Friday, April 26, 2013

Discovery of Ancient Civilizations

In Discovery of Ancient Civilizations, Brian Fagan focuses on the discoverers more than the discoveries. This is a journey that unravels in the way that it did for modern people. Starting in the 1800s, the focus was an Egypt. Gradually older civilizations had been discovered. The initial excavations were more akin to "looting" and many key insights were lost by the haphazard approach. However, if not for this earlier work, archeology would not have grown to what it is today, and we wouldn't have the more scientific approach to archeology. He praises some of the Chinese attitudes towards excavation. They are willing to wait until "later" to excavate an ancient site. Why rush now?

Using a "discovery" approach helps resolve some of the issues with narrating the many ancient civilizations that originated in diverse parts of the world. Much of the lectures focus on the middle-eastern societies (such as Egypt and Mesopotamia) that are more well known. America, India and China are covered in less detail, later in the lectures. These societies were discovered later and have not received the public recognition as have the others. However, they are still interesting and have many potential new discoveries.

This focus on the explorers also gives us more insight into the characters involved in the discovery. Because the information about these civilizations is sparse, the personality of the discoveries can have a huge impact on our understanding and opinion of the societies. Many artifacts have been lost from some ancient sites, so the ones that have been preserved and deemed valuable are crucial to our understanding. The predetermined views of the archaeologists can also determine what areas are searched and evaluated. Would we understand these societies differently if different people had been researching? And what if everyone was equally dedicated to writing. Those that write and speak eloquently can have a much greater influence.

While it would be nice to have a "history" of the ancient civilization, it is probably impossible for it to be totally objective. This "discoverers" approach helps to provide a more accurate understanding.

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