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Encyclopedia of Archaeology (3 Volume Set) (2007)


Author: Deborah M. Pearsall

Publisher: Academic Press


Publish Date: November 9, 2007

ISBN-10: 123736439

Pages: 816

File Type: PDF

Language: English

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Book Preface

Archaeology today has become a truly international undertaking, and it has done so by employing what has become a new and universal language. The record of the human past is a material one, recorded in the earth, in the buried remains of vanished civilizations and in the material traces which past communities have left behind. As this book clearly documents, those traces, the carefully excavated settlements and burials of early human groups and their artifacts, which they made and used, can today be made accessible in what we may call the language of archaeology.

That language, intelligible in every part of the world, is able to transcend the limitations of written history. For narrative history, as set down in writing, is inevitably confined to the literate civilizations whose very early texts come down to us from just a few locations in the Old World. The universal language of archaeology, however, knows no such bounds. Instead it addresses the human use of material culture wherever human beings have lived. It draws upon a broad range of techniques – from stratigraphic excavation to radiocarbon dating, from aerial photography to molecular biology – which now make it possible to speak of a world archaeology, in which the experiences of every country and people can take their place. This book sets out in a coherent way to make that language clearly and directly intelligible to the reader, so that the basic techniques of archaeology can be understood. It goes on to apply those techniques to the entire human story. Its broad sweep takes us from the emergence of the first humans, initially in Africa, and their early out-of-Africa dispersals, through the whole gamut of human experience, dealing with the rise of farming communities, the dawn of civilizations, the formation of the first cities, and so down to the present, and to the postcolonial era in every part of the world.

The good news is that every land, every inhabited area of the earth, does have its archaeology. Each community has a past, which today can be investigated with the use of the now-universal techniques of investigation described here. The scope is vast. The story unfolds here on a continent-by-continent basis.

Only in recent decades has it been possible to put together such a survey. For it was radiocarbon dating that opened the way for early developments in every part of the world to be dated. Suddenly the chronology of early Australia or of southern Africa became just as secure and just as available as the comparable chronologies for Europe or for the ancient Near East. The whole scope of human achievement in every part of the world is becoming known through the practice of archaeology. The authors of this survey have produced an up-to-date account not only of the methods which constitute the language of archaeology but also of the principal findings which now allow us to speak of a world archaeology.

The authorship of the Encyclopedia of Archaeology reflects the cosmopolitan status of archaeology today. It is truly international, with Chinese scholars writing many of the entries for China, African scholars for Africa. The coverage is, of course, global, covering every continent (including Oceania) and every period. It is also multifacetted, giving insights into the different schools of archaeological thought, which flourish today. It recognizes that philosophical themes (Marxist archaeology; Postprocessual archaeology) must rub shoulders with social topics (Ethnicity, Rise of political complexity), and both of these with issues of contemporary concern (Who owns the past?, Politics of archaeology). These in turn are found side-by-side with some of the key scientific subdisciplines (archaeometry, phytolith analysis, taphonomy), which today provide much of the vocabulary for that universal language of archaeology.

The outcome is that this work will be read with profit in every part of the world. It will be as welcome in South America (where the Amazon basin for once achieves necessary coverage) as in Europe, as appropriate in Japan as inMesoamerica. It reflects well the changing nature of archaeology,with the fast developing range ofnew research methods and the changing realities of a postcolonial world where the past of every area and region is of interest.

Colin Renfrew

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