April 14, 2011

Happy Birthday, Augustus Henry Lane-Fox Pitt-Rivers

Wow! That name is a mouthful!

Born on this day in 1827, Pitt-Rivers grew up to be an archeologist. Most archeologists excavating ancient ruins only collected and catalogued beautiful or unique objects, but Pitt-Rivers insisted that EVERY artifact be collected and catalogued. Because of this practice, archeologists began to see that everyday objects had a lot to tell us about a place and a people.

To some extent, archeology used to be a bit like treasure hunting. Think Indiana Jones, going for the really Great Stuff, the Holy Grail, the Ark of the Covenant—but (I always think) accidentally smashing “unimportant” bones and artifacts to get it. The Hollywood version is just fantasy, of course, but can you doubt the “treasure hunter” label when you see Ancient Greek facades faraway from their temples, in Britain?

Roman ruin in England
Pitt-Rivers has been called the first scientific archeologist to work in Britain, because he adopted very methodological practices of excavation and record keeping and because he documented “trivia” and ordinary objects as well as “treasures.”

Another reason Pitt-Rivers is remembered is that he revolutionized museum displays, arranging human artifacts by type, and within that type, chronologically. He was inspired by the writings of Charles Darwin to highlight the evolutionary trends in human artifacts—an idea that is so good, it seems obvious to modern museum-goers.

Explore archeology!

Mr. Donn has a huge number of links about archeology to wander through. 

Many items that archeologists in Britain unearthed were Roman artifacts. Check out Ancient Rome here and here

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