Social:Prehistoric archaeology

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Prehistoric archaeology is the study of the past before historical records began.[1] It is a field of research that looks at all the pre-urban societies of the world. It also has distinctive set of procedures for analysing material remains so that archaeologists can reconstruct their ecological settings. The study of prehistoric archaeology reflects the cultural concerns of modern society by showing interpretations of time between economic growth and political stability.[2] It also has very close links with biology, biological anthropology, and geology.[2] It is also sometimes termed as anthropological archaeology because of its indirect traces with complex patterns.[2]

In Western Europe the prehistoric period ends with Roman colonisation in 43 AD,[3][4] with some non-Romanised areas the period does not end until as late as the 5th Century AD. Although in many other places, notably Egypt (at the end of the Third Intermediate Period [5] ) it finishes much earlier and in others, such as Australia , much later.

The earliest recorded use of the word prehistoric comes from the French archaeologist and scientist Paul Tournal who used it in 1831 to describe the finds he made in ancient caves he had investigated in the Bize-Minervois in the south of France. It did not enter English as an archaeological term until 1836 in which it appeared in the Foreign Quarterly Review [6] The three-age system, which just predates the coining of the term, was coined by Christian Jürgensen Thomsen[7] in 1836 in an attempt to make sense of the chronology of prehistoric Europe.

Without history to provide evidence for names, places and motivations, prehistoric archaeologists speak in terms of cultures which can only be given arbitrary modern names relating to the locations of known occupation sites or the artifacts used. It is naturally much easier to discuss societies rather than individuals as these past people are completely anonymous in the archaeological record.

Such a lack of concrete information means that prehistoric archaeology is a contentious field and the arguments that rage over it have done much to inform archaeological theory.[8] The variety of theories regarding the purpose of objects or sites for example obliges archaeologists to adopt a critical approach to all evidence and to examine their own constructs of the past. Structural functionalism and processualism are two schools of archaeological thought which have made a great contribution to prehistoric archaeology.[9][10]


  1. Nelson, N. C. (22 January 1937). "Prehistoric Archeology, Past, Present and Future". Science (American Association for the Advancement of Science) 85 (2195): 81–89. doi:10.1126/science.85.2195.81. PMID 17758391. Bibcode1937Sci....85...81N. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Fagan, Brian M. (1996). The Oxford Companion to Archaeology (1st ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acref/9780195076189.001.0001. ISBN 9780199891085. OCLC 35178577. 
  3. "Roman England, the Roman in Britain 43 - 410 AD". 
  4. Collis, John (September 2008). "The Earlier Iron Age in Britain and the Near Continent. Edited by Colin Haselgrove and Rachel Pope. 298mm. Pp 429, 145 ills and 19 tables. Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2006. ISBN 9781842172537. £75 (hbk).The Later Iron Age in Britain and Beyond. Edited by Colin Haselgrove and Tom Moore. 298mm. Pp 529, 190 ills and 25 tables. Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2006. ISBN 9781842172520. £90 (hbk).". The Antiquaries Journal 88: 434–435. doi:10.1017/s0003581500001566. ISSN 0003-5815. 
  5. "Egypt in the Third Intermediate Period (ca. 1070–664 B.C.)". 
  6. Eddy Matthew D. (2011-03-20). "The prehistoric mind as a historical artefact". Notes and Records of the Royal Society 65 (1): 1–8. doi:10.1098/rsnr.2010.0097. 
  7. Heizer, Robert F. (1962). "The Background of Thomsen's Three-Age System". Technology and Culture 3 (3): 259–266. doi:10.2307/3100819. ISSN 0040-165X. 
  8. Murray, Tim (17 June 2013). "Why the history of archaeology is essential to theoretical archaeology" (PDF). Complutum (Universidad Complutense de Madrid) 24 (2): 21–31. doi:10.5209/rev_CMPL.2013.v24.n2.43364. ISSN 1131-6993. Retrieved 2 October 2018. 
  9. Trigger, Bruce G. (December 1968). "Major Concepts of Archaeology in Historical Perspective". Man (Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland) 3 (4): 527–541. doi:10.2307/2798577. 
  10. Kushner, Gilbert (April 1970). "A Consideration of Some Processual Designs for Archaeology as Anthropology". American Antiquity (Cambridge University Press) 35 (2): 125–132. doi:10.2307/278141. 

See also