Archæology

I

FOR those whose work is the recovery, by researches carried on in the field, of such monuments of antiquity as time has spared to us, the public has always an inevitable question: ‘What is archæology, and what is the good of it?’ By this query, in one form or another, the archæologist is confronted at every turn. His profession, still so young as to be in a state of rapid evolution, is hardly yet an accepted fact, as is that of the lawyer or physician. The many laymen superficially interested in ‘ digging ’ and ‘ finds ’ are in most cases stimulated and appealed to by wholly secondary phases of this science of antiquities; by the fact, for example, that through archæological research many beautiful monuments of ancient art are being restored to us; by the recovery of material throwing light upon history; by the element of chance in all excavations; or even, in individual cases, by particulars such as new illustrations of ancient costume, ship-building, or athletics. Already manifold in its aspects, archaeology interests for the most varied and often extraordinary reasons; but very rarely does it make its appeal through the vital and undying principle by which all its branches are — or should be — inspired, or the great and important ends which, at its best, it achieves.

To understand the principle which has slowly come to animate the best archæological work of the present day, one should first glance at the stages through which the science has passed. The spirit in which the most advanced workers have, for the last ten years, undertaken the solution of the problems by which they have been confronted will be the more easily understood when contrasted with the narrower or more facile ideals which contented the earlier schools. The history of archæology, it will be seen, presents one strong analogy to the history of other sciences, such as chemistry or astronomy: from stages secondary and dependent, it develops by phases to the condition of a pure science worthy of pursuit for its own sake.

From its origin in the fifteenth century down to the middle of the nineteenth, archæology, generally speaking, concerned itself largely with the remains of Greece and Rome. It may be said to have begun in the eager search for gems, medals, and marbles which arose out of the passionate classicism of the Renaissance. The enthusiasm, uncritical and all-devouring, which followed the rediscovery of longneglected Greek and Latin authors, manifested itself not only in the intense and even fanatical study of ancient literature, but in secondary phases of many sorts. Inter alia, the observation of classic Greece and Rome inaugurated, in the fifteenth century, a keen search for antiquities, especially for such as were portable and of a nature which made them desirable objects for the collections of the Italian optimates of the day. As typical of this epoch, we see such men as Ciriaco d’Ancona. Breaking away from the trammeled merchant-life for which he was designed, he utters his splendid cry, ‘I go to awaken the dead!’ and begins a career of adventurous travel in Europe and the Levant, seeking for coins, gems, inscriptions, and sculptures, — for any link, in fine, with the brave, departed glory which had fired his imagination. He spends years in tireless search, renewing his energy at each discovery he makes. And in the end he dies, leaving a fascinating though rather untrustworthy record of his work, and having enriched the collections of his prince-patrons with things beautiful and precious. It is this last point which deserves, perhaps, most stress: the archæologist of the first period was for the greater part a mere collector, stimulated by the reigning passion of the day. Such archæological writing as was undertaken was in the nature rather of enthusiastic comment and fanciful explanation, than of conscientious and accurate description and logical deduction.1

With the downfall of Humanism in the sixteenth century and the rise of that textual criticism which found its chief expression in the Dutch Renaissance, archæology entered upon its second stage. From the collecting of objects because they were beautiful, or Greek, or Roman, archæology passed into the service of classical scholarship. Men of learning, whose chief interest lay in the classic texts, now saw in the ancient monuments material valuable for illustrative purposes. Coins, for example, were used to elucidate passages in ancient writers; and the study of numismatics, a sound beginning for which had been made by the great French scholar Budæus, was steadily advanced by the reproductions and discussions of ancient moneys in the variorum editions of classic authors.

In the seventeenth century the demand for archæological material to which the commentator might appeal was so great as to produce many writers on antiquities. Such, for instance, was the Italian Raffaele Fabretti, a careful and scholarly observer, who acquired his data at first hand, and made excellently good use of his facts once he had them. We see him poking about the Campagna on his wise old horse ‘Marco Polo,’ who, if his master is to he believed, came himself to have so much archæological sense that he was wont to ‘point’ antiquities as a dog will a partridge. This rider dismounts, measures, and sketches. He writes works on the topography of the Campagna Romana, on the Roman aqueducts, on the Column of Trajan. His is the work from which the contemporary editor of Livy or Horace may now and again extract material fora crabbed and lengthy footnote. For, as has been intimated, the second stage in the history of archæology is marked by the fact that ancient monuments were regarded primarily as material for the elucidation of classical writers.2

The eighteenth century saw the decline — one might perhaps sav the petrifaction — of the commentator-archæologist. Lack of fresh material had led to stagnation. It should be borne in mind that, although there had been some hodge-podge excavation during the Renaissance, and even after the Catholic Reaction, it was of a very desultory sort, and most of the important finds had been made accidentally. As a result of the rareness of field-work, the time came when every use to which the scholars of the day could put the material at their disposal had been made; and the archæology of the mid-eighteenth century was a dilettanti antiquarianism, rightly stigmatized, by the man who put an end to it, as ’pettifogging.’

The change, the greatest in the history of the science, was made by Johann Joachim Winkelmann. It would be out of place to dwell here on the good services of other men, such as Havercamp, Spanheim, or Lessing; it must suffice us to grasp the essential nature of the revolution which followed Winkelmann, and of which he was the chief inaugurator.

Winkelmann’s life, from his pathetic boyhood until the day of his assassination, was centred in love of, and reverence for, beauty. By an accident of temperament, the artistic expression of beauty which appealed to him most deeply was that which he found embodied in ancient sculpture. It is of no consequence that since his day the canons of taste have so altered that we now regard many of his opinions as worthless; the cases are like mistakes of fact, and despite them one may with truth still say, as did Goethe, that ‘one might not learn much by reading Winkelmann, but one became something.’

The essence of Winkelmann’s service to archæology is twofold: by his desire as a critic to illustrate the principles of ancient fine art, he turned the tables on the moribund school of commentators by bringing the texts to illuminate the antiquities; and he first clearly displayed to scholars and laymen the laws of the rise, culmination, and decay in art; that is, he presented to the world the analogy existing between art and any other organic entity — the analogy which must, in some form or other, underlie all æsthetic theory. It was this change of attitude in regard to the relation of ancient texts to ancient monuments, and his clear and outspoken ideas of the life of sculpture and painting which, coupled with an unconcealed contempt for the ’antiquarians’ of the day, brought Winkelmann into conflict with so many of his colleagues. His opponents were borne down by the fresh vigor of his views — views which, with modifications, endured through the century which they ushered in and the half-century after. For archæology in its third stage, from the publication of Winkelmann’s History of Ancient Art until the end of the nineteenth century, has subordinated ancient literature to the study of ancient monuments. The philologist — in the narrower sense of the word — still avails himself of the results of the archæologist; but the needs of the former are no longer considered the chief excuse for the existence of the latter.

Winkelmann’s influence upon archæology was in only one respect regrettable; the concentration of his energies upon ancient æsthetics so linked together the study of archaeology and of classic art that, popularly, the view that they are inseparable still obtains.3 In fact, there was a danger that archæology, once the servant of the philologist, would become a mere tool of the æesthetician; and it is only at the present day that it is taking its place as an independent and highly specialized science, of use to so many other branches of knowledge as to be under the shadow of no one of them.

1 It pleased the late Mr. Pater, in his Renaissance Studies, to include an essay on Winkelmann on the plea that Winkelmann was a belated Humanist of the Renaissance type. Nothing could, I think, be unintentionally more unjust. Winkelmann’s enthusiasm, though different from Lessing’s, was yet like it in this, that it belonged rather to the Romantic Movement which followed it than to the Renaissance which had preceded it. He was not a follower of any older school so much as a precursor of later ones, and the sympathy and enthusiasm which he imparted, half a century after his death, to men of such a Romantic stamp as Baron Haller von Hallerstein, bear this out. —THE AUTHOR.

Yet it is perhaps unfair to complain of the subordination of archæology, throughout the nineteenth century, to æsthetic interests. For although, through the indifference that was felt for material which, however valuable scientifically, made no appeal to the artistic sense, much was lost or overlooked, still this indifference has proved to be only temporary; and by recruiting its supporters from the ranks of those concerned with art, archæology became a matter of general interest. It was, indeed, by this recruiting that support was found for extensive excavation, and that, by slow stages now undergoing change, systematic fieldmethods were developed. The gulf between the methods employed — if the word ‘methods’ may be used — by the first excavators at Ægina, or by honest Colonel Vyse at the Pyramids of Ghizeh,4 and the painful modern researches of Winkler at Boghaz-Keuï, of Reisner in Egypt, is vastly wide. But it is largely due to the experience gained in work carried on by the means of men interested chiefly in ancient art that the advance has been brought about. The work of Winkelmann, the Philhellenism of the Romantic Movement, the independence of Greece, — these elements, among others, each contributed to make the nineteenth century notably an epoch of excavation; and it is very largely, although not directly, through excavation that archæology has reached its latest development, — its ‘ independent’ phase.

The main aspects of the science since its origin have been already pointed out: its passage from ‘antica ’-hunting actuated by the enthusiasm for the classical world in the Renaissance, to the more useful business of garnering material for the textual critic; the revolution brought about by Winkelmann, which applied the written word to the explanation of ancient works of art; and Winkelmann’s great thesis of æsthetic growth and decline. It has just been noted that the nineteenth century was a period of active fieldwork ; we are now ready to consider the archæology of the present, and to see in what way it differs from that of fiveand-twenty years ago.

To begin with, it is thoroughly scientific in spirit. The change to this position from the older one, of which comparative æsthetics was, theoretically, the basis, — in reality the basis was often individual taste, — could not have been effected without passing beyond classical horizons. The early researches in Egypt which followed the publication of the Napoleonic Déscription, threw open a new field, a field toward which an immense impulse was given by the satisfactory decipherment of hieroglyphics. About the middle of the nineteenth century, Botta and Layard brought the western world face to face with the great Semitic civilizations of the Euphrates valley. At the same time, owing to the discovery of palæolithic implements in France, the antiquity of man became a subject of violent discussion throughout Europe. Anthropology, a science some aspects of which are coincident with archæology, developed with spectacular rapidity. The feeling that archæology was the study of Greek and Roman antiquities was shaken. Excavation in Egypt, Denmark, Karthage, Assyria, and northwestern India, broke down the old narrow tradition from without; the claims of classicism received, however, a greater damage from within, and that at the hands of a Philhellene of the stanchest type, —Schliemann, the excavator of Troy and Mykenae.

This came about curiously. Schliemann, a noble fanatic whose critical powers were in inverse ratio to his enthusiasm for Homeric antiquity, met during his excavations with immense and startling success. But the rational and skeptical spirit of the age, especially among his own countrymen, could not, in many cases, accept his conjectural connection of many of his finds with Homeric story. Lesser men, who lacked his enthusiasm, had yet the advantage of a critical faculty which would not let them believe that Schliemann’s ‘cup of Nestor’ had ever touched the lips of the old man from sandy Pylos. Great discussion arose between those who saw in the new discoveries relics of the Homeric heroes, and those who considered them more impersonally. It was this discussion, and the subsequent excavations of ’Mykenæan ’ sites, which ultimately freed archæology completely from being considered as primarily concerned with classical antiquity; for it soon became clear, as the older Ægean culture-strata were exposed, that we were confronted, though on Greek soil, with a civilization which was not, strictly speaking, ‘Greek’ at all. At the same time, prehistoric Italy became revealed to us.

It was at this point that, very reluctantly, the services of the anthropologist were requisitioned by the student of classical antiquity; and the spirit infused by the science dealing primarily with man as an animal into the laxer science dealing primarily with his works, has from that day on had an increasingly valuable influence. The reaction between these two branches of knowledge is still going on, but already there is little difference in temper between the geologically or anatomically-grounded anthropologist and the modern archæologist, save that the latter must always have in his mental equipment a sense of ‘style,’ which cannot be wholly acquired by study.

The scientific advance, especially in countries such as India,5 Finland, or Egypt, where there was no very strong earlier tradition to be overcome, can be clearly seen in the progress of the mere mechanics of excavation. In the beginning, one simply chose a promising site and looted it. The‘excavator’ appeared on the scene when exciting finds were being made. If there were no exciting finds, he usually tried his luck elsewhere. After the work, he generally made a map — of sorts! At times, leaving a native foreman in charge, he went shooting or exploring the country. He kept a camp which, as a rule, was merely a glorified example of the local native habitation. His ideas of recording seldom went beyond keeping a ‘journal,’ making occasional maps and plans of a sort now-a-days considered unsatisfactory, and, from time to time, sketches. His publications were frequently burdened with personal digressions, with illogical hazards as to the meaning of his own discoveries, and with little or no regard for contemporary work in his own field.

To-day this type of man still exists, but he is an anachronism and a sloven. He is not regarded as being so objectionable as the antica-purchaser, the archæologist who habitually buys antiquities, — and who may be regarded as a survival of the Renaissance collector, — but his capacity for harm, give him loose rein, is really greater; it is the old story of the fool’s being more objectionable than the knave.

Modern field-work of the best sort is a very different matter from that at which we have just glanced. A site is generally chosen for a more definite reason than that it ‘looks good.’ The work is planned as much as possible in advance, frequently with the help of carefully-made maps, and is not abandoned until the site is thoroughly explored. Before a spade goes into the ground, the excavator has evolved a provisional campaign for his season: a plan which, while lax enough to accommodate itself readily to new conditions which cannot be foreseen but which are sure to arise, is yet well enough thought out to avoid any possibility of the haphazard ‘try-here, try-there’ nonsense of, for example, the excavations in Kyrenaïka under Vattier de Bourville or Smith and Porcher. The men who do the digging are grouped into small companies, and are carefully given simple and definite instructions, to carry out which they are encouraged by a system of generous ‘bakshish ’ and severe penalties.

During the progress of the work some member of the staff is actually on the spot most of the time, and the camp is never left by all of the staff at once. The camp itself is, if circumstances will possibly admit it, a house, a safe store, and an engineer’s office. When an object is found, it is first cleared and then photographed. It is left in situ until the development of the photographic plate shows a satisfactory result. The map-making is done with an ‘admissible error’ of 1:1500 for the smaller plans, and1:1000 for the larger. The record consists of these photographs and maps, which are cross-referenced; of a written daily record; and of special ‘details ’ to scales of 1:100 up to 1:5. The publication is a concise, clear presentation of material. All theories which are not directly pertinent are omitted, or consigned to appendices or notes; and the illustrations consist of a selection of significant photographs, plans, and maps.

From the perfect modern record it would be possible, in theory, to replace every object as it was found, and to reconstruct the whole site to the state in which it was on the day when first attacked. Thus the excavator, who, owing to the fatigue and distraction inseparable from carrying the work forward, is practically unable, no matter what his scholarly equipment, to theorize advantageously upon his own material or to see it in proper perspective, places his results before the world in such form that the scholarly reader may have before him a complete exposition of the site explored.

Much more might be remarked on this topic; the difficulty is to stop here! But enough has, it is hoped, been said to show, by illustration, the scientific advance of modern archæological research.

II

Our question, ‘What is archæology, and what is the good of it?’ yet waits an answer. Having gone into the progress of the science thus far, we are able to make this now, and to make it concisely.

If any knowledge be worth while, none can be more valuable than that which, by enabling us to understand man in the past, helps us to understand him to-day. Archæology, through the objects by which ancient man expressed his conceptions of God, of beauty, and of life, vivifies the past. It makes or reshapes history; our meagre literary notices, for example, of the Greek dynasts of Central Asia have a double value since supplemented by the Baktrian coins, and we are helped to a new estimate of the extent and power of Hellenic culture on the Oxus and the flanks of the Hindu-Kūsh by discoveries in Ghandhara and Khotan. The knowledge of the Egyptian Empire to which our grandfathers could attain, even by the closest study, shrinks to a point in comparison with the history which we are to-day able to reconstruct from the monuments.

Religion and art, the two highest forms of racial expression, have through the services of archæology become phenomena more and more comprehensible. New and vast fields have been opened up by the spade. The Pantheon of Winkelmann, cold, perfect, and august, dwelling in Olympian serenity, has had to yield to a complex company in which daimon, hero, god, and man are all organically related, and only with difficulty separated one from another. All that had come down to us in literary form in regard to the religion of Babylon or Sabean Arabia appears a tissue of fable and error in the light of the surer knowledge won by archæology.

The progress of archæological discovery is marked by the collection of new truths, and the routing out of old errors. Herein lies its importance. This is the reason why the modern excavator, to be worthy of his trust, must do his work with a scrupulousness which, to the practitioners of the older and laxer tradition, must seem Levitical. The mechanical part of his work, from its very nature, can be done only once, and it is in the field as in the British navy, — ‘there may be mistakes, but never excuses for them.’ Nor is one justified in supposing that he will not be called to account for his labors. The general public of to-day is largely dependent for its knowledge about technical subjects on information which it has taken twenty years to popularize. Intelligent people still miscall the masterpieces of the Greek potter ' Etruscan vases.' But the facts being painfully collected to-day will find their way in some form to the public of the future, as surely and as naturally as water flows down hill. The archæologist is contributing to the race-consciousness his quota, as do poet, philosopher, and historian. Multitudes die before the accumulated knowledge reaches them, but in some form, positive or negative, direct or indirect, it comes home to the survivors; it belongs to them; they receive an impression from it, and this impression is that of Truth.

Modern archæology, to answer the question with which we began, is ‘ the science of antiquities.’ But this science is not merely the elucidation of ancient authors, or of classical art; its aim is higher than this, and its scope broader. It is the elucidation of the ancient world to the world of to-day and of the future. It is, together with philosophy, history, and anthropology, the elucidation of mankind.

  1. I should not wish to be thought ignorant of the striking exceptions. Here, as in touching upon the succeeding periods, I am merely trying broadly to characterize.—THE AUTHOR.
  2. If one is curious to see the nature of the archæological writing of the seventeenth century, and to see to what extent it is subsidiary to the texts, the Thesaurus Antiquitatum Romanorum, 12 vols. folio, may be seen in most large libraries. Many of the articles therein are of an earlier period, but the bulk of the work is of the seventeenth century. — THE AUTHOR.
  3. It is due to the memory of Colonel Vyse to say that his book contains descriptions of the Pyramids so accurate as to be still of value. Yet one flinches at accounts of operations one of the principal factors of which was blasting-powder— in generous charges! —THE AUTHOR.
  4. Lest I be suspected, as was once Apollonios of Tyana, of extolling the wisdom of the Indians because they are so remote, let me here refer to the brilliant work of Dr. Stein, Dr. Grünwedel, and my friend Dr. von Le Coq in Chinese Turkestan, and to the splendid Archæological Survey of India. — THE AUTHOR.