REVIEW: The Great Archaeologists

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Great-ArchaeologistsThe Great  Archaeologists
Brian Fagan (ed)
Thames & Hudson, £24.95
ISBN 978-0500051818

Archaeology can lay claim to its  fair share of colourful practitioners.  Among the 70 lives spanning  over 300 years chronicled  here are eccentrics, adventurers,  and visionaries. Unsurprisingly,  not all of them were ‘great’ in  the sense that their approaches  would be endorsed by the  modern profession. Indeed, if  all these personalities had ever  assembled under the same roof  it would have sparked some  memorable arguments.

This volume, edited by  renowned archaeological writer  Prof. Brian Fagan, is not just  another compendium regurgitating  anecdotes about Belzoni,  Schliemann, or Carter, although  they all appear here. Instead,  it pulls off the impressive feat  of compiling a biography for  archaeology itself, through  the lives of many of its leading  lights. Opening with Stukeley’s  pursuit of pre-Roman Britain, we  move on to meet the pioneers  of the three-age system, and the  cobbler’s son who became the  father of Classical archaeology.  From there, the story fans out,  taking in Egypt, Asia, and the  Americas, as well as ancient  scripts and excavation arts,  before reaching the ‘New  Archaeology’. This approach  delivers a book that is so much  more than the sum of its parts —  and what parts they are.

Review by Matthew Symonds

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