History of Archaeological Methods

The development of archaeological methods has been major. One of the early attempts to develop methods was by al-Hamadani of Yemen. His work is summarized as follows: “– observing and describing the site, — excavating and recording of finds with exact origin, descriptions and measurements, — using knowledge of Himyarite inscriptions, — analyzing the findings in light of religious and historical texts and oral history”. Al-Idrisi’s work was particularly for Egyptology and it includes study of sediments to see the indication of the flood level and chemical analysis of clay in building materials.

Richard Colt-Hoare was one of the earliest modern archaeologists and it is possible that he was the first one to use a trowel for careful excavation. The terms he invented to categorize and describe his findings are still in use.

Augustus Pitt-Rivers was a major figure in the development process. He developed a type of typology which helps with the dating purposes and has to do with the similarity of objects. He had the first archaeological timing system that was based on importance and not beauty.

The man that can be legitimately called Father of Archaeology is William Flinders Petrie. He created a serialization technique which is a way of situating an object within a series and it permitted accurate dating long before the technology we have today.

It was the idea of Mortimer Wheeler to lay a site out in a grid pattern. It forms the basis of excavation technique, but it is slowly being let go when methods have developed.

The first chance for archaeologists to practice urban archeology was during the Second World War when the cities were emptied. The latest major step in archeology was the invention of radiocarbon dating. The theory was introduced by American scientist Willard Libby in 1949 and after his time it was made fact. Radiocarbon dating is revolutionary, but it has many limitations. Another modern technique development is geophysical survey which allows archaeologist study the formations of the ground before making the decision of where to dig.

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