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4 - The Beginnings of Prehistoric Archaeology

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 June 2014

Bruce G. Trigger
Affiliation:
McGill University, Montréal
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Summary

Within no very distant period the study of antiquities has passed, in popular esteem, from contempt to comparative honour.

e. oldfield, Introductory Address, Archaeological Journal (1852), p. 1

The development of a self-contained, systematic study of prehistory, as distinguished from the antiquarianism of earlier times, occurred as two distinct movements, the first of which began in the early nineteenth century and the second in the 1850s. The first originated in Scandinavia with the invention of a technique for distinguishing and dating archaeological finds that made possible the comprehensive study of prehistory. This development marked the beginning of prehistoric archaeology, which soon was able to take its place alongside classical and other text-based archaeologies as a significant component in the study of human development using material culture. The second wave, which began in France and England, pioneered the study of the Palaeolithic period and added vast, hitherto unimagined, time depth to human history. Palaeolithic archaeology addressed questions of human origins that became of major concern to the entire scientific community and to the general public as a result of the debates between evolutionists and creationists that followed the publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species in 1859.

Relative Dating

The creation of a controlled chronology that did not rely on written records was the work of the Danish scholar Christian Jürgensen Thomsen (1788–1865).

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2006

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