Archaeological Discovery Introduction

About archaeology and major archaeological discoveries, history and information about the science.


Archaeology as a modern science dates back only to the early days of the Victorian Age, the 1840s. On the broader scale of history, its beginnings are more ancient. Roman officials published decrees, in 1119 A.D., warning the populace not to desecrate the victory columns of Trajan and Marcus Aurelius. Petrarch began one of the world's first coin collections during the 14th century. Pope Sixtus IV acquired classical statuary for his personal enjoyment as early as 1471. By 1565, Johannes Helffrich had visited the Egyptian Pyramids and the Sphinx, seeking materials for his future journal.

Since these first uncertain steps, practitioners of the art have ranged far and wide, into every corner of the world, searching incessantly for the cultural treasures of the past. Gradually, they have pieced together partial answers to human-kind's history and to the vexing question: Where did we originate?

Initial use of the Greek-invented term archaeology, i.e., the scientific study of extinct people, is sometimes credited to Jacob Spon, a 17th-century physician. Spon traveled extensively throughout Greece and Asia Minor during 1674, comparing the sites he saw with the descriptions of them given in ancient accounts. In 1764, J. J. Winckelmann laid the cornerstone of modern archaeology when he published his classic History of the Art of Antiquity.

Thousands of important digs have been worked since Winckelmann's day. Some required the major part of the archaeologist's lifetime. Some came to final fruition only after years of painstaking, backbreaking excavation. Not a few produced results directly attributable to a sudden hunch or blind luck. All have added to the general storehouse of knowledge about our heritage.

The following selections are illustrative of some of the greatest achievements in archaeology.

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