Ancient History - Study

Study

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. Furthermore, the reliability of the information obtained from these surviving records must be considered. Few people were capable of writing histories, as literacy was not widespread in almost any culture until long after the end of ancient history.

The Roman Empire was one of the ancient world's most literate cultures, 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.

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. Primary sources have been distinguished from secondary sources, which often cite, comment on, or build upon primary sources.

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.

Read more about this topic:  Ancient History

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