Archaeology continues to be an irresistible lure to publishers, broadcasters and the general public. And the last fifteen years have seen an extraordinary number of spectacular finds across the globe and equally spectacular revelations from ever more sophisticated lab techniques. Brian Fagan, who has taught archaeology since the 1960s, reviews the brave new world of modern archaeological discovery.
The Terracotta Army, the royal tombs of Ur, and Olduvai Gorge's Zinjanthropus boisei: some archaeological discoveries of the twentieth century are household names. However, for the most part, we excavators work in quiet anonymity, far from the blaring headlines, despite the efforts of university public relations officers to promote even a minor find as being of international significance. In the popular eye we're still romantic figures, perhaps a trifle eccentric, who poke into royal tombs and dig in the shadow of pyramids. The epic work of Austen Henry Layard at Nineveh and of John Lloyd Stephens in the Maya rainforest in the 1840s, and of Heinrich Schliemann at Troy and Mycenae a generation later, set the tone. Lost civilizations emerging from clinging vines, and, above all, pharaohs' gold, are irresistible lures for the romantically inclined.