Companion Encyclopedia of Archaeology

Companion Encyclopedia of Archaeology

Companion Encyclopedia of Archaeology

Companion Encyclopedia of Archaeology

Synopsis

This comprehensive, fully illustrated Companion answers the need for an in-depth archaeology reference that provides authoritative coverage of this complex and interdisciplinary field. The work brings together the myriad strands and the great temporal and spatial breadth of the field into two thematically organized volumes. In twenty-six authoritative and clearly-written essays, this Companion explores the origins, aims, methods and problems of archaeology. Each essay is written by a scholar of international standing and illustrations complement the text.

Excerpt

Graeme Barker

THE NATURE AND SCOPE OF ARCHAEOLOGY

Archaeology is commonly defined as the study of past societies through their material remains, and history as the study of past societies through their written records. The difficulties of recovering, analysing and interpreting archaeological evidence are profound, but the principal strength of archaeology as a historical discipline concerned with trying to understand our past is that all human societies, from our earliest ancestors to most recent generations, have created archaeology. Hunter or farmer, emperor or slave, lord or serf-everybody uses material culture, and some of it has survived for us to discover and study. Even today huge numbers of the world's population are illiterate, and write no history about themselves-in a real sense, they are denied their history. Literacy in the past was even more restricted, so most historians have to try to understand the societies they study through the perceptions and biases of the small élite that wrote about them. Furthermore, for more than 99 per cent of human history there are no historical records. Thus the practice of archaeology is not restricted to any particular period of the past, or region of the world: whether we study early humans, or ancient Egyptians, or Incas, or a nineteenth-century shipwreck, or Second World War fortifications, we are all archaeologists, using archaeological methods to try to understand past societies through their material remains.

With the totality of the human past to study, though, there are of course many different kinds of archaeologies and archaeologists. Many archaeologists study a particular period of the past, and often by definition a particular region of the world (Egyptologists, for example). Prehistoric archaeologists are concerned with the immense periods of the human past that lie between the first appearance of creatures

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