Archeology: A Secret History, The search for civilization BBC 4

 

Archeology: A Secret History, The search for civilization BBC 4

This was a very interesting programme about the history of archaeology itself. In this 2nd episode they described how archaeology started as mainly treasure hunting but it evolved into something much more.

This episode was particularly interesting for me because it showed the discovery of the city of Herculaneum under the debris of the eruption of mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. This was initiated by the Spanish engineer Rocque Joaquin de Alcubierre in 1738. The intention of this excavation was a treasure hunt to salvage any stone in the form of statues that could be reused in current building processes. Sadly many of the other finds in this dig were discarded as uninteresting. They uncovered deep underground, a theatre and its possible to see how the sculptures have been removed from it. Although brutal in our views of archaeology this excavation was the start of a process which changed archaeology for ever and over the 19th and 20th centuries the entire city and its dwellers was uncovered.

The boom in archaeology spread out with Greece and Rome to other regions. Napoleon led an excavation in Egypt in 1798 and this started an interest in Egyptology. Examples of Egyptian statues were brought back to France but following their defeat by Nelson at Trafalgar, these artefacts still remain eg the upper half of a statue of King Rameses in the British Museum.

Archaeologists set out to map the dawn of civilization to South America. In the 1830s the ancient Mayan city of Palenque founded in 226 BC and used until to its fall around 1123 AD. In the 1860s a German business tycoon Heinrich Schliemann excavated the remains of Troy in Turkey. Unknowingly he dug right through Homers Troy to a previous civilisation. He smuggled artefacts out and then started the excavation of Mycenae in Greece, where he found the Mask of Agamemnon. By analysing gold leaf found at both sites he was able to link the two places. In doing this he established archaeology as a science and this scientific approach was soon taken on board by other archaeologists changing the field forever.

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