Ancient Lives: An Introduction to Archaeology and Prehistory

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  • Edition: 5th
  • Format: Nonspecific Binding
  • Copyright: 2011-09-23
  • Publisher: Routledge

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Ancient Livesis aimed at general courses in archaeology and prehistory that cover archaeological methods and theory, as well as world prehistory. The first half of the book covers the basic principles, methods, and theoretical approaches of archaeology. The second half is devoted to a 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 civilization. This is a book for complete beginners, written in a narrative style.

Author Biography

In This Section:


I. Author Bio

II. Author Letter



I. Author Bio


Brian Fagan is one of the leading archaeological writers in the world and an internationally recognized authority on world prehistory. He studied archaeology and anthropology at Pembroke College, Cambridge University, and then spent seven years in sub-Saharan Africa working in museums and in monument conservation and excavating early farming sites in Zambia and East Africa. He was one of the pioneers 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 professor emeritus.


Professor Fagan has written six best-selling textbooks: Ancient Lives: An Introduction to Archaeology and Prehistory; In the Beginning; Archaeology: A Brief Introduction; People of the Earth; World Preh istory; and A Brief History of Archaeology–all published by Prentice Hall–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; and The Great Warming. He is 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. He is also an expert on multimedia teaching and received the Society for American Archaeology’s first Public Education Award for his indefatigable efforts on behalf of archaeology and education.



II. Author Letter


Dear Colleague:


I became an archaeologist by accident, in large part because of the stories told by my very first university instructor, Miles Burkitt. Miles was an institution at Cambridge University where I studied archaeology. His lectures were long on artifacts and short on sophistication. But he was a consummate storyteller—about fellow archaeologists and copying Stone Age cave art with the legendary French prehistorian Abbé Breul before World War I, among other things. He taught me that storytelling is central to good teaching.


I started teaching introductory archaeology at the University of California - Santa Barbara in 1967, to an audience of 300 students. Finding no suitable textbooks, I ended up writing Ancient Lives; a short book that combined both the basics of method and theory—how archaeology works—and the major developments of world prehistory. It has filled an important niche in the marketplace for instructors who want a course that combines the basics both of archaeology itself and of human prehistory. To my delight, it has been widely used in many colleges and universities as a first introduction to a complex subject that has an important role to play in today’s world. I’m proud that highly respected archaeologists first encountered archaeology through its pages!


Ancient Lives is a straightforward journey through the world of archaeology and prehistory, which covers the basics--I mean the basics. Its chapters answer fundamental questions. How do we find sites, excavate them, and analyze their finds? How do we date the past? How do we study ancient landscapes and settlement patterns? It also tells the story of the human past from the emergence of the first humans in East Africa well before 2.5 million years ago to the appearance of the world’s first pre-industrial civilizations in 3100 B.C. and afterward. It surveys the long span of human experience in the Old World, also in the Americas, attempting to tell the story of our remote past as a straightforward narrative, not just a list of artifacts and archaeological sites. Ancient Lives is user friendly, as jargon-free as possible, and designed for complete beginners. It can serve either as a one-shot introduction to the subject as part of general education, or a basis for taking additional courses later on.


This new fifth edition draws on the success of earlier editions, and plentiful encouragement from users and reviewers, as well as students. The basic approach is unchanged: produce a simple narrative of method and theory and human prehistory for beginners. I’ve updated examples throughout, added new information on human evolution, and brought in some exciting new discoveries, such as the Göbekli carvings in Turkey and the Lords of Sicán from coastal Peru. The illustrations have been completely refreshed and revised for this edition. Otherwise, this updated and improved edition continues a successful formula that has introduced thousands of students to the fascinating world of archaeology. Long may it continue to do so!


Please do let me know what you think of the new edition of Ancient Lives. If you have any comments, suggestions, or questions about the book, please do not hesitate to send me an e-mail at brian@brianfagan.com .


I look forward to hearing from you!


Best regards,


Brian Fagan


Professor Emeritus

University of California—Santa Barbara

Table of Contents

In This Section


1.) Brief Contents

2.) Comprehensive


Brief 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



Author’s Note

About the Author


Comprehensive Contents


Part I Archaeology: Studying Ancient Times



Chapter 1 Introducing Archaeology and Prehistory

How Archaeology Began

The Discovery of Early Civilizations

DISCOVERY: Austen Henry Layard at Nineveh

The Antiquity of Humankind

The Origins of Scientific Archaeology

Archaeology and Prehistory

Prehistory and World Prehistory

DOING ARCHAEOLOGY: A Short Guide to Archaeological Diversity

Major Developments in Human Prehistory

Why Are Archaeology and World Prehistory Important?

Mysteries of the Past

DOING ARCHAEOLOGY: Pseudoarchaeology, or You, Too, Can Be an Armchair Indiana Jones

The Powerful Lure of the Past

Archaeology and Human Diversity

Archaeology as a Political Tool

Archaeology and Economic Development


Who Needs the Past?

SITE: Inyan Ceyaka Atonwan, Minnesota


Key Terms and Sites

Critical-Thinking Questions


Chapter 2 The Record of the Past

The Goals of Archaeology

Constructing Culture History

DISCOVERY: The Folsom Bison Kill Site, New Mexico

Reconstructing Ancient Lifeways

SITE: Sounds of the Past

Explaining Cultural Change

The Process of Archaeological Research

DOING ARCHAEOLOGY: An Archaeologist’s Ethical Responsibilities

Research Design

Data Acquisition



Publication and Curation

What Is Culture?

The Archives of the Past: The Archaeological Record

Preservation Conditions

A Waterlogged Site: Ozette, Washington

A Dry Site: Puruchucho-Huaquerones, Peru

Cold Conditions: Nevado Ampato, Peru

Volcanic Ash: Cerén, El Salvador

DISCOVERY: Tragedy at Cerén, El Salvador


Time and Space

The Law of Association

The Law of Superposition


Key Terms and

Critical-Thinking Questions


Chapter 3 Acquiring the Record

DISCOVERY: Recording the Behistun Inscription, Iran

How Do You Find Archaeological Sites?

Accidental Discoveries

Deliberate Survey

Settlement Patterns and Settlement Archaeology

Remote Sensing and Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

SITE: Teotihuacán, Mexico

How Do You Dig Up the Past?

The Ethical Responsibilities of the Excavator

Research Design and Problem-Oriented Excavation


Types of Excavation

DOING ARCHAEOLOGY: Archaeological Sites

Excavation as Recording

How Old Is It?

Relative Chronology

Chronometric Dating



Key Terms and Sites

Critical-Thinking Questions


Chapter 4 How Did People Live?

Technologies of the Ancients


Bone, Antler, and Ivory

DOING ARCHAEOLOGY: Classifying Artifact Types

Wood 88


Clay (Ceramics)

Metals and Metallurgy


Basketry and Textiles

SITE: Ancient Wine at Abydos, Egypt

Subsistence: Making a Living

Animal Bones

DOING ARCHAEOLOGY: Studying Ancient Subsistence

Plant Remains

DOING ARCHAEOLOGY: Flotation Methods

Fishing and Fowling

Reconstructing Ancient Diet


Key Terms and Sites

Critical-Thinking Questions


Part II Ancient Interactions



Chapter 5 Individuals and Interactions

An Individual: Ötzi the Ice Man

Social Ranking

DOING ARCHAEOLOGY: The Law Code of Hammurabi of Babylon, 1760 B.C.

SITE: The Sepulcher of the Maya Lord Pacal, Palenque, Mexico

Gender: Men and Women

Grinding Grain at Abu Hureyra, Syria

The Engendered Past 1

Ethnicity and Inequality

Ideologies of Domination

Artifacts, Social Inequality, and Resistance

Trade and Exchange

DISCOVERY: War Casualties at Thebes, Egypt

Types of Exchange and Trade


DOING ARCHAEOLOGY: Obsidian Sourcing

A Unique Portrait of Ancient Trade: The Uluburun Ship


Key Terms and Sites

Critical-Thinking Questions


Chapter 6 Studying the Intangible

A Framework of Common Belief

DISCOVERY: Shang Oracle Bones, China

Ethnographic Analogy and Rock Art

DOING ARCHAEOLOGY: Copying South African Rock Paintings

The Archaeology of Death

Artifacts: The Importance of Context

Artifacts and Art Styles

SITE: The Shrine at Phylakopi, Greece

DOING ARCHAEOLOGY: The Ancient Maya World through Glyphs

Sacred Places

Astroarchaeology and Stonehenge

Southwestern Astronomy and Chaco Canyon


Key Terms and Sites

Critical-Thinking Questions


Chapter 7 Explaining the Past

Culture History

Constructing Culture History


A Hierarchy of Archaeological Units

Descriptive Models of Cultural Change

Inevitable Variation

Cultural Selection

DOING ARCHAEOLOGY: A Hierarchy of Archaeological Entities





DISCOVERY: A Tale of Two Maya Women: Waka, Guatemala

Archaeology by Observation and Experiment


Experimental Archaeology

Explaining Cultural Change

Cultural Systems and Cultural Processes

DOING ARCHAEOLOGY: Deductive and Inductive Reasoning

Processual Archaeology

People, Not Systems

SITE: Guilá Naquitz Cave, Mexico

Cognitive-Processual Archaeology

The Issue of Complexity

Change and No Change


Key Terms and Sites

Critical-Thinking Questions


Part III The World of the First Humans



Chapter 8 Human Origins

The Great Ice Age (c. 2.5 Million to 15,000 Years Ago)

Early Primate Evolution and Adaptation

The Primate Order

"Coming Down from the Trees"

The Fossil Evidence for Human Evolution (7 Million to 1.5 Million Years Ago)

The Earliest Known Hominin: Toumaï, Sahelanthropus tchadensis

What Is Australopithecus?

Ardipithecus ramidus

Australopithecus anamensis and Australopithecus afarensis

DOING ARCHAEOLOGY: Potassium-Argon Dating

All Kinds of Australopithecines (3 Million to 2.5 Million Years Ago)

Gracile Australopithecines: Australopithecus africanus

Robust Australopithecines: A. aethiopicus, A. boisei, and A. robustus

Australopithecus garhi

Early Homo: Homo habilis (2.5 Million to 2 Million Years Ago)

A Burst of Rapid Change?

Who Was the First Human?

The Earliest Human Technology

Hunters or Scavengers?

SITE: Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania

Plant Foraging and Grandmothering

The Earliest Human Mind

The Development of Language

The Earliest Social Organization


Key Terms and Sites

Critical-Thinking Questions


Chapter 9 African Exodus

Ice Age Background

Homo ergaster in Africa

Homo erectus (c. 1.9 Million to c. 200,000 Years Ago)

Radiating out of Africa

Homo erectus in Asia

The Lifeway of Homo erectus

Hand Axes and Choppers


Archaic Homo sapiens (c. 400,000 to 130,000 Years Ago)

Archaic Homo sapiens: Homo heidelbergensis

SITE: A 400,000-Year-Old Hunt at Schöningen, Germany

The Neanderthals (c. 200,000 to 30,000 Years Ago)

The Origins of Modern Humans (c. 180,000 to 150,000 Years Ago)

Continuity or Replacement?

Molecular Biology and Homo sapiens


Ecology and Homo sapiens

Out of Tropical Africa


Key Terms and Sites

Critical-Thinking Questions


Part IV Modern Humans Settle the World



Chapter 10 The Great Diaspora

The Late Ice Age World (50,000 to 15,000 Years Ago)

DOING ARCHAEOLOGY: Radiocarbon Dating

The Peopling of Southeast Asia and Australia (c. 50,000 to 15,000 Years Ago)

Late Ice Age Europe: The Cro-Magnons (45,000 to 15,000 Years Ago)


Cro-Magnon Technology

Cro-Magnon Art

Hunter-Gatherers in Eurasia (35,000 to 15,000 Years Ago)

DISCOVERY: Grotte de Chauvet, France

East Asia (35,000 to 15,000 Years Ago)

Sinodonty and Sundadonty

Early Human Settlement of Siberia (Before 20,000 to 15,000 Years Ago)

The First Americans (Before 15,000 Years Ago to 11,000 B.C.)

Settlement before 30,000 Years Ago?

Settlement after 15,000 Years Ago?

SITE: Monte Verde, Chile

The Clovis People (c. 11,200 to 10,900 B.C.)


Key Terms and Sites

Critical-Thinking Questions


Part V The First Farmers and Civilizations



Chapter 11 The Earliest Farmers

After the Ice Age

Changes in Hunter-Gatherer Societies

Social Complexity among Hunter-Gatherers

DISCOVERY: Hunter-Gatherers at Modoc Rockshelter, Illinois

Origins of Food Production

DOING ARCHAEOLOGY: Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) Radiocarbon Dating

Consequences of Food Production

The First Farmers in Southwestern Asia

DOING ARCHAEOLOGY: Domesticating Wheat and Barley

Egypt and the Nile Valley

Early Agriculture in Anatolia

SITE: Ritual Buildings in Southeastern Turkey

European Farmers

Early Agriculture in South and East Asia

The Indus Valley

Rice Cultivation in Southern China

SITE: Easton Down and the Avebury Sacred Landscape, England

The First Farmers in Northern China

Navigators and Chiefs in the Pacific (2000 B.C. to Modern Times)


Key Terms and Sites

Critical-Thinking Questions


Chapter 12 The First Civilizations


What Is a State-Organized Society?


Theories of the Origins of States

The Collapse of Civilizations

Early Civilization in Mesopotamia (5500 to 3100 B.C.)

The First Cities: Uruk

The Sumerians (c. 3100 to 2334 B.C.)

DISCOVERY: The Temple at Eridu, Iraq


Ancient Egyptian Civilization (c. 3100 B.C. to 30 B.C.)

Predynastic Egypt: Ancient Monopoly? (5000 to 3100 B.C.)

Dynastic Egyptian Civilization (c. 3100 to 30 B.C.)

SITE: The Step Pyramid at Saqqara

DOING ARCHAEOLOGY: Ahmose, Son of Ebana


Key Terms and Sites

Critical-Thinking Questions


Chapter 13 Early Asian Civilizations

South Asia: The Harappan Civilization (c. 2700 to 1700 B.C.)

Mature Harappan Civilization

South Asia after the Harappans (1700 to 180 B.C.)

The Origins of Chinese Civilization (2600 to 1100 B.C.)

Royal Capitals

Royal Burials

Bronze Working

Shang Warriors

The War Lords (1100 to 221 B.C.)

DISCOVERY: The Burial Mound of Emperor Shihuangdi, China

Southeast Asian Civilization (A.D. 1 to 1500)

The Angkor State (A.D. 802 to 1430)

SITE: Angkor Wat, Cambodia


Key Terms and Sites

Critical-Thinking Questions


Part VI Ancient America



Chapter 14 Maize, Pueblos, and Mound Builders

North America after First Settlement

SITE: The Olsen-Chubbock Bison Kill, Colorado

The Story of Maize

Mesoamerica: Guilá Naquitz and Early Cultivation

The Earliest Maize

Andean Farmers

The North American Southwest (300 B.C. to Modern Times)

DOING ARCHAEOLOGY: Dendrochronology (Tree-Ring Dating)

Hohokam, Mogollon, and Ancestral Pueblo

Mound Builders in Eastern North America (2000 B.C. to A.D. 1650)

Adena and Hopewell

The Mississippian Tradition

SITE: Moundville, Alabama


Key Terms and Sites

Critical-Thinking Questions


Chapter 15 Mesoamerican Civilizations

The Olmec (1500 to 500 B.C.)

Ancient Maya Civilization (Before 1000 B.C. to A.D. 1519)

Beginnings (Before 1000 to 300 B.C.)


Classic Maya Civilization (A.D. 300 to 900)

The Classic Maya Collapse

DOING ARCHAEOLOGY: The Hieroglyphic Stairway at Copán

DOING ARCHAEOLOGY: Studying the Maya Collapse at Copán

The Rise of Highland Civilization (1500 to 200 B.C.)

Teotihuacán (200 B.C. to A.D. 750)

DOING ARCHAEOLOGY: Life in Teotihuacán’s Barrios

The Toltecs (650 to 1200)

Aztec Civilization (1200 to 1521)


SITE: The Great Temple at Tenochtitlán

The World of the Fifth Sun

The Aztec State

The Spanish Conquest


Key Terms and Sites

Critical-Thinking Questions


Chapter 16 Andean Civilizations

The Maritime Foundations of Andean Civilization

Coastal Foundations (2500 to 900 B.C.)


El Paraíso and Huaca Florida

The Early Horizon and Chavín de Huántar (900 to 200 B.C.)

The Initial Period

Irrigation Agriculture Inland (After 1800 B.C.)

The Lake Titicaca Basin: Chiripa and Pukara (1000 B.C. to A.D. 100)

The Moche State (200 B.C. to A.D. 700)

DISCOVERY: The Lords of Sipán, Peru

The Middle Horizon: Tiwanaku and Wari (600 to 1000) 423



The Late Intermediate Period: Sicán and Chimu (700 to 1460)

The Late Horizon: The Inka State (1476 to 1534)

SITE: Cuzco, the Imperial Inka Capital

The Spanish Conquest (1532 to 1534)


Key Terms and Sites

Critical-Thinking Questions


Part VII On Being an Archaeologist


Chapter 17 So You Want to Become an Archaeologist

Archaeology as a Profession

Deciding to Become an Archaeologist

Gaining Fieldwork Experience

Career Opportunities

Academic Qualifications and Graduate School

Thoughts on Not Becoming a Professional Archaeologist

Our Responsibilities to the Past

A Simple Code of Archaeological Ethics for All


Key Term

Critical-Thinking Questions






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