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Archaeology

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Archaeology

Archaeology is the study of ancient human societies of which there are no written records.

Timeline

Australopithecus – the earliest genus of ape from which humans are descended but chimpanzees and bonobos are not – began using stone tools about 3.3 million years ago (in the mid-to-late Pleiocene epoch, in geological time). This marked the beginning of the Stone Age.

Homo habilis – "handy man" – lived in the early Pleistocene epoch – from about 2.3 to 1.4 million years ago. He was followed by Homo erectus, Neanderthal Man, and finally (about 200,000 years ago) Homo sapiens.

The last Ice Age began about 110,000 years ago, and ended about 10,000 years ago – making it roughly contemporaneous with the Pleistocene epoch. The Stone Age ended at around the same time; the Bronze Age began a little over 5,000 years ago, which was late in the Holocene epoch.

The cave paintings at Lascaux are about 16,000 years old. They were made at the very end of the Pleistocene epoch.

In the following table, the dates apply to Western Europe and are approximate. In other parts of the world, the sequence is broadly similar but the dates are often different.

Began approximately 3.4 million years ago; ended in the 3rd millennium BC   Click to show or hide the answer
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People

US Senator and explorer, 1875–1956, discovered Machu Picchu in 1911 Click to show or hide the answer
Howard Carter's sponsor in the excavation of Tutankhamun's tomb Click to show or hide the answer
Archaeologist who discovered Tutankhamun's tomb, 1922–3 Click to show or hide the answer
French classicist and linguist, 1790–1832, deciphered Egyptian hieroglyphics by translating the Rosetta Stone; generally regarded as the father of Egyptology Click to show or hide the answer
Palace of Minos, Knossos (Crete): excavation led by Click to show or hide the answer
German archaeologist who excavated Troy in 1870 Click to show or hide the answer
18th century antiquary who incorrectly attributed Stonehenge to the Druids (1740) Click to show or hide the answer

Other

Two temples built by Rameses II, saved from being submerged behind the Aswan Dam in 1968 Click to show or hide the answer
The 56 pits that form one of the outermost circles of Stonehenge (but the innermost circle of the earliest phase of building) – named after the 17th century antiquarian who is thought to have identified them Click to show or hide the answer
Diverse 'archaeological culture' of prehistoric western Europe, including Britain (c. 2800–1800 BC) – named after their characteristic pottery drinking vessels Click to show or hide the answer
Mayan site in Yucatan, Mexico, abandoned 1200 AD: includes the Temple of Kukulkan ('El Castillo'). (Kukulkan is the Mayan name for Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent.) Click to show or hide the answer
Discovered in the ruins of Babylon in 1879; bears a declaration in the name of the first Persian (Achaemenid) ruler, regarded by some as the first declaration of universal human rights (a view rejected by others as anachronistic) Click for more information Click to show or hide the answer
Qumran Texts (found at Qumran, Jordan, 1947–56) Click to show or hide the answer
Large block of sandstone standing in the Avenue, outside the main entrance to Stonehenge – close to the main road Click to show or hide the answer
Ancient city excavated by Kathleen Kenyon, 1952–8 Click to show or hide the answer
Complex of ruined temples near Luxor, Egypt – the world's largest ancient religious site – famous for the Hypostyle Hall with its 16 rows of columns (134 in total) – constructed between the 16th and 3rd centuries BC Click to show or hide the answer
Inca city (Peru) discovered in 1911 by Hiram Bingham III Click to show or hide the answer
Iron Age fort near Dorchester, excavated by Sir Mortimer Wheeler Click to show or hide the answer
Granodiorite slab (previously described as basalt or granite), which enabled Egyptian hieroglyphics to be decoded: found in 1799 in the Egyptian port now known as Rashid, on which is inscribed a Ptolemaic decree of 196 BC in Egyptian hieroglyphics, demotic Egyptian script, and Greek; housed since 1802 in the British Museum; translated by Thomas Young and Jean–Francois Champollion Click to show or hide the answer
Name given (in the media) to the circle of oak posts on the beach in the village of Holme-next-the-Sea, Norfolk, constructed in the early Bronze Age (21st century BC), exposed by coastal erosion and excavated in 1998 (apparently known to locals for decades previously) Click to show or hide the answer
The largest hoard of Anglo–Saxon treasure ever found (valued at £3.285 million) was found in 2009 (in the parish of Hammerwich, near Lichfield), and named after Click to show or hide the answer
Archaeological site, donated to the UK government in 1918 by Cecil Chubb Click for more information Click to show or hide the answer
Saxon burial site in Suffolk where a treasure–laden boat was excavated in 1939 Click to show or hide the answer
Carthage was adjacent to the site of modern Click to show or hide the answer
Ephesus (site of the Temple of Diana) and the archaeological site of Troy are in Click to show or hide the answer

© Haydn Thompson 2017