Went to see the new Indiana Jones movie last night, and LOVED it! OK, nothing compares to Raiders of the Lost Arc, and it’s hard to compare Kingdom of the Crystal Skull to Last Crusade, but it was really, really good despite my 2 small problems with it.
That said, what was archaeology like in Victorian times? Much like in the Indiana Jones movies, the emphasis was more on putting pretty things in a museum than preserving them for the local peoples. It’s why the British Museum and Smithsonian have such extensive collections.
During the Victorian Era, archaeology was closely related to history and anthropology. Basically, it was the systematic study of the past through its physical remains.
Two early and important people stand out:
Lieutenant-General Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers (1827-1900) was an English army officer who developed an interest in ethnology, and archaeology while in the field. The estates that he inherited in 1880 contained archaeological material from the Romans and Saxons. He excavated these over seventeen years, beginning in the mid-1880s and ending with his death in 1900. His approach was highly methodical by the standards of the time, and he is widely regarded as the first scientific archaeologist to work in Britain.
His most important methodological innovation was his insistence that all artifacts, not just the beautiful or unique ones, be collected and cataloged. This focus on everyday objects as the key to understanding the past broke decisively with current archaeological practice, which often verged on treasure hunting. It is Pitt Rivers’ most important, and most lasting scientific legacy. Moreover his work inspired 20th century archaeologist, Mortimer Wheeler, among others to add to the scientific approach of archaeological excavation techniques.
Professor Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie, FRS, (1853-1942) was an English Egyptologist and a pioneer of systematic methodology in archaeology. He excavated at many of the most important archaeological sites in Egypt such as Abydos and Amarna. Some consider his most famous discovery to be that of the Merneptah Stele.
He cut out the role of foreman on his excavations, taking complete overall control and removing pressure on the workmen from the foreman to find finds quickly but sloppily. Though regarded as an amateur by more established Egyptologists, that made him popular with his workers, who found several small but significant finds that would have been lost under the old system.