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Study Historians have two major avenues which they take to better understand the ancient world: archaeology and the study of source texts. Primary sources are those sources closest to the origin of the information or idea under study.<ref>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=web }}</ref><ref>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=web }}</ref> Primary sources have been distinguished from secondary sources, which often cite, comment on, or build upon primary sources.<ref>Oscar Handlin et al., Harvard Guide to American History (1954) 118-246</ref>

Archaeological field surveys

Reasons that an area undergoes an archaeological field survey.

  • Artifacts found: Locals have picked up artifacts.
  • Literary sources: Old literary sources have provided archaeologists with clues about settlement locations that have not been archaeologically documented.
  • Oral sources: In many locations, local stories contain some hint of a greater past, and there is often some truth to them.
  • Local knowledge: In many cases, locals actually know where to find something that is of interest to archaeologists.
  • Previous surveys: In some places, a survey was carried out in the past, and is recorded in an obscure academic journal.
  • Previous excavations: Excavations carried out before the middle of the 20th century are notoriously poorly documented.
  • Lack of knowledge: Many areas of the world have little known about the nature and organisation of past human activity.

Archaeology

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Archaeology is the excavation and study of artefacts in an effort to interpret and reconstruct past human behavior.<ref>Petrie, W. M. F. (1972). Methods & aims in archaeology. New York: B. Blom</ref><ref>Gamble, C. (2000). Archaeology the basics. London: Routledge.</ref><ref>Wheeler, J. R. (1908). Archaeology [a lecture delivered at Columbia University in the series on science, philosophy and art, January 8, 1908]. New York: Columbia University Press.</ref><ref>Barton, G. A. (1900). Archaeology and the Bible. Green fund book, no. 17. Philadelphia: American Sunday-School Union 1816 Chestnut Street.</ref> Archaeologists excavate the ruins of ancient cities looking for clues as to how the people of the time period lived. Some important discoveries by archaeologists studying ancient history include:

|CitationClass=book }}"The Great Pyramid ... is still one of the largest structures ever raised by man, its plan twice the size of St. Peter's in Rome"</ref> giant tombs built by the ancient Egyptians beginning about 2600 BC as the final resting places of their royalty.

|CitationClass=book }}</ref> an ancient Roman city preserved by the eruption of a volcano in AD 79. Its state of preservation is so great that it is a valuable window into Roman culture and provided insight into the cultures of the Etruscans and the Samnites.<ref>Lobell, Jarrett (July/August 2002). "Etruscan Pompeii". Archaeological Institute of America 55 (4). Retrieved in September 2007.</ref>

  • The Terracotta Army:<ref>Jane Portal and Qingbo Duan, The First Emperor: China's Terracotta Arm, British Museum Press, 2007, p. 167</ref> the mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor in ancient China.
  • The discovery of Knossos by Minos Kalokairinos and Sir Arthur Evans.
  • The discovery of Troy by Heinrich Schliemann.

Source text

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Most of what is known of the ancient world comes from the accounts of antiquity's own historians. Although it is important to take into account the bias of each ancient author, their accounts are the basis for our understanding of the ancient past. Some of the more notable ancient writers include Herodotus, Thucydides, Arrian, Plutarch, Polybius, Sima Qian, Sallust, Livy, Josephus, Suetonius, and Tacitus.

A fundamental difficulty of studying ancient history is that recorded histories cannot document the entirety of human events, and only a fraction of those documents have survived into the present day.<ref name="GardnerP">Gardner, P. (1892). New chapters in Greek history, historical results of recent excavations in Greece and Asia Minor. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons. Page 1+.</ref> Furthermore, the reliability of the information obtained from these surviving records must be considered.<ref name="GardnerP" /><ref>Smith, M. S. (2002). The early history of God: Yahweh and the other deities in ancient Israel. The Biblical resource series. Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Page xxii - xxiii</ref> Few people were capable of writing histories, as literacy was not widespread in almost any culture until long after the end of ancient history.<ref>Nadin, M. (1997). The civilization of illiteracy. Dresden: Dresden University Press.</ref>

The earliest known systematic historical thought emerged in ancient Greece, beginning with Herodotus of Halicarnassus (484–c. 425 BC). Thucydides largely eliminated divine causality in his account of the war between Athens and Sparta,<ref name="Cochrane, Charles Norris 1929. p. 179">Cochrane, Charles Norris. Thucydides and the Science of History, Oxford University Press, 1929. p. 179.</ref> establishing a rationalistic element which set a precedent for subsequent Western historical writings. He was also the first to distinguish between cause and immediate origins of an event.<ref name="Cochrane, Charles Norris 1929. p. 179" />

The Roman Empire was one of the ancient world's most literate cultures,<ref>Harris, W. V. (1989). Ancient literacy. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press. (cf. ... extent of literacy in the Roman Empire has been investigated, previous writers have generally concluded that a high degree of literacy ...)</ref> but many works by its most widely read historians are lost. For example, Livy, a Roman historian who lived in the 1st century BC, wrote a history of Rome called Ab Urbe Condita (From the Founding of the City) in 144 volumes; only 35 volumes still exist, although short summaries of most of the rest do exist. Indeed, only a minority of the work of any major Roman historian has survived.


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