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Archaeology:
Learning
From The Past

Dug from the tomb of taste-refining time,
Each form is exquisite, each block sublime.
Or good, or bad,-disfigur'd, or deprav'd,-
All art, is at its resurrection sav'd;
All crown'd with glory in the critic's heav'n,
Each merit magnified, each fault forgiven.
Sir Martin Archer Shee (Egyptologist)

e can learn about the past in a variety of ways. Photographs, paintings, books & writing, objects or just word of mouth passed from generation to generation. Different sources are used as evidence to build up an overall picture of what life was like in the past.

From 30 BC onwards the Egyptians became Christians and then later, Muslims. The ancient language and knowledge of the civilisation were forgotten but their temples and palaces remained as a source of amazement to traveling Europeans. Many such travelers published accounts of their journeys which included detailed illustrations.

Champollion

The first major study of the Ancient Egyptian civilisation was undertaken at the time of Napoleon's Egyptian campaign in 1798. Artists recorded what they saw and published a series of illustrated volumes called Description de L'Egypte. During this period, at a place called Rosetta, a stone was discovered and upon it was a piece of text. This text was written in Greek, Egyptian hieroglyphs and another Egyptian text called demotic. The inscriptions were to provide the Frenchman, Champollion, with the key to deciphering the hieroglyphs. This accomplishment marked the real beginning of the archaeological study of Ancient Egypt that we now call Egyptology. Much of what we know about the Egyptians today comes from tombs. They believed in a life after death and that the afterlife would be like earth. To help them mourners placed in the tombs things they thought would be needed such as food, furniture and even chariots.

Napoleon's troops parading at Rosetta

On the walls inside the tombs were painted many scenes from daily life such as harvesting, ploughing and hunting. These pictures tell us a lot about life in Ancient Egypt. Models have also been found which show aspects of the Egyptians way of life. Scrolls written using the ancient hieroglyphs describe places and events in the long history of Egypt.

Since those ancient times thieves have always been ready to steal the treasures of the past either to sell or melt down. Many great treasures must have been lost in this way over the centuries. By the 18th century European travelers had became interested in the ruins and then later professional archaeologists began to dig. The hot, dry climate had helped to preserve a lot of things, including bodies.

One of the most famous European travelers in Egypt was Giovanni Belzoni. He was a tall man, over 2 metres, and had worked as a fairground strongman in England. When he got to Egypt he realised that many Europeans would pay a lot of money for Ancient Egyptian artifacts. Sending these ancient objects to Europe could make him rich. He is best remembered for moving the giant head of Ramses II across the desert to the Nile and then on to England where it is still on display in the British Museum.

The head of Ramses II is dragged across the desert

Today archaeologists make careful notes about exactly where objects are found. They are removed with great care and treated so that they can be preserved.

One of the most fabulous finds has been the tomb of the pharaoh King Tutankhamun in November 1922 by Howard Carter. From the day of discovery it took ten years to fully label, photograph, preserve and eventually remove the thousands of objects found in the tomb.


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