came from. The first tentative step forward towards archaeology as a science took place during the Enlightenment, also known as the Age of Reason. Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries was a time of great growth in scientific and natural exploration, and it was a crucial leap forward in the history of archaeology.
We can contrast this with the endeavors of the Italian Renaissance humanist historian, Flavio Biondo, who created a systematic and documented guide to the ruins and topography of ancient Rome in the early 15th century.
In 1801, an army under the command of Napoleon Bonaparte was deployed in an Egyptian campaign. Napoleon brought some five hundred civilian scientists, specialists in fields such as biology, chemistry and languages, in order to carry out a full study of the ancient civilizations of Egypt. In these times some soldiers rebuilding a fort discovered an unusual stone on which ancient scripts were engraved. This stone, known to posterity as the Rosetta Stone, caused great excitement amongst the scholars attached to Napoleon’s army.
Several decades later the work of Jean-Francois Champollion in deciphering the Rosetta stone led to the discovery of the hidden meaning of hieroglyphics. This discovery proved to be the key to the study of Egyptology. It has since become a celebrated and prolific branch of classical archaeology because of the amount and quality of material that have been well preserved in the dry Egyptian climate,
In 1803, there was widespread criticism of Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin for removing the “Elgin Marbles” from their original location as a frieze on the Parthenon in Athens. Back in England these marble sculptures themselves tended to be valued, even by his critics, only for their aesthetic qualities, not for the information they might yield about Greek civilisation.
It was only as the 19th century continued, however, that the systematic study of the past through its physical remains began to be carried out in a manner recognisable to modern students of archaeology.
Richard Colt-Hoare (1758-1838) turned his attention to recording the past of the countryside surrounding his estate at Stourhead in Wiltshire which he published in a book entitled Ancient Historie of Wiltshire in 1812.
In his reporting of his investigations and ecavations of such neolithic barrows as Silbury Hill used terminology that was later adopted by other archaeologists. Colt-Hoare made meticulous recordings of his discoveries and preferred to use a trowel for careful excavation.
William Flinders Petrie is another man who may legitimately be called the Father of Archaeology. His work in Egypt developed the concept of seriation, which permitted accurate dating long before scientific methods were available to corroborate his chronologies. He was also a meticulous excavator and scrupulous record keeper and laid down many of the ideas behind modern archaeological recording.
The next major figure in the development of archaeology in the UK was Mortimer Wheeler, whose highly disciplined approach to excavation and systematic coverage of much of Great Britain in the 1920s and 1930s brought the science on swiftly. It was not until the introduction of modern technology from the 1950s onwards that a similar leap forward would be made in field archaeology. Wheeler’s method of excavation, laying out the site on a grid pattern, though gradually abandoned in favour of the open-area method, still forms the basis of excavation technique.
Meanwhile, the work of Sir Arthur Evans at Knossos in Crete had shed light on the Minoan civilisation. Many of the finds from this site were catalogued and brought to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, where they could be studied by classicists, while an attempt was made to reconstruct much of the original site. Although this was done in a manner that would be considered inappropriate today, it helped raise the profile of archaeology considerably.
Archaeology was increasingly becoming a professional activity. Although the bulk of an excavation’s workforce would still consist of volunteers, it would normally be led by a professional. It was now possible to study archaeology as a subject in universities and even schools, and by the end of the 20th century nearly all professional archaeologists, at least in developed countries, were graduates.
Undoubtedly the major technological development in 20th century archaeology was the introduction of radiocarbon dating, based on a theory first developed by American scientist Willard Libby in 1949. Despite its many limitations (compared to later methods it is inaccurate; it can only be used on organic matter; it is reliant on a dataset to corroborate it; and it only works with remains from the last 10,000 years), the technique brought about a revolution in archaeological understanding. For the first time, it was possible to put reasonably accurate dates on discoveries such as bones. Other developments, often spin-offs from wartime technology, led to other scientific advances. For field archaeologists, the most significant of these was the use of the geophysical survey, enabling an advance picture to be built up of what lies beneath the soil, before excavation even commences. The entire Roman town of Viroconium, modern day Wroxeter in England, has been surveyed by these methods, though only a small portion has actually been excavated.
Tradition has it that the first recorded archaeological dig was operated by Nabonidus, the last king of Babylon who ruled between 555-539 BC. Nabonidus’ contribution to the science of the past is the unearthing of the foundation stone of a building dedicated to Naram-Sin, the grandson of Sargon. Nabonidus overestimated the age of the building foundation by 1500 years, but, heck, it was the middle of the 6 century BC: there were no radiocarbon dates. Nabonidus was, frankly, deranged (an object lesson for many an archaeologist of the present), and Babylon was eventually conquered by Cyrus the Great, founder ofPersepolis and the Persian empire.