The business of archaeology is the present

Authored by: Laurent Olivier

Reclaiming Archaeology

Print publication date:  May  2013
Online publication date:  August  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415673921
eBook ISBN: 9780203068632
Adobe ISBN: 9781135083533


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Because archaeology unearths vestiges of the past it has been assumed to be a science of the past, archaeologia, that is, knowledge of the past. For the Greeks and Romans, this clearly meant their own pasts, such as they were known to them. The philosophical dialogue between Socrates and Hippias related by Plato (Plato, Hippias Major 2: 85–86) is perfectly clear on this point: Greek archaeologia dealt with the origins of the city of Athens. Similarly, for the Romans, the antiquities (antiquitates) they looked for were exclusively those relating to the origins of Rome (Cicero.1933: 419). This view of archaeology held up well as long as digs kept bringing to light the material remains of known history. Unearthed inscriptions, objects and monuments served to illustrate a past that, however distant, was nonetheless familiar, or at least part of the collective memory.

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