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Archaeology: A Brief Introduction Paperback – September, 1993

ISBN-13: 978-0673523365 ISBN-10: 0673523365 Edition: 5th
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Paperback, September, 1993
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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

Brief and highly engaging, this introduction to the fundamental principles of method and theory in archaeology begins with the goals of archaeology, then goes on to consider the basic concepts of culture, time, and space, and the finding and excavation of archaeological sites. The volume provides an introduction to archaeology and prehistory and puts culture, space and time, the present and the past, settlement and trade in an archaeological context. It also addresses finding archaeological sites, excavation, classification and technology, ancient climate and environment and the archaeology of society. For those interested in a thorough presentation of how archaeologists study human behavior in the past. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Archaeology—a romantic subject, redolent of lost civilizations and grinning skeletons dripping with gold, the realm of pith-helmeted men and women who are adventurers and scholars at the same time, of movies like The Mummy Returns. But is this reality? Most archaeologists have never worn a pith helmet, have never discovered gold, and will never unearth a long-forgotten civilization. Nor do most archaeological sites yield rich treasure or even human remains. The romance is not always there, but the world of modern archaeology is deeply fascinating all the same. This book is a journey through that world in all its intriguing diversity. It is designed to give you some idea of how archaeologists go about studying human behavior in the past.

Archaeology: A Brief Introduction, Eighth Edition, is a brief introduction to the fundamental principles of method and theory in archaeology, beginning with the goals of archaeology, going on to consider the basic concepts of culture, time, and space, and discussing the finding and excavation of archaeological sites. The last four chapters summarize some of the ways in which archaeologists order and study their finds. Throughout the book, I emphasize the ethics behind archaeology, ending with a discussion of careers in archaeology and how we should act as stewards of the finite records of the human past. This is a book with an ardently international perspective, for archaeology is the most global of all sciences, encompassing all humanity, not just, say, North America or Europe.

Most readers will encounter this book as a supplement to an introductory anthropology course, or as part of a broader archaeology offering. It is designed for complete beginners, so every attempt has been made to keep technical jargon to a minimum. Inevitably, a book of this length and scope glosses over many complex problems or smoldering controversies. I have proceeded on the assumption that at this stage, a positive overstatement is better than a complex piece of inconclusive reasoning. Errors of overstatement can always be corrected in class or at a more advanced stage.

If there is a theme to this volume, it is that the patterning of archaeological artifacts we find in the ground can provide valuable insights into human behavior in the past. In pursuing this theme, I have attempted to focus on the basic concepts of archaeology and leave the instructor to impose his or,her own theoretical viewpoints on the various chapters that follow. In the intetrests of simplicity, too, I have drawn again and again on a few relatively well-known sites from New World and Old World archaeology, such as Olduvai Gorge and Teotihuacan, rather than distracting readers with a multitude of site names. I have added brief descriptions of these major sites in a special "Sites and Cultures" information section at the back of the book, where a glossary of technical terms will also be found.


This is an exciting time to be writing about archaeology because major scientific advances in many fields are transforming our ability to reconstruct the remote past. Increasingly, archaeology is becoming a multidisciplinary field, and the eighth edition of this book reflects this fact. In general, however, the book remains much the same, because the basic principles of archaeology remain unchanged through the years, whatever new theoretical approaches or high-tech scientific methods are brought to bear on the past. These basic principles provide the foundation for all the many research projects that archaeologists carry out, whether close to home or far afield, whether academic research or cultural resource management.

Updating and Rewriting

  • New perceptions of archaeology. Chapter 2 includes discussion of archaeology and alternative perspectives on the past, reflecting new thinking on this important topic.
  • Rearrangement of Chapter 8. "The Present and the Past" has been moved to later in the book, as a preliminary to the chapters discussing reconstruction of the past.
  • Expanded coverage of ancient technologies—in response to instructor and student requests—within the space limits imposed by the book.
  • Expanded coverage of environment and climate. Chapter 9 summarizes ways in which scientists study long- and short-term climatic change. The study of ancient climate and its impact on ancient societies has been revolutionized in recent years and reflects a major advance in archaeology sufficient to justify an entire chapter.
  • Coverage of ancient technology has been expanded. Discussion of gender and ethnicity has been updated extensively.
  • Update of theory. Chapter 13, "Explaining the Past," has been updated to discuss new advances in theoretical approaches to archaeology.
  • A completely new Chapter 14. Frank advice on archaeology as a career in an era when academic positions are shrinking and archaeology is becoming a profession.
  • Expanded coverage of ethics and gender, important topics in archaeology today, occurs throughout the book and in sections of Chapters 12 and 14.
  • Revision and updating throughout. The entire text and Guide to Further Reading have been revised and updated on a page-by-page basis.

New and Revised Art Program

The eighth edition's art program has been expanded, with new photographs and fresh or revised line art. The new illustrations provide additional background on recent discoveries, amplify the narrative, or replace older art with new pictures. Some expanded captions serve to integrate the illustrations more closely into the text.


The eighth edition has benefited from the expertise of many colleagues, too numerous to list here. I am deeply grateful for their encouragement and assistance. I would like to thank the following reviewers for their help in revising the eighth edition. I appreciate their frank comments: Judith A. Habicht-Mauche, University of California-Santa Cruz; Randall McGuire, State University of New York-Binghamton; Alan H. Simmons, University of Nevada-Las Vegas; Tamra L. Walter, Texas Tech University; Michael R. Waters, Texas A&M University.

Lastly, my thanks to my editor, Nancy Roberts, and her assistant, Lee Peterson, for much encouragement and many kindnesses, also to the production staff at Prentice Hall. They have turned a complex manuscript into an attractive book and done all they could to minimize unexpected difficulties.

As always, I would be most grateful for criticisms, comments, or details of new work, sent to me c/o Department of Anthropology, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93108 (E-Mail: brian@brianfagan.com).

Brian M. Fagan

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Harpercollins College Div; 5th edition (September 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0673523365
  • ISBN-13: 978-0673523365
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 6.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #13,780,996 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Brian Fagan was born in England and studied archaeology at Pembroke College, Cambridge. He was Keeper of Prehistory at the Livingstone Museum, Zambia, from 1959-1965. During six years in Zambia and one in East Africa, he was deeply involved in fieldwork on multidisciplinary African history and in monuments conservation. He came to the United States in 1966 and was Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, from 1967 to 2004, when he became Emeritus.
Since coming to Santa Barbara, Brian has specialized in communicating archaeology to general audiences through lecturing, writing, and other media. He is regarded as one of the world's leading archaeological and historical writers and is widely respected popular lecturer about the past. His many books include three volumes for the National Geographic Society, including the bestselling Adventure of Archaeology. Other works include The Rape of the Nile, a classic history of archaeologists and tourists along the Nile, and four books on ancient climate change and human societies, Floods, Famines, and Emperors (on El Niños), The Little Ice Age, and The Long Summer, an account of warming and humanity since the Great Ice Age. His most recent climatic work describes the Medieval Warm Period: The Great Warming: Climate Change and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations. His other books include Chaco Canyon: Archaeologists Explore the Lives of an Ancient Society and Fish on Friday: Feasting, Fasting, and the Discovery of the New World and Cro-Magnon: How the Ice Age gave birth to the First Modern Humans. His recently published Elixir: A History of Water and Humankind extends his climatic research to the most vital of all resources for humanity.
Brian has been sailing since he was eight years old and learnt his cruising in the English Channel and North Sea. He has sailed thousands of miles in European waters, across the Atlantic, and in the Pacific. He is author of the Cruising Guide to Central and Southern California, which has been a widely used set of sailing directions since 1979. An ardent bicyclist, he lives in Santa Barbara with his life Lesley and daughter Ana.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Kyle Slater on March 7, 2001
Format: Paperback
Have you ever wondered how pieces of long lost civilizations find a home in museums? Perhaps a dashing hero discovered them while escaping enemies? No. Real archaeologists spend countless hours researching information on a particular subject and only then does on-site excavation begin.
This book is for those that want to know more. Brain Fagan takes a subject that many are interested in and actually puts it into perspective. Most people don't understand the numerous factors that are involoved in archaeology. The book provides a wonderful introduction to those willing to get their feet wet.
I highly recommend this book to the armchair archaeologists that want to know more about the craft and science. This is a great pre-requisite to The Oxford Companion to Archaeology (a book edited by Fagan as well).
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Michael Willers on November 30, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Brian Fagan is a lively writer with a clear enthusiasm for his profession., an enthusiasm that is in fact quite contagious. The scientific progression of archaeology has historically taken a somewhat circuitous course, with different theories and methods competing for the limelight. With this is mind, one can understand what a difficult task it would be to sum up this history, methodology and theory in one short book. Overall, Mr. Fagan has done an admirable job, and peppers the book with illustrative examples form prehistory. Nonetheless, there are some sections (particularly on archaeological theory) where I found myself reading and re-reading sentences trying to dissect exactly what he was trying to get at. I came away with a solid, though not complete, understanding of archaeologic fundamentals and the reality of archaeology -- and for a more complete picture, I will likely move on to longer, and more advanced, books.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Javamon86 on May 7, 2011
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I am an undergraduate biology student and have little experience in archaeology. This book was recommended to me by an archeaology/earth sciences professor as a supplement to a class I am taking this summer. The class is an archaeological field lab and aside from some basics taught in a physical anthropology class, I have had no real experience in archaeology. I've read most of the book in my spare time and have found it has really increased my scope of understanding. We had an orientation for the class about a week ago and our professor introduced us to what kind of work we would be doing with what kind of artifacts and at no time was I lost in technical jargon (there was lots) but would have been had I not read this book. The book itself is extremely well written and is easily understandable for the layperson, such as myself. I will not be re-selling this book. Would also like to mention that the book was sent to me in the same condition as was listed in an adequate amount of time and that the seller was a good one.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Psychiatrist on June 14, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Did as it should, changed the way I think, for the better, and now I have a richer depth of understanding of the subject. Very readable, for what could be a dry subject. Great examples embedded throughout the text, so you can learn theory and famous specific examples together. He points you in the right direction to learn more if needed, and gives great references & "links" in appendices at the end. I am not one to judge the thoroughness of the review, it has been my intro, but I ran it by a reliable buddy with an anthropology degree, and he clearly said this is one of the best books for its purposes. Thank you Dr. Fagan. I enjoyed your book, and it has helped grow my understanding of the world and mankind as well.
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