The Great Archaeologists
Brian Fagan (ed)
Thames & Hudson, £24.95
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