The exact origins of archaeology as a discipline are uncertain. Excavations of ancient monuments and the collection of antiquities have been taking place for thousands of years. It was only in the 19th century, however, that the systematic study of the past through its physical remains began to be carried out in a manner recognisable to modern students of archaeology. Prior to this, excavation had tended to be haphazard; the importance of concepts such as stratification and context was completely overlooked. In 1803, there was widespread criticism of Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin for removing the "Elgin Marbles" from their rightful place on the Parthenon in Athens; but the marble sculptures themselves were valued by his critics only for their aesthetic qualities, not for the information they might supply about Greek civilisation.
Britain was one of the first countries to develop a systematic approach to archaeology and to recognise it as a discipline in its own right (though the debate over whether it is an "art" or a "science" continues). The first individuals to take a serious interest in the subject were clergymen. Many vicars recorded local landmarks within their parishes, and these might include details of the landscape, as well as ancient monuments such as standing stones -- even where they did not recognise the significance of what they were seeing. It is thanks to them that we know about many archaeological features which have since disappeared or been moved. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries antiquarians such as John Leland, John Aubrey and William Stukeley conducted surveys of the country, drawing, describing and interpreting the monuments they encountered.
In America, Thomas Jefferson, possibly inspired by his experiences in Europe, supervised the systematic excavation of an Indian burial mound on his land in Virginia in 1784. Although Jefferson's investigative methods were ahead of his time (and have earned him the nickname from some of the "father of archaeology"), they were primitive by today's standards. He did not simply dig down into the mound in the hope of "finding something"; he cut a wedge out of it in order to examine the stratigraphy. The results did not inspire his contemporaries to do likewise, and they generally continued to hack away indiscriminately at tell sites in the Middle East, barrows in Europe and mounds in North America, destroying valuable archaeological material in the process.
A little later, Napoleon's army carried out excavations during its Egyptian campaign. The emperor had taken with him a force of five hundred civilian scientists, specialists in fields such as biology, chemistry and languages, in order to carry out a full study of the ancient civilisation. The work of Jean-François Champollion in deciphering the Rosetta stone to discover the hidden meaning of hieroglyphics proved the key to the study of Egyptology.
A major figure in the development of archaeological method was the Victorian Augustus Pitt Rivers. Archaeology was still an amateur pastime, but Britain's colonial period had provided the opportunity to study antiquities in many other countries. Pitt-Rivers himself, having caught the bug during his military career, brought many artefacts back from overseas and, having inherited a large estate with numerous prehistoric features, collected more artefacts off his own land. From his personal collection (the nucleus of the museum named after him, in Oxford), he developed a typology, something few had thought of doing but which would be of enormous significance for dating purposes.
William Flinders Petrie is another man who may legitimately be called the Father of Archaeology, His work in Egypt developed the concept of seriation which permitted accurate dating long before scientific methods were available to corroborate his chronologies. He was also a meticulous excavator and scrupulous record keeper and laid down many of the ideas behind modern archaeological recording.
Development of archaeological method
The next major figure in the development of archaeology in the UK was Mortimer Wheeler, whose highly disciplined approach to excavation and systematic coverage of much of the country in the 1920s and 1930s brought the science on swiftly. It was not until the introduction of modern technology, from the 1950s onwards that a similar leap forward would be made in field archaeology. Wheeler's method of excavation, laying out the site on a grid pattern, though gradually abandoned in favour of the open-area method, still forms the basis of excavation technique.
Meanwhile, the work of Sir Arthur Evans at Knossos in Crete had shed light on the Minoan civilisation. Many of the finds from this site were catalogued and brought to the Ashmolean Museum in Source | Copyright