Ancient Lives
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Ancient Lives

An Introduction to Archaeology and Prehistory

Brian M. Fagan, Nadia Durrani

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eBook - ePub

Ancient Lives

An Introduction to Archaeology and Prehistory

Brian M. Fagan, Nadia Durrani

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About This Book

Focusing on sites of key significance and the world's first civilizations, Ancient Lives is an accessible and engaging textbook which introduces complete beginners to the fascinating worlds of archaeology and prehistory.

Drawing on their impressive combined experience of the field and the classroom, the authors use a jargon-free narrative style to enliven the major developments of more than 3 million years of human culture. First introducing the basic principles, methods, and theoretical approaches of archaeology, the book then provides a summary of world prehistory from a global perspective. This latest edition provides an up-to-date account of human evolution and the origins of modern humans. It explores the reality of life in the prehistoric world. Later chapters describe the development of agriculture and animal domestication, and the emergence of cities, states, and preindustrial civilizations in widely separated parts of the world. Our knowledge of these is changing thanks to revolutionary developments in LIDAR (light detection and ranging) technology and other remote-sensing devices.

With this new edition updated to reflect the latest discoveries and research in the discipline, Ancient Lives continues to be a comprehensive and essential introduction to archaeology. It will be ideal for students looking for an accessible guide to the subject.

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Conservation of Sites and Finds
A flow chart shows the process of archaeological research from initial planning to final publication. Conservation is an important concern throughout the project.

1Introducing Archaeology and Prehistory

The Amphitheater at Epidauros, Greece, fourth century b.c. Source: Thanos Karapanogiotis/Thinkstock.
Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon paused before the doorway that bore the seals of the long-dead, little-known pharaoh, Tutankhamun. They had waited six long years, from 1917 to 1922, for this moment. Silently, Howard Carter pried a hole through the ancient plaster. Hot air rushed out of the small cavity and massaged his face. He shone a flashlight through the hole and peered into the tomb. Gold objects swam in front of his eyes. Carter was struck dumb with amazement.
Lord Carnarvon moved impatiently behind him as Carter remained silent.
“What do you see?” he asked, hoarse with excitement.
“Wonderful things,” whispered Carter as he stepped back from the doorway.
They soon broke down the door. In a daze of wonderment, Carter and Carnarvon wandered through the antechamber of Tutankhamun’s tomb (see Figure 1.1). They fingered golden funerary beds, admired beautifully inlaid chests, and examined the pharaoh’s chariots stacked against the wall. Gold was everywhere—on wooden statues, inlaid on thrones and boxes, in jewelry, even on children’s stools. Soon Tutankhamun was known as the golden pharaoh, and archaeology as the domain of buried treasure and royal sepulchers.
Figure 1.1The antechamber of Tutankhamun’s tomb on discovery.
Source: Heritage Image Partnership/Alamy.
Archaeology is the stuff dreams are made of—buried treasure, gold-laden pharaohs, and the romance of long-lost civilizations. Many people think of archaeologists as romantic adventurers, like the film world’s Indiana Jones. Cartoonists often depict us as eccentric scholars in sun hats digging up inscribed tablets in the shadow of great pyramids. Popular legend would have us be absent-minded professors, so deeply absorbed in ancient times that we care little for the realities of modern life.
Wrong! Archaeology has come a long way since then, turning from spectacular discoveries to slow-moving teamwork in often far from dramatic sites. But the complex detective work accomplished by today’s archaeologists, which teases out minor details of the past, still has a fascination that rivals that of Tutankhamun’s tomb or Chinese emperor Shihuangdi’s regiment of guards fashioned in terracotta that protected his tomb after his death in 210 b.c. (Figure 1.2) (see Box 13.1 on p. 422).
Figure 1.2A warrior from the terracotta regiment that guarded Chinese emperor Shihuangdi’s tomb, 210 b.c.
Source: imageBROKER/Alamy Stock Photo.
Chapter 1 introduces you to archaeology and describes how it began. We look at what archaeologists do and why this unique science is so important in today’s world.

How Archaeology Began

How did it all begin? The roots of archaeology go back many centuries, to an era of adventurers and casual collectors. Seventeenth-century European nobles traveled on a Grand Tour of Italy, where they acquired statuary and other Roman artifacts for their collections. During the eighteenth century, the King of Naples employed miners to tunnel into the buried Roman city of Pompeii, in Italy, destroyed by an eruption of nearby Mt. Vesuvius in a.d. 79. By the early nineteenth century, British landowners were trenching into ancient burial mounds for funeral urns and skeletons (see Figure 1.3). They would celebrate their discoveries with fine dinners, toasting their friends with ancient clay vessels.

Lost Civilizations

The Pompeii excavations and curiosity about Ancient Egyptian civilization led to a lively market in precious antiquities. Giovanni Battista Belzoni (1778–1822), a circus strongman turned treasure hunter, ransacked tombs and temples along the Nile from 1816 to 1819. One of his specialties was collecting mummies. He scrambled into rocky clefts crammed with mummies, “surrounded by bodies, by heaps of mummies in all directions … The Arabs with the candles or torches in their hands, naked and covered with dust, themselves resembled living mummies” (Belzoni 1820, 157). On one occasion, he sat on a mummy by mistake and sank down in a crushed mass of bones, dried skin, and bandages. Belzoni eventually fled Egypt under threat of death from his competitors. Those were the days when archaeologists settled their differences with guns.
Figure 1.3Chaotic excavation. Casual diggers uncover a bread oven at Pompeii during the 1880s.
Source: North Wind Picture Archives/Alamy.
The stakes were high a couple of centuries ago, when one could find a long-forgotten civilization in a month. Englishman Austen Henry Layard and Frenchman Paul-Émile Botta did just that in the 1840s. They dug into vast city mounds at Khorsabad, Nimrud, and Nineveh (see Figure 1.4) by the Tigris River in what is now Iraq, where they unearthed the shadowy Assyrian civilization mentioned in the Old Testament, a sensational discovery.
Figure 1.4Englishman Austen Henry Layard supervises the removal of a winged bull from the Palace of Assyrian King Sennacherib at Nineveh, in what is now Iraq.
Source: Mary Evans Picture Library/Alamy.
We’re lucky that many early archaeologists, including Layard, were fluent writers, which adds to the excitement. American travel writer John Lloyd Stephens and artist Frederick Catherwood revealed the spectacular Maya civilization of Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras in 1839. They visited Copán, Palenque, Uxmal, and other forgotten ancient cities, captivating an enormous audience with their adventures in the rain forest and with their lyrical descriptions and pictures of an ancient society shrouded in tropical vegetation (see Figure 1.5 and Box 1.1). Stephens laid the foundation for all subsequent research on ancient Maya civilization by declaring that the cities he visited were built by the ancestors of the modern inhabitants of the region. Like Layard, he was a best-selling author whose books are still in print.
Figure 1.5Frederick Catherwood’s lithograph of the Governor’s Palace, Uxmal, Mexico.
Source: Artokoloro Quint Lox Ltd/Alamy.

But How Old Was Humanity?

Austen Henry Layard’s discoveries of the Biblical Assyrian civilization coincided with an intense debate over human origins. For centuries, Christian teaching had proclaimed the story of the Creation in Chapter 1 of Genesis to be historical truth. Seventeenth-century Archbishop James Ussher of Armagh in Northern Ireland used the genealogies in the Old Testament to calculate the date of the Creation as 4004 b.c., allowing a mere 6,000 years for all of human existence. However, repeated discoveries of the bones of long-extinct animals in the same geological levels as human-made stone tools hinted at a much longer time span for human origins. The geologists also showed how the Earth had formed through natural geological processes such as rainfall, earthquakes, and wind action, not from a series of great floods triggered by Divine Wrath as the religious believed.
The deba...

Table of contents

Citation styles for Ancient Lives
APA 6 Citation
Fagan, B., & Durrani, N. (2020). Ancient Lives (7th ed.). Taylor and Francis. Retrieved from (Original work published 2020)
Chicago Citation
Fagan, Brian, and Nadia Durrani. (2020) 2020. Ancient Lives. 7th ed. Taylor and Francis.
Harvard Citation
Fagan, B. and Durrani, N. (2020) Ancient Lives. 7th edn. Taylor and Francis. Available at: (Accessed: 15 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Fagan, Brian, and Nadia Durrani. Ancient Lives. 7th ed. Taylor and Francis, 2020. Web. 15 Oct. 2022.