Book Review: The Discovery Of The Greek Bronze Age

The Discovery Of The Greek Bronze Age, by J. Lesley Fitton

This is a book that very much lives up to its name.  Whether or not that is a good thing depends on whether you want to read about the discovery of the Greek Bronze Age.  As someone who enjoys reading about Greek history from its beginnings [1], this book lived up to its name and provided me with information that I had not been familiar with before from the point of view of the archeology of various parts of the Aegean world.  In order to decide whether you want to read this book or not, one needs to answer the question of whether one would like to read about interpretations of ruins and endless and sometimes tedious scholarly debates between people about different ideas on cultural transmission.  If this sounds at least mildly interesting to you, this is the sort of book that you will enjoy.  If it sounds mind-numbingly tedious and boring, then this book, even at a short 200 pages, will not likely be greatly interesting to you.

The contents of this book follow a rough chronology of the process of discovery of the world of ancient Greece and its neighbors.  First the author discusses the ancient view of prehistory based on myths and stories and songs, as well as the state of knowledge about ancient grace in the era before the age of excavation.  After this the author discuses the heroic age of excavation, including Schliemann’s work at Troy and Mycenae (which takes up about a quarter of the book alone), the work of Christos Tsountas and other pioneers, the research of Arthur Evans on Crete, and discoveries elsewhere in Greece.  The author then discusses the controversy between Minoans versus Mycenaeans about which area was more dominant at which periods of history, looking at the work of Alan Wace and Carl Blegen, the interruption of the Second World War on further research in the area, which included the death of some of the most notable figures in regional archeology due to their involvement in WWII, and the deciphering of Linear B, which was conclusively shown to be a Greek syllabary.  The author then concludes with a look at certainties and uncertainties, including later excavations, including in the Cyclades islands, and current trends in archeology, as well as a bibliography and index.

Although this book is very scholarly in its approach, perhaps too much for some, there are still some puzzles and insights that it provides that are useful in other areas.  For one, the researchers here show themselves as terribly human, projecting their own wishes and desires and presuppositions and assumptions on their research.  There are no impartial scholars to be found here–all of them are shown in all of their glory as painfully human, with all of the biases and irrationality that involves.  A great deal of attention is spent on the problem of logistics, on language in defining terms, in making sense of the scattered remains that have survived the ravages of time, and on the way that archeological data almost induces some sort of meta-narrative because no one likes sitting on a bunch of deconstructed ruins.  There must have been some story to the lives of which one sees only the dilapidated and longsuffering remains.  The author even, towards the end of the book, nearly gives into despair over the difficulty of knowing anything for certain about the distant past, and despite considerable nuance and skill, this is a melancholy book to read.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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5 Responses to Book Review: The Discovery Of The Greek Bronze Age

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