Field archaeology is a young branch of learning, with a history of only three centuries. It is true, of course, that there existed even earlier an interest in antiquity; but it was an interest focused more upon genealogy, arms, heraldry, early political institutions, and kindred subjects, than upon the objects and monuments which are to-day considered to be the proper study of the field archaeologist.
The history of archaeological research in Britain can be divided into three main stages. The first of these, the period of record, occupies the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and is typified by the work of John Aubrey (1626-1697) and William Stukeley (1687-1765). Their accounts of ancient monuments, and their speculations upon their significance, reflect the rise of a conscious antiquarianism, and the gradual recognition of the value of material remains as a source of historical evidence; but the contemporary growth of practical experiment in the natural sciences had not yet extended to archaeological studies, and even in the latter part of the eighteenth century excavations were a rarity.
The second stage, the period of collection, belongs to the nineteenth century. The work of Cunnington and Colt Hoare in Wessex in the early years of the century initiated a spate of excavations, whose sole object was the collection of relics. For the most part the digging was little better than treasure-hunting, and inevitably destroyed much valuable evidence whose importance was not appreciated. But from the classification of the mass of material thus recovered grew the typological method which is the basis of archaeological studies; and the ideas of evolution and stratification, drawn from the growing sciences of biology and geology, were now applied to archaeological material, and so transformed the mere collection of specimens into a distinctive and recognised branch of historical research.
The third stage in the history of British archaeology may be called the period of scientific methods, and dates from the . . .