study of the past via material culture

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.

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  • Archaeology is archaeology is archaeology
  • 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 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 
  • 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.
  • 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. 
  • It may be taken as a sign of the increasing theoretical maturity of the discipline of archaeology that it is beginning to see itself as a product of the forces of history. . . . there has been a shift from an internal understanding of archaeology as an objective and value-free practice towards a broader understanding that situates archaeology in its social and political context.
    • (Kristiansen 1996, 139). in Bryant, E. F. (2001). The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture : the Indo-Aryan migration debate. Oxford University Press. chapter 10
  • Linguist too frequently and too adroitly, assign languages to archaeological cultures, while archaeologists are often too quick to assign their sherds a language.
    • ARCHAEOLOGY AND LANGUAGE The case of the Bronze Age Indo-Iranians, by Carl C. Lamberg-Karlovsky, in : Bryant, E. F., & Patton, L. L. (2005). The Indo-Aryan controversy : evidence and inference in Indian history. Routledge. 171-2
  • 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.
  • History is too serious to be left to historians.
  • Unfortunately some archaeologists seem to have no eyes to see anything but what the spade digs up from the bowels of the earth, and no ears to hear anything that is not echoed from excavated ruins.
    • (Majumdar 1959, 11). 1959. "Rgvedic Civilization in the Light of Archaeology." Annals of the Bhandarfcar Oriental Research Institute 40:1-15. in Bryant, E. F. (2001). The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture : the Indo-Aryan migration debate. Oxford University Press. chapter 9
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • I find it impossible to attribute with any degree of certainty any given language to any given prehistoric civilization.
    • Dennis Sinor (1999: 396), quoted in ARCHAEOLOGY AND LANGUAGE The case of the Bronze Age Indo-Iranians Carl C. Lamberg-Karlovsky, in : Bryant, E. F., & Patton, L. L. (2005). The Indo-Aryan controversy : evidence and inference in Indian history. Routledge.172
  • 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.
  • Archeologists have not discovered stages of human existence so early that they were without art. Right back in the early morning twilights of mankind we received it from Hands which we were too slow to discern. And we were too slow to ask: FOR WHAT PURPOSE have we been given this gift? What are we to do with it? And they were mistaken, and will always be mistaken, who prophesy that art will disintegrate, that it will outlive its forms and die. It is we who shall die — art will remain. And shall we comprehend, even on the day of our destruction, all its facets and all its possibilities?
  • The claim by archaeologists to be able to falsify interpretations on the basis of new evidence or by means of new techniques of analysis is dismissed by extreme relativists as an untenable manifestation of elitism and intellectual hegemony, which must be resisted with counterclaims that all interpretations of the past are subjective and hence there is no way to demonstrate that the insights of a professional archaeologist are necessarily superior to those of anyone else.
    • Trigger (1995) (276). in Bryant, E. F. (2001). The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture : the Indo-Aryan migration debate. Oxford University Press.


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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