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Taylor & Francis
Ancient Lives: An Introduction to Archaeology and Prehistory / Edition 5

Ancient Lives: An Introduction to Archaeology and Prehistory / Edition 5

by Brian M. Fagan


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Ancient Lives: An Introduction to Archaeology and Prehistory / Edition 5

This wide-ranging introduction to the most fundamental principles, methods, and theoretical approaches of archaeology, combined with coverage of the major developments of human prehistory, is a book for complete beginners. Using first-person experience, a conversational narrative, and unique, truly global coverage reflected in examples from all parts of the world, it paints a compelling portrait of archaeology, science, and the past.The first half of the book covers the basic principles, methods and theoretical approaches of archaeology. The second half is summary of the major developments of human prehistory: the origins of humankind and the archaic world, the origins and spread of modern humans, the emergence of food production, and the beginnings of civilizationWritten for people who want to know more about archaeology and prehistory, not necessarily with a view to becoming a professional archaeologist.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780205178070
Publisher: Taylor & Francis
Publication date: 10/07/2011
Edition description: Older Edition
Pages: 528
Product dimensions: 7.90(w) x 9.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Brian Fagan is a leading archaeological writer and internationally recognized authority on world prehistory. He studied archaeology and anthropology at Pembroke College and Cambridge University. He then spent seven years in sub-Saharan Africa working in museums, monument conservation, and excavating early farming sites in Zambia and East Africa. He was a pioneer of multidisciplinary African history in the 1960s. From 1967 to 2003, he was professor of anthropology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he specialized in lecturing and writing about archaeology to wide audiences. He is now Emeritus Professor of Anthropology.

Brian Fagan has written six best-selling textbooks (all published by Prentice Hall): Ancient Lives: An Introduction to Archaeology and Prehistory; In the Beginning, Archaeology: A Brief Introduction; World Prehistory; Ancient Civilizations (with Chris Scarre); and this volume–which are used around the world. His general books include The Rape of the Nile, a classic history of Egyptology; The Adventure of Archaeology Time Detectives; Ancient North America; The Little Ice Age; Before California: An Archaeologist Looks at Our Earliest Inhabitants; and The Long Summer. He was also General Editor of the Oxford Companion to Archaeology. In addition, he has published several scholarly monographs on African archaeology and numerous specialized articles in national and international journals. An expert on multimedia teaching, he has received the Society for American Archaeology's first Public Education Award for his indefatigable efforts on behalf of archaeology and education.

Brian Fagan's other interests include bicycling, sailing, kayaking, and good food. He is married and lives in Santa Barbara with his wife and daughter, four cats (who supervise his writing), and last but not least, a minimum of four rabbits.

Table of Contents

Part I Archaeology: Studying Ancient Times
Chapter 1 Introducing Archaeology and Prehistory
Chapter 2 The Record of the Past
Chapter 3 Acquiring the Record
Chapter 4 How Did People Live?
Part II Ancient Interactions
Chapter 5 Individuals and Interactions
Chapter 6 Studying the Intangible
Chapter 7 Explaining the Past
Part III The World of the First Humans
Chapter 8 Human Origins
Chapter 9 African Exodus
Part IV Modern Humans Settle the World
Chapter 10 The Great Diaspora
Part V The First Farmers and Civilizations
Chapter 11 The Earliest Farmers
Chapter 12 The First Civilizations
Chapter 13 Early Asian Civilizations
Part VI Ancient America
Chapter 14 Maize, Pueblos, and Mound Builders
Chapter 15 Mesoamerican Civilizations
Chapter 16 Andean Civilizations
Part VII On Being an Archaeologist
Chapter 17 So You Want to Become an Archaeologist


GOLDEN PHARAOHS, LOST CITIES, GRINNING HUMAN SKELETONS: archaeology is the stuff of romance and legend! Many people still think of archaeologists as adventurers and treasure hunters, like Indiana Jones of, Hollywood movie fame seeking the elusive Holy Grail. These enduring images go back to the late nineteenth century, when archaeologists like Heinrich Schliemann could still find' lost civilizations like Troy and excavate three royal palaces in a week. Today, few, if any, archaeologists are like Indiana Jones. They are scientists, not adventurers, as comfortable in an air-conditioned laboratory as they are on a remote excavation. The development of scientific archaeology from its Victorian beginnings ranks among the greatest triumphs of twentieth-century science.

Archaeology has changed our understanding of the human experience in profound ways. A century ago, most scientists believed that humans were no more than 100,000 years old. Today we know that our origins go back 5 million years. Our predecessors assumed that the Americas were settled about 8000 B.C. and that farming began around 4000 B.C. New excavations date the first Americans to at least 12,000 B.C. and the beginnings of agriculture to about 10,000 B.C. Most important of all, archaeology has changed our perceptions of ourselves, our biological and cultural diversity. Welcome to the fascinating world of archaeology and prehistory.

Ancient Lives began life as a textbook on the basic methods and theories of archaeology, an introduction to the workings of a scientific discipline. This second edition is reborn as an entirely different book, one that combines an exploration of archaeology, the discipline, with abrief narrative of prehistory, what actually happened in the early human past. In short, it has become an archaeology and prehistory text. This book is a celebration of the only scientific discipline that studies human biological and cultural evolution over enormously long periods of time. In these pages, we celebrate more than 2.5 million years of the human past.


Ancient Lives is divided into two halves, and as if that were not enough, into seven parts as well. The first seven chapters cover the basic methods and theoretical approaches of archaeology. The remainder of the book takes us on a journey through prehistory, from human origins to those dramatic moments when Spanish conquistadors gazed on the Aztec capital in the Valley of Mexico and at the wealth of the Inka civilization in the Andes. The remaining six parts subdivide these broad themes into more manageable chunks.

Part 1, "Archaeology: Studying Ancient Times," consists of four chapters. These chapters define archaeology and prehistory, introduce the nature of the archaeological record, discuss the ways in which archaeologists date the past, and examine ancient technology and ways of obtaining food. Part 2, "Ancient Interactions," focuses on people and their interactions, on the study of ancient religious beliefs, and on the all-important topic of explaining the past.

With Chapter 8 and Part 3, "The World of the First Humans," we begin our narrative of human prehistory with a discussion of human origins and the spread of archaic peoples out of tropical Africa more than 2 million years ago. We end with an analysis of the controversies surrounding the origins of modern humans—Homo sapiens sapiens, modern humanity, "the wise person." Part 4, "Modern Humans Settle the World," comprises just one chapter, which covers the thousands of years of migration that took Homo sapiens sapiens, ourselves, from our African homeland into every corner of the Old World, and, after 15,000 years ago, into the Americas.

In Part 5, "The First Farmers and Civilizations," we continue the story in the Old World, with the beginnings of farming in southwestern Asia, then, later, in Asia. It was farming that led to the last great migrations of Homo sapiens, to the offshore islands of the Pacific Ocean. In Chapter 12, we discuss the beginnings of civilization in Mesopotamia and Egypt. Chapter 13 describes the origins of Asian civilization, culminating in the stupendous Khmer states of Cambodia.

Part 6, "Ancient America," moves to the western hemisphere, where we follow developments after first settlement of the Americas in Chapter 14 and tell the early story of maize, the staple crop of native American agriculture. Chapters 15 and 16 recount the complex histories of civilization in Central America (Mesoamerica) and the Andes region of South America respectively.

Finally, Part 7, "On Being an Archaeologist," provides you with a frank appraisal of career prospects in archaeology, the subject of a brief essay in Chapter 17. Glossaries of technical terms, sites, and cultures follow the final chapter.


Writing a textbook such as Ancient Lives is a constant exercise in compromise and making decisions as to what to include and what to omit. Ancient Lives is designed as a first text in archaeology and prehistory that seeks to engage the reader in a complex enterprise, to explore some of the dimensions of archaeology and human prehistory at a fundamental level.

For the archaeology section (Chapters 1 to 7),1 have made unashamed use of my own extensive fieldwork and laboratory experience, of years visiting other archaeologists' excavations and surveys, to give a sometimes unavoidably arid subject matter greater immediacy. At the same time, these seven chapters draw on methods and examples from all parts of the world, for this is what the prehistory in the next eight chapters is all about. Remember that archaeology and prehistory are global enterprises, not just a product of Europe, North America, and Mexico. The beginner should enjoy archaeology and prehistory, with all the attendant global diversity of field experience and intellectual problems.

The seven method and theory chapters make use of examples from the Americas, Africa, Europe, and Asia, from the earliest archaeological sites to modern urban trash deposits. There are numerous examples of good applications of archaeological method and theory, so it has been hard to choose among them. One school of thought urges the use of the latest examples from brand-new research. Another feels that one should balance male and female archaeologists equally in the examples, without, apparently, any concern for the significance of the site or the methods. I have chosen to mix three ingredients: important sites and case studies, many of them several generations old, which are still outstanding and well-known instances of archaeological research; examples from different parts of the world; and new discoveries. There are many familiar sites and discoveries (Olduvai Gorge, the tomb of Tutankhamun, and so on) that transcend the narrow interests of individual teachers and students. They are used without apology here. After all, the best-known and most spectacular sites are those that often stick in the mind, even if they were excavated several generations ago.

Then there is the thorny issue of archaeological theory, the subject of Chapter 7. Archaeology has witnessed constant theoretical ferment over the past half century, some of it inspired, some of it downright nonsense. The theoretical debates continue, most of them of little concern to the beginner. For this reason, this book espouses no particular theoretical bias, because a wide range of instructors and students will use this book and also because individual teachers can easily use the general summaries given here and present their own perspectives on the tidal currents of archaeological theory.

The prehistory chapters (8 to 16) attempt a simple, jargon-free account of humanity over the past 2.5 million years. Again, I have chosen a global perspective, for I believe that you cannot understand humanity or human diversity unless you examine what happened in all parts of the world. The prehistory of humankind viewed from the single perspective of, say, Egypt or the Andes is meaningless, for the human experience in these regions is but a fragment of an infinitely larger jigsaw puzzle. I have told the story with a minimum of detail, and with as few sites as possible, on the argument that we are concerned here with the general outline of what happened in prehistory and why, not with minor details of local developments, which are covered in more detailed regional surveys. For the same reason, I have skated over the major theoretical debates that surround such important issues as the first settlement of the Americas, the origins of agriculture and animal domestication, and the beginnings of literate civilization. Again, these subjects can be explored in the more specialized literature, references to which are provided in the "Guide to Further Reading," at the end of each chapter.

Ancient Lives is a rapid-fire journey through the worlds of archaeology and prehistory. Inevitably, the discussions of many issues in these pages are cursory. I have erred on the side of overgeneralization, on the grounds that such excesses can easily be corrected in class or in later courses. Best to get the point across, then qualify it, rather than wallowing in a mishmash of "probably's" or "perhapses."

Ancient Lives is written for people who want to know more about archaeology and prehistory, not necessarily with a view to becoming professional archaeologists (although I tell you how to do that in Chapter 17) but so that they can carry some knowledge of the remote past and how we study it with them in later life. As you will discover, the future of our past depends on responsible stewardship of the finite archives of archaeology for future generations by archaeologists and society as a whole.

I have a modest ambition for Ancient Lives. If this book leaves you with a lifetime interest in archaeology and prehistory, with enough background knowledge to understand the reasoning behind archaeological stories in such popular journals as National Geographic magazine, and with respect for archaeologists and the achievements of our forebears, then its job is done.


Ancient Lives makes no attempt to be a comprehensive survey of archaeology and prehistory. We focus on general issues at the expense of irrelevant detail and specialized controversies.


This book covers all aspects of archaeology and prehistory, but pays particular attention to the following:

  • Archaeological ethics, stewardship, and conservation of the past (Chapters 1, 2, and 17). Frequently neglected in beginning archaeology courses, these issues are fundamental to the survival of the discipline.
  • Alternative perspectives on the past and on time (Chapters 1 and 3) and important issues for Native Americans and other indigenous peoples.
  • The people of the past and the study of human diversity, including gender and ethnicity (Part 2).
  • The study of ancient religious beliefs and other cultural intangibles, a fascinating and rapidly expanding direction in the field (Chapter 6).
  • Career opportunities in archaeology and living with the past on a day-by-day basis (Chapter 17).
  • A balanced, global perspective on human prehistory that emphasizes no one region at the expense of others.
  • A jargon-free narrative focusing on four basic developments:
    Early human evolution. Chapter 8 discusses the latest advances in the study of human origins, including the latest fossil discoveries in East Africa.
    Origins of modern humans. Chapters 9 and 10 cover new research on the controversial issue of the earliest modern humans and fresh perceptions of Neanderthal ancestry and behavior, as well as the diaspora of Homo sapiens sapiens across the world.
    Origins of food production. Chapter 11 describes the first farmers of the Old World, incorporating new dates for early agriculture obtained from accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) radiocarbon.
  • Origins of states and civilization. Chapters 12, 13, 15, and 16 offer an up-to-date description and analysis of the first civilizations in the Old World and the Americas.
    – Lastly, Chapter 17 gives a frank appraisal of career prospects in archaeology.

Inevitably, I made compromises in the subject matter. Ancient Lives does not provide much coverage of the history of archaeology, or of cultural resource management (CRM), although I mention CRM and its career possibilities. Nor is there much discussion of archaeological theory. All these topics are more appropriately taught in greater detail in more advanced undergraduate courses. So are the minute details of archaeological survey, remote sensing, excavation, artifact analysis, and local archaeological sequences. In all cases, I give examples of books or articles that provide more information on these important topics. The fact that something is not covered here does not mean that it is unimportant.

Special Features

  • A jargon-free, easy-to-read style.
  • Comprehensive glossaries of technical terms and sites and cultures, to amplify formal definitions given at intervals in the text in boldface, for terms, and italics, for sites and cultures.
  • Boxes that describe key methods such as radiocarbon dating or molecular genetics. Discoveries and site boxes cover particularly significant subjects that are mentioned only briefly in the main narrative.
  • Unique, truly global coverage of archaeology and prehistory, reflected in a balanced treatment of many parts of the world.
  • The "Guide to Further Reading," at the end of each chapter, that directs the reader to more specialized literature or more comprehensive coverage.
  • A comprehensive illustration program designed to amplify the text.


Three types of in-text boxes enhance the narrative:

  • Doing Archaeology. These boxes introduce key dating methods and other scientific approaches, such as radiocarbon and AMS dating, flotation for the recovery of seeds, and sourcing of obsidian (volcanic rock) traded over long distances in ancient times.
  • Sites. Each of the first 16 chapters includes one or more boxes describing important sites and some aspect of them that has unusual interest.
  • Discoveries. Details of important archaeological discoveries are explored in the Discoveries boxes.

Ancillary Materials

The ancillary materials that accompany this textbook are carefully created to enhance the topics being discussed.

Instructor's Manual with Tests. For each chapter in the text, this manual provides a detailed outline, list of objectives, discussion questions, classroom activities, and additional resources. The test bank includes multiple-choice, true/false, and essay questions for each chapter.

TestGen. This dual-platform CD-ROM is a test generator designed to allow the creation of personalized exams.

Companion Website. In tandem with the text, students can now take full advantage of the World Wide Web to enrich their study of archaeology and prehistory through the Fagan Companion Website. This resource correlates the text with related material available on the Internet. Features include chapter objectives, study questions, research projects, and links to additional material that can reinforce and enhance the content of each chapter.

Research Navigator. Research Navigator is the easiest way for students to start a research assignment or research paper. Complete with extensive help on the research process and three exclusive dates of credible and reliable source material, include EBSCO's ContentSelect Academic Journal Database, The New York Times Search-by-Subject Archive, and "Best of the Web" Link Library. Research Navigator helps students quickly and efficiently make the most of their research time.

Evaluating Online Resources, Anthropology 2004. This guide encourages students to be critical consumers of online resources. References related specifically to the discipline of anthropology are included. Included with the guide is an access code for Research Navigator. This guide is free when packaged with Ancient Lives, Second Edition.

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