A Brill Calendar: April 28
Leeumans & Archaeology
Few ancillary fields of historical study reflect evolution of scholarship as neatly as archaeology.
As an intellectual discipline, archaeology is young. When the German businessman Heinrich Schliemann looked for origins of Greek civilization in the East Mediterranean in the final third of the 19th century, a methodical study to investigate a site came into being, replacing the tradition of haphazard digging that characterized the accidental rediscovery of the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, and the speculative curiosity of John Aubrey (1626 – 1697) for strange ancient structures like Stonehenge and Avebury.
The support of new methods of discovery is a reason why Conradus Leemans (Zaltbommel, April 28 1809 – Leyden, October 14 1893) always encouraged the Directorate of Leyden’s State Museum of Antiquities to maintain a youthful, enquiring outlook during his tenure. Leemans guided it for more than fifty years; not counting his preceding job as Conservator during the years before his Directorate, which lasted from 1839 until 1891.
It is seldom in periods of this length that so many fundamental changes revolutionized not only archaeology specifically, but also learning & scholarship generally. Starting with Charles Lyell’s ‘Principles of Geology’ (1830 – ’33) and continuing with the ‘Origin of Species’ (1859) by a second Charles, the notion of the planet’s chronology and its inhabitants changed within two human generations beyond recognition.
As a consequence, the toolbox of archaeological fieldwork was progressively expanded. The German archaeologist Alexander Conze became the first investigator to make photographs as an integral part of his reports. The word ‘paleolithic’ was coined in 1865. Perhaps this ‘romantic age’ of scholarly archaeology was really concluded by the publication of William Matthew Flinders Petrie’s authoritative ‘Methods and Aims in Archaeology’ (1904), in the making during the end of the 19th century.