Digging Up the Past

logos_new      I was going to start with a different post but in the last moment I changed my mind and decided to start the blog in a positive rather than negative manner, so I want to devote this first post to an imprint of Penguin Books I never get tired of: Pelican books.

          This imprint was launched in 1937 as a way to produce inexpensive paperbacks on non-fiction topics for a general audience. Since the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen by Howard Carter in 1922, archaeology entered the pop-culture and influenced several artistic movements of the time, especially art-deco. It is in this general context that Pelican appeared in the market, and although the imprint covered the most diverse topics, archaeology became very soon one of the principal ones.

          The list of titles is very extensive, and although Pelican was discontinued in 1984, it was relaunched again in 2014, with the intention of publishing 5 titles per year. Collecting them has become one of my many eccentricities, but you would be surprised of how cheap they are, even the first editions. Essential works in the history of archaeology were published here for the first time. Among those that already are in my collection are Digging up the past (1937) by Sir Leonard Woolley, What happened in History (1946) by Vere Gordon Childe or The Greeks Overseas (1964) by Sir John Boardman. I will intend to summarise these and other books in the future, so here goes the first one:

          Digging up the Past (1937) is the result of a series of six talks given by Sir Leonard Woolley in the BBC Radio. The result was a very interesting theoretical work in which the author explores the history of archaeology as Diggingupa discipline, and its evolution from the early years of antiquarianism to the professionalism and even its transformation into a science, well before the theoretical developments of the late 60’s and early 70’s. I found especially interesting the pages on excavation techniques, and how the author insists on the importance of understanding what we call today the post-depositional process for the proper interpretation of an excavation. Even before Binford’ fell into the “Pompeii premise” it was obvious this approach to the site as a frozen capsule did not make sense. I will not deny Woolley is one of my favourite archaeologists of all time, but if you want to discover a rather unknown piece of archaeological theory before that was even “a thing” then go to AbeBooks (or wherever you go) and buy Digging up the Past. You can also find a downloadable copy at archive.org. Totally worth it.

Sir Leonard Woolley, by Bassano Ltd half-plate film negative, 18 June 1938. National Portrait Gallery.


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