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Princeton (2017) h/b 455pp £27.95 (ISBN 9780691166407)
The title apparently derives from an archaeological axiom: that one stone is a stone; two a feature; three a wall; four a building; five a palace; and six a palace built by aliens. As C., professor of classics and anthropology and director of the Capitol Archaeological Institute at George Washington University, makes clear, this presents quite a challenge to students scrabbling about in a muddy trench with their picks and trowels: should they call over the supervisor every time they come across three stones?
Admirably, C.’s purpose is to excite his readers about the work in which he and others, past and present, have been involved all over the world. Part one looks at the invention of the discipline of archaeology and early archaeologists: Pompeii and Herculaneum (Winckelmann, Fiorelli), Troy (Schliemann, Dörpfeld, Blegen, Korfmann), the pyramids (Lepsius, Mariette), Mesopotamia (Nineveh, Nimrud and Babylon; the decipherment of cuneiform; Woolley, Mallowan, Rawlinson, Layard, Rassam) and Mayan civilisation in Central America (Stephens, Catherwood). Part two deals with early hominins, i.e. modern humans and our ancestors, as opposed to hominids, Great Apes and theirs, which include humans. Here C. discusses hominin bones found in South Africa, 2.8 million years old, and the first farmers in the Fertile Crescent.
Part 3 looks at the Bronze Age Aegean (Mycenae, Knossos, ‘Atlantis’ and Santorini, the Uluburun and Gelidonya shipwrecks); part 4 at Greece (Olympia, Delphi and the Athenian agora) and Rome (Ara pacis, Golden House, Colosseum and Mussolini’s imperial enthusiasms); part 5 in and around the Holy Land (Megiddo, source of ‘Armageddon’, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Masada, Ebla, Palmyra, Petra); and part 6 at the new world (Nazca, Machu and Moche culture and Machu Picchu in Peru; Olmec culture and Aztec and pre-Aztec areas in Mexico; and the submarine Hunley sunk in the American civil war in 1864, the first permanent British settlement in Jamestown, and various Native American skeletons and sites).
At the same time, C. interleaves the narrative with more general chapters about knowing where to dig, how to dig, how old a find is and how preserved, and the question of what to do with the finds, the problem of looting, the ethics of museum collections, and so on.
There is no new research here, though plenty is reported (e.g. the use of radiography to identify cavities in pyramids, the down-dating to 35,000 BC of the paintings in the Chauvet caves, discovered in France in 1994). Inevitably, such a wide-ranging survey does present its problems. Some of the explanations are rather simplistic; some are confused (‘Ilios’ is introduced suddenly without clearly explaining its connections with Wilusa or Troy); some need further clarification (if Homer composed the Iliad 500 years after the end of Troy VIIa, how could he be describing the walls there?); some are wrong (we knew well before 1999 that Frank Calvert discovered Troy, even if Schliemann gave him no credit for it; Virgil’s Aeneid is BC, not AD). It is a shame too, that line-drawings replace photographs.
That said, this ambitious project is to be warmly welcomed. C. writes clearly, informatively and enthusiastically and tells a good story, often illuminated by personal experiences from working on site. Sources are quoted in notes at the back, and there is an extensive bibliography and good index. As a general, up-to-date and excellent value introduction to the world of archaeology and the past it reveals, it can be counted a success.
Peter JonesBack to Reading Room