Enlightenment: The Birth of Archaeology


Stone, Bronze & Iron Age axes


Height: 19.400 cm (Scotby Comb hand-axe)
Width: 7.100 cm
Height: 19.400 cm (Scotby Comb hand-axe)
Width: 7.100 cm
Height: 19.400 cm (Scotby Comb hand-axe)
Width: 7.100 cm

P&EE unreg. (Sturge Collection);P&EE WG 1987;P&EE 1915,12-8.337


In the eighteenth century, the people who collected and studied the material remains of past societies called themselves antiquaries. At first, antiquaries searched for objects that related to the accounts of classical authors such as Livy. Roman remains were easy to find and understand, but the written sources could not explain other monuments, such as Stonehenge. Antiquaries therefore had to search for other information about the people living in Britain before the Romans arrived.

In order to understand the remains of the early Britons, antiquaries developed new methods for collecting, studying and classifying. They learnt to 'read' the landscape, to survey ancient sites and to excavate them methodically. When this was combined with the new science of stratigraphy and a growing understanding of the age of the earth, archaeology was born.

This is one of a series of tours exploring the themes of the British Museum Enlightenment gallery

Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund

On display: Enlightenment: Archaeology