Introduction to Archaeology
They Found the Buried Cities
Testaments of Time
New Roads to Yesterday
Most Ancient Egypt
What, one wonders, would a browser in a bookshop expect to find when he picks up a book called Introduction to Archaeology? Probably just what Dr. Gorenstein tries to provide, a simple instruction-book on excavation—finding a site, digging, keeping records, analyzing the data. To most laymen an archaeologist is a more or less romantic, slightly eccentric, and very dedicated character, wearing a pith helmet (at least in cartoons), who digs for old bones, lost treasures, and documents. And in the “heroic age” of archaeology that image wasn’t far off: one need name only Layard at Nineveh or Heinrich Schliemann, men of the same stamp as the great explorers, Sir Richard Burton or Dr. Livingstone. They broke every known rule of present-day “scientific” archaeology and they made the most sensational discoveries. They also knew how to report in an exciting manner, writing best sellers describing to an eager public how they exhumed dead and forgotten civilizations and filled European museums with great treasures.
Today it is all very different. Professor Wauchope notes with regret in introducing his anthology of excerpts from chiefly older writings on exploration and excavation in the American tropics (from Guillelmo Dupaix’s Antiquités méxicaines, published in Paris in 1834, to Louis J. Halle’s River of Ruins of 1941), that now
One rarely reads more than the dry technical monographs that result from these explorations. In their published reports, few archaeologists reveal their hardships and adventures, or even their thoughts and emotions…. perhaps some plan eventually to write about their experiences but never find the time to do so, and feel that these accounts do not properly belong in a scientific monograph. I do not agree.
In archaeology as in every other subject there is a qualitative change, the result of twentieth-century professionalism. Everyone is now a specialist; the team has replaced the individual in most investigations; and the art of public communication has been expelled from the scientific monograph and has been allowed to fall into the hands of amateurs in the pejorative sense of that word. Professor Wauchope is harsh in his judgment:
Most travel reminiscences nowadays appear in books by professional “adventures” and journalists posing as archaeologists; their writings suggest that many of their tales are outright fabrications and the dialogue imagined rather than real. Not only are the adventures themselves largely falsified, but the scanty archaeological content of these books is inaccurate and grossly misleading.
This kind of complaint will be familiar to readers of The New York Review in more than one field of inquiry. Now Dr. Deuel comes along with an excellent idea. The search for lost books and documents is in its way as important and exciting as the recovery of ruins and material objects, and there is need for a popular survey of some of the great discoveries of the past hundred years or so: the papyri of Egypt, the Dead Sea scrolls, the documents in the Cairo Geniza, bark codices from eastern Asia, and others. Dr …
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.