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Who was the first archaeologist?

Archaeology is one of the most sought after professions in the field of history - but who were its early pioneers?

Photo of archaeologist revealing a skull
Published: March 1, 2015 at 12:00 pm
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Archaeology, rather than simple treasure hunting, arguably began in the 15th and 16th centuries.


Antiquarian investigators such as Cyriacus of Ancona (1391-1452), Flavio Biondo (1392-1463), John Leyland (1506-1552) and William Camden (1551-1623) began to take an interest in ancient earthworks and the buildings around them.

Long before this, however, Flavia Julia Helena Augusta (c250-330), mother of the Emperor Constantine the Great, and an important figure in the early history of Christianity (where she is remembered as Saint Helena), had overseen fieldwork in Jerusalem, searching for evidence of the life and death of Jesus. As a consequence of these excavations, Helena is sometimes called the ‘mother’ (or patron saint) of archaeology.


Earlier still, the Babylonian King Nabonidus, who reigned in the mid-sixth century BC, may be thought of as the ‘father’ of archaeology. His excavation and subsequent restoration of ancestral tombs and buildings in Sippar (Iraq) and Harran (Turkey) are the first known attempts to unearth and understand the past.

This article was taken from BBC History Revealed magazine


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