5 archaeologists you should know about
Who are five archaeologists who’ve made significant impacts in the field? Check out this handy list from Ancient Odysseys.
1. John Lubbock
An important British 19th century figure in the world of archaeology was the polymath John Lubbock. His methods helped establish archaeology as a scientific discipline. To this day, we use the terms Paleolithic and Neolithic, which he coined in his 1865 work Pre-Historic Times. Lubbock was a neighbor of Charles Darwin and during his career, he published many articles in which he used archaeological evidence to support Darwin's theories. Controversially for the time, Lubbock also went so far as to say that archaeological discoveries proved that human history was older than what the Bible said.
Lubbock also saw the value of prehistoric monuments in England. This led him to purchase land in Avebury to protect an ancient stone circle that was located there. He spearheaded the resulting Ancient Monuments Protections Act to provide legal protections for 68 of the country’s prehistoric monuments. This paved the way for later laws governing archeological heritage in the United Kingdom.
2. Robert John Braidwood
The American Robert Braidwood was one of the founders of scientific archaeology. He was the first to recognize that the story of archaeology was greater than just the study of recognizable artifacts. Braidwood was known to carefully map his sites and was one of the first archaeologists to use carbon dating to determine the age of the artifacts he unearthed. His excavations often included teams of biologists, geologists and botanists, and this shifted the focus of archaeology toward an emphasis on the relationship between man and nature. His significant work in the Middle East focused on the methods of early food production and its ecological consequences.
Braidwood’s excavations in Iraq in particular, gave us an understanding of the time between 100,000 BC when hunter gatherers appeared and 5000 BC when the first farmers showed up. Because of Braidwood’s work, we know that in about 7250-6750 the first societies and buildings appeared in Turkey and Iraq.
3. Louis Leakey
It’s hard to overestimate the impact that archaeologist and anthropologist Louis Leakey had on our understanding of the origins of human life. Along with his wife Mary, an established paleoanthropologist in her own right, the pair rewrote the history of human evolution.
Among the Leakey’s important discoveries is the Proconsul africanus, the remains of a 25-million-year-old ancestor of both humans and apes found in Kenya. In subsequent years, the Leakeys worked at the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania where in addition to animal fossils and stone age tools, their most significant discoveries were unearthed. In 1959, Mary discovered a 1.7-million-year-old skull they named Zinjanthropus. In the next decade, another hominid fossil, that of Homo habilis was also discovered at Olduvai Gorge. It is believed that Homo habilis inhabited parts of sub-Saharan Africa from about 2.4 to 1.5 million years ago. The Leakey’s finds demonstrated that humans evolved not in Asia as previously thought, but that Africa was in fact, the cradle of humanity.
Leakey's legacy continues. He strongly believed that studying the natural habitats of primates would lead to a further understanding of human evolution. His influence was instrumental in persuading scientists like Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Birutė Galdikas to undertake primate field research during their careers.
4. Flavio Biondo
The 2000 year old ruins of ancient Rome were not always in the state in which we see them today. This work began in the 15th century with the historian Flavio Biondo. Biondo was the first person to document the history, ruins and topography of Rome—the very first time that any ancient ruins were painstakingly documented. All subsequent historians and archaeologists of Rome built upon the work first undertaken by Biondo. His writings and work helped establish the study of antiquity as a legitimate field during the Renaissance.
5. Howard Carter
If you don’t know the name Howard Carter, you certainly know his most famous discovery—the tomb of Tutankhamen or King Tut.
The Valley of the Kings in Egypt, was the burial place for Egyptian royalty from the 15th to 10th centuries BC. By the early 20th century, it was believed that all the major tombs had been discovered, with most having been looted in antiquity. But Carter believed that there were tombs that had been missed by previous expeditions,
In 1922, after having searched the Valley of the Kings for six years, one of Carter’s workers literally stumbled upon a stone that was found to be a set of steps leading to the tomb of King Tut. It is one of the best-preserved pharaonic tombs ever found. Carter and his team not only found Tutankhamen’s mummy, but also thousands of burial objects and personal possessions such as gilded couches, chests, thrones, jewelry, clothes and two life-size statues of the boy king. One of the most recognizable objects included Tutankhamen’s golden funerary mask.
Carter was meticulous in his work, and it took him almost ten years to catalogue the thousands of objects found in the tomb. Many of these objects can be seen today in a special collection room of the Egyptian Museum.