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Introduction to archaeological practice

Is modern archaeology any different from antiquarianism?
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DRAGANA MLADENOVIC: What you see behind me is the eastern most section of the building called usually Palazzo Imperiale, the Imperial Palace. The name comes from the 18th century when early antiquarian researchers dug into the core of that building and salvaged quite a lot of very, very fine marble sculpture. We’ve quite often actually encountered damage that was done by these early quasi archaeologists. Actually early archaeology was a search for artefacts and not any old artefact would do.
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Basically they were hunting for treasures: fine marbles; sculpture; wall paintings. So entire sites were cleared, entire structures excavated. And in that process, quite a bit of it was destroyed, in order to come to such precious finds. So, for example, we know that quite a lot of fabulous sculpture inscriptions came from Portus but for all these finds, we don’t know even on which part of the site they were found, let alone in which building or which room. Today we do things quite differently, but also the kind of questions that we are interested in have changed significantly. So, for example, we are not treasure hunters. We are interested in understanding the site.
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Understanding its chronology, its phases of transformation, understanding the activities that took place here, but also understanding the people who have lived, worked, and some of them died here.
So, that has given you Dragana’s thoughts on how modern archaeology differs from antiquarianism. A lot of modern research can be described as “interdisciplinary” by which we mean that it draws on lots of different methods and ways of thinking in order to address specific problems. Archaeology has always made use of lots of different approaches and on this course we will introduce you to many of them.
Next week Dragana will talk more about archaeology in relation to both the arts and sciences, and give a summary of scientific methods. Dragana will also talk more about about the development of the discipline. For the rest of this week see if you can recognise different ways of studying Portus that reflect different ways of understanding the world. In the penultimate activity of the week we will study ceramics, which requires lots of different approaches, from scientific analysis, to economic models of trade, to reading and understanding the written documents that made trade possible.
Discussion topic:
Dragana mentioned that often we don’t know where some of the beautiful sculpture found in the past came from. Why does it matter to us where a statue originally came from, if we can still see and study it in a museum?
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Archaeology of Portus: Exploring the Lost Harbour of Ancient Rome

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