study of the past via material culture
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Archaeology is the study of human cultures through the recovery, documentation and analysis of material remains and environmental data, including architecture, artifacts, biofacts, human remains, and landscapes.


  • Archaeology helps us understand history in a different way, and is the only way that we can make sense of what happened in these islands in prehistory.
  • Archaeology as a field of study isn't just about the past, it's about the present and future too. The discipline has transformative qualities. It can be used as a powerful tool to help connect communities, and can give people a real sense of place and the landscape that surrounds them.
  • Without archaeology we can have no proper understanding of who we are or of the places we inhabit. Every street, every field, every moor or coastline, has a human story untold by written history. Archaeology gives us the eyes to see that saga. That beauty.
  • Material culture is no more objective, apolitical, unbiased, or able to speak for itself than documents, although it has at times been treated that way.
  • Being an archaeologist isn’t a profession; it’s a way of being, thinking and behaving.
    • Don Henson, quoted in his obituary. Schofield, John (20 May 2021). "Don Henson obituary". The Guardian. 
  • Archaeology is archaeology is archaeology
  • History is too serious to be left to historians.
  • An archaeologist is the best husband any woman can have; the older she gets, the more interested he is in her.
    • Agatha Christie denied having made this remark, which had been attributed to her by her second husband Sir Max Mallowan in a news report (1954-03-09)
    • According to Nigel Dennis, "Genteel Queen of Crime: Agatha Christie Puts Her Zest for Life Into Murder", Life, Volume 40, N° 20, 14 May 1956, she was quoting "a witty wife".
    • Garson O’Toole finds the topic confusing. Quote Investigator[1].
  • In a different kind of instrumentalization, archaeology has itself been deployed as a weapon of war and structural violence, sometimes by archaeologists but often by others seeking to use it for their own aims. Targeting of archaeological sites and monuments for destruction in the context of violent conflicts, or “eliminationism” (Gonzalez-Ruibal & Hall 2015, pp. 156–57), is well attested from antiquity up to the present (Kohl 1998, Bevan 2006,Weizman 2007). Archaeological evidence has been used to justify the dispossession of people from their lands and homes, as in ongoing conflicts over the Silwan area of Jerusalem. In Silwan, excavations have revealed occupation since the Bronze Age, but the public presentation of the site by the private Israeli organization El-Ad highlights exclusively the portions of the past purportedly linked to the biblical David and other elements of Jewish history. This connection has been used to claim the area for Jewish settlement. Palestinian houses have been confiscated, and excavations have been conducted in the immediate vicinity and even underneath these properties (Abu el-Haj 2001, pp. 228–34, 258–62; Greenberg 2009; Pullan & Gwiazda 2009; de Cesari & Herzfeld 2015, pp. 181–83).
  • Unesco conventions on antiquities have been in place since 1970. In February this year, the UN Security Council banned trade in artefacts illegally removed from Syria since 2011 and Iraq since 1990, hoping to choke off a funding source for terrorist groups. But enforcement is near impossible in both these countries amid the current turmoil. And in the destination countries, it’s up to law enforcers to establish when those objects left conflict zones. “The lack of evidence either way means that the dealer wins,” says Patty Gerstenblith, a lawyer specialising in cultural heritage at Chicago’s DePaul University College of Law. This high bar means that authorities often settle for reclaiming objects rather than pursuing cases through criminal courts – so some dealers might assess that, given the overall profits, it’s worth losing the odd artefact to the process. While we can’t second-guess the context or motives, Gerstenblith cites examples of Egyptian artefacts seized by US officials in Miami, Iraqi items in New York and Cambodian objects in Los Angeles; in each case, there were no attempts at prosecution. She suggests that less-scrupulous dealers may engage in wilful ignorance over an object’s provenance when a seller approaches them with a story. “They don’t ask a lot of questions, they think, ‘Oh fine, I have your word for it’ – and that’s sufficient to establish that the dealer didn’t know it was illegal.”
  • I have lived on these lands for years. My father, and the father of my father, pitched their tents here before me; but they never heard of these figures. For twelve hundred years have the true believers (and, praise be to God! all true wisdom is with them alone) been settled in this country, and none of them ever heard of a palace under ground. Neither did they who went before them. But lo! here comes a Frank from many days’ journey off, and he walks up to the very place, and he takes a stick [...] and makes a line here, and makes a line there. Here, says he, is the palace; there, says he, is the gate; and he shows us what has been all our lives beneath our feet, without our having known anything about it. Wonderful! wonderful! Is it by books, is it by magic, is it by your prophets, that you have learnt these things? Speak, O Bey; tell me the secret of wisdom.
  • In archaeology, the story of the past is largely told through the experiences of men. There have been noticeably fewer explorations of the wider spectrum of gendered identities and ideologies that undoubtedly existed during the human past. This is perhaps not surprising given that many inequalities based on sex, sexual preference or sexual identity persist to the present day. Our versions of the past reflect the context in which archaeological knowledge is produced: a patriarchal society in which (white) men are privileged above others tends to write a past based on the supremacy of males in highly stratified cultures, mirroring their present.
    • Dempsey, Karen (2019), "Gender and medieval archaeology: storming the castle", Antiquity 93 (369): 772, doi:10.15184/aqy.2019.13 


Dug from the tomb of taste-refining time,
Each form is exquisite, each block sublime.
Or good, or bad,—disfigur’d, or deprav’d,—
All art, is at its resurrection sav’d;
All crown’d with glory in the critic’s heav’n,
Each merit magnified, each fault forgiven.
Martin Archer Shee (1805) Rhymes on Art, or the Remonstrance of a Painter Part 2

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