Is History important in Archaeological Sciences?

Image with the autograph of José Leite de Vasconcelos (one of the most important “archaeologists” from the beginning of the 20th century) taken from Cardoso, 2012.

What if we tell you that knowing and understanding the past is not only important in Archaeology and History, but also in every science and basically to everyone?

Does it seem strange? Just try to think about yourself without the memories and knowledge that you acquired in your past. Weird right? You wouldn’t know who you are, how to speak, how to walk or even how to recognise other people and live among them. 

Having said that, history is important to contextualise how and why things are currently the way they are, and it can also be used to give us a sneak peek of what the future might look like. This is why ICArEHB has a specific research group named “History of Archaeological Sciences”. 

This group seeks to support the investigation of all those interested in the History of Archaeology, helping to produce knowledge that values and perspectives on modern investigations in all archaeological areas and themes, giving them the necessary historical strength. It thus corresponds to a transversal Working Group that, summing up, aims to relate and intertwine the past and present of Archaeological research. 

Image of the excavation of the archaeological site of Vila Nova de São Pedro by Afonso do Paço (a Colonel archaeologist from the beginning of the 20th century) taken from Cardoso, 2013.

It also intends to increase the available information about the genesis and development of Archaeology as a science, from its beginning to the present day, blending it with the origins and growth of sciences usually applied during archaeological studies. This linking has a strong influence on the social, economic, and cultural changes and panoramas of Western societies from the Renaissance to the present day.

But, how can we, archaeologists, try to look for this type of information to contextualise our research, ideas, and beliefs? Firstly, we need to have a clear research objective that is going to dictate the type of sources we can use: we can be looking for the history of a specific institution, researcher, association or so on, but we can also aim at a broader goal, that it can possibly explore the history of a certain idea or theory (and believe us, archaeologist really do like theory). After that, we just need to try to access the available records, like personal archives, including epistolographic ones (an expensive word for mailing).  

In the end, this group aims to produce works that present a comprehensive vision of Archaeology and its history and past, enabling the development of enriching and innovative collaborations, which will increase the social and scientific value of all the work produced by ICArEHB members.  

Author: João Luís Cardoso (with some bits and pieces by Ana Catarina Basílio)

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