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Encyclopedia of Archaeology
September 8, 2000

Retrospection is a sign of a maturing discipline. In archaeology this began effectively with the late Glyn Daniel's A Hundred Years of Archaeology (1950), although less embracing studies had appeared sporadically over the previous decade. Daniel himself was primarily responsible for the subsequent growth of the field, not only by his own publications (such as The Origins and Growth of Archaeology ), but even more by the series of regional historiographies that he commissioned for Thames and Hudson. These included Ole Klindt-Jensen on Scandinavia, Seton Lloyd on Mesopotamia, Ignacio Bernal on Mexico and, most successful of all, Gordon Willey and Jeremy Sabloff on the Americas as a whole. Daniel and Klindt-Jensen also organised the first international conference on the topic, and Daniel edited the resulting volume of essays; other authors and publishers recognised the importance and attraction of the history of archaeology, and books on Central Europe, Egypt, the rest of Africa, and elsewhere followed.

Daniel, as editor of Antiquity, also commissioned a series of autobiographical essays from pioneers in the discipline now in or approaching retirement, which appeared in book form as The Pastmasters in 1989, following Gordon Willey's similarly conceived Archaeological Researches in Retrospect published 15 years later.

Most of these were culture histories of archaeology, heavy on discovery and personality (as were their popular complements such as C. W. Ceram's Gods, Graves and Scholars and Geoffrey Bibby's Testimony of the Spade , which drew many of us into archaeology as youngsters, and, more recently, Brian Fagan's The Great Archaeologists ). Although the late Stuart Piggott published a number of essays on the history of archaeological ideas, a broad-based intellectual history of archaeology had to wait until 1989 for Bruce Trigger's A History of Archaeological Thought .

While erring on the late side, in my view, in defining the crystallisation of archaeology as an intellectual discipline, albeit not an academic one, and offering scant coverage of classical and historical archaeology, Trigger's impressive documentation brought to fruition the task begun by Daniel some 40 years earlier. Archaeology could be seen clear as itself, not as dead anthropology, nor solid history, nor just material proof of biblical and classical assertions.

Responding to these advances, most university courses in archaeology now include at least some consideration of how the discipline evolved to its present state, on the incontestable ground that the ambit of modern archaeology - what it leaves out as much as what it embraces - can only be understood by comprehension of its historical trajectory. The late David Clarke made that point in Analytical Archaeology in 1968: it has taken us a generation to learn it.

David Clarke is, appropriately, the last of the 58 "Great Archaeologists" whose professional biographies form these two volumes (the encyclopedia will have three further thematic volumes on "History and Discoveries", to one of which I am contributing a short essay). The first is William Camden (1551-1623), one of the great Elizabethan antiquaries and author of the Britannia , the first published compilation of British antiquities.

Camden, who taught at Westminster and ended his career as Clarenceux king of arms, followed John Leland and others in recording topography, and monuments such as Stonehenge (Avebury, incredibly, remained unnoticed until John Aubrey's work nearly a century later), but his familiarity with the Roman sources on Britain and his admirable scepticism distanced him from the familiar seductions of Geoffrey of Monmouth's British History , and his contacts with Abraham Ortelius, Sir Philip Sidney, Sir Robert Cotton and other intellectual luminaries of the age gave him a breadth of approach matched by few of his compeers.

Graham Parry covers the work of Camden, Aubrey, Edward Lhwyd and William Stukeley, four of the major English antiquaries of the period 1575-1765, which saw the emergence of the county topographers and then the Royal Society as successive, contrasting, yet complementary students of the past.Much of this is similar to Parry's The Trophies of Time (1995), which together with Michael Hunter's 1975 study of Aubrey gives an admirable understanding of the origins of English archaeology.

Similar intellectual currents were moving in Scandinavia, but unfortunately neither Ole Worm nor Johann Bure is considered a "Great Archaeologist", nor for that matter are Olaf Rudbeck, Erik Pontoppidan or any of the northern antiquaries prior to Sven Nilsson in the 19th century: even Christian Thomsen and Jens Worsaae, pioneer practical users of the "Three-Age" model of successive Stone, Bronze and Iron ages, appear only in passing in the essays on Nilsson and Sophus Muller.

France is represented by Gabriel de Mortillet, Marcellin Boule, Joseph Dechelette, Henri Breuil, Andre Leroi-Gourhan and Francois Bordes, all representatives of French prehistory. France's long involvement overseas, especially in Egypt with Mariette and his successors, in Mesopotamia and Elam, Afghanistan and Indo-China is ignored, although some of the French scholars working abroad were certainly more important in the development of archaeology than some of the 35 anglophones who are included.

Those anglophones (including 13 from the United States and 19 from Britain, many of the latter doing their fieldwork overseas) include the only two women in the book, Dorothy Garrod and Kathleen Kenyon. Gertrude Bell, Gertrude Caton-Thompson, Harriet Boyd Hawes and Marie Wormington, at the very least, should have been in, for their achievements, not their sex.Editor Tim Murray notes some of the anglophone omissions in his introduction: Glynn Isaac, Louis Leakey (he does not mention Mary Leakey, arguably the greater archaeologist), Margaret Murray and Leonard Woolley, but explains them only by "limitations of time and space".

Some of the choices are odd: Roger Green but not John Mulvaney, Jorge Acosta but not Ignacio Bernal or Alfonso Caso, Sylvanus Morley but not Alfred Maudslay or Eric Thompson, where parity of importance is palpable. Murray does not remark on the unusual inclusion of several living figures - Robert McCormick Adams, Lewis Binford, Robert Braidwood, Desmond Clark, Roger Green, Mats Malmer, Irving Rouse, Thurstan Shaw, Gordon Willey - nor on the decidedly less critical treatment that they receive compared with recently deceased colleagues such as Jimmy Griffin and Walter Taylor.

So the book is biased: to the anglophone male prehistorian, at the expense of the female, the classical, the Egyptologist, the Mesopotamianist, the historical archaeologist, the archaeological scientist; but Murray pleads for what he calls "a unique window on the evolution of the discipline of archaeology" to be taken on its merits, among which he sees especially "the evolution of the archaeologist".

Here he is right: while books like Trigger's document the evolution of ideas, the concentration on themes subordinates those who had the ideas, dug the sites, and created the discipline. Some of those included here are unlikely to receive monographic treatment, however much their contributions may merit it: it is a pleasure to have decent essays on Eric Higgs, a pioneer of modern economic archaeology, and on Xia Nai, the godfather of Maoist Chinese archaeology, as well as on earlier and under-appreciated people such as Gabriel de Mortillet, Gustav Kossinna and William Henry Holmes, and on those about whom little has hitherto been published in the anglophone world, such as Vasiliy Gorodcov, Nikodim Kondakov, Pei Wenzhong and Su Bingqi.

Most of the essays are competent and enlightening (those on Joseph Dechèlette and David Clarke are exceptions, emotive rather than illuminating); some are truly excellent. Those of us who teach the history of archaeology seriously at graduate level have good reason to praise Tim Murray with only faint damns.

Norman Hammond is professor of archaeology, Boston University, Massachusetts, United States.

Encyclopedia of Archaeology: The Great Archaeologists Volumes One and Two

Editor - Tim Murray
ISBN - 1 57607 199 5
Publisher - ABC-Clio
Price - £95.00 (the set)
Pages - 950

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