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Book: First Civilizations

Chapter: 1 History and archaeology as tools for understanding the past

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.18652


The book begins with a short exposition on the role of history and archaeology in understanding the past. The chapter then examines the borad question, 'Why study ancient Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt'? and goes on to discuss the origins of historical writings, calendars and astronomical dates, the importance of annals and 'king' lists' and introduces other tools and methodologies used by historians and archaeologists such as dating techniques, the written record and oral traditions, pottery, other sources such as numismatics.

Chapter Contributors

  • Robert Chadwick ( - book-auth-70) 'Bishop's University'


1. See Hans J. Nissen, “Mesopotamia: Prehistoric Mesopotamia”
and “Mesopotamia: Ancient Mesopotamia”, in
The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East,
E. Meyers (ed.), 3, 476–84 (Oxford University Press,
Oxford, 1997).
2. See A. Kirk Grayson, “Mesopotamia (Place)”, in The
Anchor Bible Dictionary, D. N. Freedman (ed.), 4, 714
(Double day, Garden City, 1992).
3. Seton Lloyd, The Archaeology of Mesopotamia (Thames &
Hudson, London, 1978), 12.
4. For an overview see Fredrick Cryer, “Chronology, Issues
and Problems”, in Civilizations of the Ancient Near East,
J. Sasson (ed.), 1, 651–64 (Charles Scribner’s Sons, New
York, 1995); Ian Shaw, “Introduction: Chronologies
and Cultural Change in Egypt”, in The Oxford History
of Ancient Egypt, I. Shaw (ed.), 1–16 (Oxford University
Press, Oxford, 2000); and Leo Dupydt, “On the Consistency
of the Wandering Year as the Backbone of Egyptian
Chronology”, Journal of the American Research Center in
Egypt 32 (1995), 43–58.
5. Anthony Spalinger, “Calendars”, in The Oxford Encyclopedia
of Ancient Egypt, D. Redford (ed.), 1, 224–7 (Oxford
University Press, Oxford, 2001).
6. The Sothic cycle is problematic and not everyone is in
agreement about its exact length. The traditional length of
1460 years used in most publications is probably too high
by at least four years, perhaps more. For a discussion see
Rolf Kraus, Sothis- und Monddaten: Studien zur astronomischen
und technischen Chronol ogie Altägyptens (Hildesheim,
1985), 86–127; Marshal Clagett, Ancient Egyptian
Science, Volume II, Calendars, Clocks and Astronomy (American
Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, 1995), 307–39;
and Shaw (ed.), The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, 11,
7. See Asger Aaboe, “Babylonian Mathematics, Astrology, and
Astronomy”, in The Cambridge Ancient History Volume 3,
Part 2: The Assyrian and Babylonian Empires and Other
States of the Near East, from the Eighth to the Sixth Centuries
BC, J. Boardman et al. (eds), 276–92 (Cambridge
University Press, Cambridge, 1992), 280.
8. Simo Parpola, Letters From Assyrian Scholars to the Kings
Esarhaddon and Assurbanipal, Alter Orient und Altes Testament
5, 2 vols (Butzon & Bercker, Kevelaer/ Neukirchener,
Neukirchen-Vluyn, 1970–1983).
9. Alan Gardiner, Egypt of the Pharaohs (Oxford University
Press, Oxford, 1961), Ch. 15; and Cryer, “Chronology,
Issues and Problems”, 659.
10. Thorkild Jacobsen, The Sumerian King List, Assyriological
Studies No. 11 (University of Chicago Press, Chicago,
1939); and Bernard Knapp, “Mesopotamia, History of
(Chronology)”, in Freedman (ed.), The Anchor Bible
Dictionary, 4, 714–20.
11. A. L. Oppenheim, “Babylonian and Assyrian Historical
Texts”, in Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old
Testament, 3rd edn, J. B. Pritchard (ed.),305–12, 564–6
(Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1969); and Kirk
Grayson, Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles (J. J. Augustin,
Locust Valley/Glückstadt Germany, 1989) and “Histories
and Historians of the Ancient Near East”, Orientalia
49 (1980), 1–51.
12. See C. C. Lamberg-Karlovsky and Jeremy Sabloff, Ancient
Civilizations: The Near East and Mesoamerica (Waveland
Press, Prospect Heights, 1995), Ch. 1.
13. E. H. Carr, What is History? (Pelican Books, Harmondsworth,
1961), 8.
14. Trevor Bryce, “The Trojan War: Is There Truth Behind the
Legend?”, Near Eastern Archaeology 65 (2002), 182–95;
Hans Günter Jansen, “Troy: Legend and Reality”, in Sasson
(ed.), Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, 1121–34;
and William H. Stiebing Jr, Uncovering the Past: A History
of Archaeology (Prometheus Books, Buffalo, 1993),
15. Heinrich Schliemann, Ilios: The City and Country of the