"Writing Archaeology for the General Public",
a review by Carroll Quigley in The Washington Sunday Star, February 11, 1968,,
of three books:
Lost Land Emerging
by Walter B. Emery.
New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1967
PROGRESS INTO THE PAST: The Rediscovery of Mycenaean
by A. McDonald.
New York: The Macmillan Company, 1967
MADOC AND THE DISCOVERY OF AMERICA,
by Richard Deacon.
New York: Braziller, 1967.
"Writing Archaeology for the
Washington Sunday Star
February 11, 1968
LOST LAND EMERGING.
By Walter B. Emery. Scribner’s.
234 pages. $7.95.
PROGRESS INTO THE PAST: The Rediscovery of Mycenaean Civilization.
By A. McDonald. Macmillan.
474 pages. $9.95.
MADOC AND THE DISCOVERY OF AMERICA.
By Richard Deacon. Braziller.
209 pages, $5.
Here are three more in the continuing
flood of books on archaeology and prehistory. They are listed in order
of merit. Each has its bibliography and index, but they are of quite
different character. The Emery volume was published in England two years
ago in an unrevised version under the title "Egypt in Nubia."
Walter Emery, professor of Egyptology at the University of London,
is well known in America from his lectures for the Archaeological
Institute of America and his excellent Penguin volume on the earliest
Egyptian dynasties. He has been excavating in Egypt and the Sudan for 40
years. This book, like all his writings, shows his personal knowledge,
sound judgment, and attractive style.
The ancient land of Nubia, on the boundary of modern Egypt and the
Sudan, would probably still be unexplored archaeological territory,
despite its intrinsic significance as the corridor between ancient Egypt
and black Africa, had it not been for the irrigation projects of the
present century in the Aswan region, which, by threatening to flood the
Sudan, made it necessary to complete the archaeological exploration of
the area before the successive inundations took place. These studies
were made by the First and Second Archaeological Surveys of 1907-1911
and 1929-1934 and the UNESCO-sponsored efforts in process since 1960.
Emery was director of the second survey and has been a chief figure in
all subsequent work in the area.
In the first half of his book Emery gives a history of these
excavations, while in the second half (pages 169-312), he gives an
outline of Nubian history, based on these materials, in the period 3100
B.C. to A.D. 550. Much of the interest of the first portion results from
the author's descriptions of his own work, especially his discovery of
the tombs of the kings of the so-called "X Group" found at Ballana and
Qustol, and his study of the ruins of the great Egyptian fortress at
Buhen (in use about 1900-1675 and 1475-1100 B.C.). The latter revealed
the use in Egypt of defense features which military historians had
believed were invented in medieval Europe 2,500 or more years later.
Workers in the Field
McDonald, who is professor of classics at Minnesota, has organized
his book on the same pattern as the earlier portion of Emery's, except
that the author played no personal role in the archaeological excavating
he describes. He has, however, obtained the same note of personal
experience by organizing his story about the lives of three enthusiastic
workers in the field of Aegean archaeology: Heinrich Schliemann
(1822-1890), Sir Arthur Evans (1851-1941, and Carl W. Blegen (1887-)
Since these three do not quite cover the field completely, McDonald has
added accounts of other workers, especially in chapters 7 and 8, which
give good narratives of the events (and controversies) of Mycenaean
studies from 1919 to 1965.
Originally archaeological writings were organized about the objects
found, detached from their context, and regarded as either treasure or
art objects. Later the emphasis was on the historical reconstruction of
the cultures and history of which they were the chief evidence.
The growing tendency to write archaeology for the general public in
terms of the excavation effort itself and the personalities of the men
engaged in it is probably a good one, although it places a heavier
burden on both reader and writer. The reader will not really grasp the
significance of the work being done, during a sequence of digging
seasons in which evidence is produced in a sequence chronologically
reversed from the order in which it happened, unless he has already some
idea of the history of the culture being studied. If the writer tries to
provide this history as he goes along in his story of the excavations,
he may confuse his readers. One solution would be to keep the two
separate, as Emery has done, but this may leave some readers in doubt
about the significance or value of the excavations he describes in the
first part of his volume. The other, and more difficult, way is that
done very successfully by McDonald, to provide enough of the historical
reconstruction as the excavation narration goes along so that the
significance of the latter becomes evident even to those who started
with little knowledge of the society which left the ruins.
The weakness of any historical reconstruction based on
archaeological evidence is that it becomes outdated very rapidly,
especially today when new discoveries are so frequent. Any story of how
these discoveries were made has much more value, while a successful
combination of both excavation narration with historical reconstruction,
by allowing the reader to see what alternative interpretations are
possible or how interpretative errors were made in the past, is most
valuable of all.
The third book listed above is of quite different character from
the other two. It aims to examine the claim that a Welsh prince, Madoc
ab Owain Gwynedd, discovered America in 1170. Although the Daughters of
the American Revolution erected a monument to Madoc's achievement at his
presumed landing place in Mobile Bay, Ala., Richard Deacon's uncritical
use of unreliable evidence is not likely to convince a skeptical reader.