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PREHISTORIC ARCHEOLOGY, PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE

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Science  22 Jan 1937:
Vol. 85, Issue 2195, pp. 81-89
DOI: 10.1126/science.85.2195.81

Abstract

The attempt has been made in the foregoing paragraphs to outline the whole history of prehistoric archeology: its crude beginnings in ancient times, its steadily accelerating progress during the past two hundred years, and its present achievements. Special emphasis has been placed on the rôle played by the discovery of surviving primitive industries in America and elsewhere in bringing about a rational attitude towards Stone Age antiquities and a beginning of their systematic investigation. The creation and growth of the organization and personnel promoting and conducting this world-wide research must be left untouched except to say that to-day probably every civilized country has its museums and university teaching staffs. Public interest in man's prehistoric past was never greater than to-day and only financial support is necessary to afford opportunity for the increasing numbers of young men and women who are constantly pleading for a chance to take part in the work. Accordingly, though the task before us is still very great it is not so hopeless as in the case of some other purely natural sciences like astronomy and entomology. For not only is the earth spherical and therefore limited in extent but man's period of occupancy is relatively short. In other words, while prehistoric archeology of necessity was one of the last special branches of research to get really under way, it is likely to be the first to finish its task. Indeed, if archeological investigations, historic and prehistoric, continue to progress at the same accelerating rate as in the past, it would seem that the next hundred years or so might easily see us in possession of all the essential facts. Those more or less indestructible facts or documents once in hand and the spade set aside, archeologists may have to change their titles to those of curators or something even less high-sounding. At all events, those professionally concerned may then devote their entire time to the permanent arrangement and final interpretation of all the available material culture traits, with a view to offering a visible demonstration of how, step by step from small beginnings, things as they are in the human world actually came to be so. That accomplished, when every one has become familiar with our recreated past, we shall be more nearly free and in the best possible position to give our whole-hearted attention to the really major creative problems of the present and the future.