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Degradation, investigation and preservation of archaeological evidence.

Caple, C. (2001) 'Degradation, investigation and preservation of archaeological evidence.', in Handbook of archaeological sciences. Chichester ; New York: John Wiley, pp. 587-594.


The museums of the present are filled with stone and bronze axe heads, mineralised metal tools, cracked pots and glass fragments. This does not accurately define our past but what has; survived burial in aerobic topsoil for hundreds or thousands of years, was recognised as an antiquity and recovered by a 19th or 20th century archaeologist. This surviving evidence led early antiquarians such as C.J. Thompson to classify prehistory into the ages of stone, bronze and iron. This is a misleading categorisation by which the prehistoric past is still known. In reality the vast majority of the objects of the past were made of wood, textile, skin and other organic materials. The only opportunity we have to gain a more accurate ‘holistic’ glimpse of the past is when we find remains in the frozen, desiccated or waterlogged anoxic (oxygen free) conditions which preserve organic and other materials. Examples such as Otze the ice man (Spindler 1995), Tutankhamen’s tomb (Carter & Mace 1922-33) and the Glastonbury Lake Villages (Bulleid & Gray 1911) demonstrate the rich complexity and diversity of the material culture of the past.

Item Type:Book chapter
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Record Created:10 Nov 2008
Last Modified:26 Nov 2015 16:34

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