Rediscovering the Past / The birth of archaeology

The 19th century saw the birth of systematic archaeology. Europeans searched for their cultural roots at home and abroad. New fields of study were created: classical archaeology, Egyptology, Assyriology, and biblical archaeology.

Excavations in the Arab and Ottoman world were fundamental. A growing appreciation of pre-classical art broke the monopoly that Greek art had previously held on the public taste.

Archaeology and colonialism were inescapably connected. French and Italian soldiers identified with their Roman imperial predecessors. They drew maps, published discoveries in scholarly papers, and used aeroplanes for a new type of archaeological survey.

Germany advised the Ottomans on a new railway, opening new areas for archaeology. But were the archaeologists also spying? T. E. Lawrence “of Arabia”, recruited by British military intelligence, encouraged the Arab Revolt.

Working NumberNameHolding MuseumDateMaterialsCurator Justification
DZ 086Ruins of CherchellMusée Public National des Antiquités1840–1849Scholars systematically made drawings and plans of ancient sites.
SP 049Egyptian LandscapeNational Museum of Romanticism1883Oil on canvasPublished drawings inspired artists to produce paintings blending archaeology with a taste for the exotic.
UK 044Winged colossusThe British Museum7th century BCRediscovered cities yielded amazing objects from lost civilisations.
FR 008Egypt. Mummies found in the kings' tomb in ThebesNational Library of France 1870Mummies would become emblematic of Egypt’s pharaonic heritage.
JO 003PetraPrehistoric-Present; identified in 1812Forgotten Petra became world famous.
IT1 002An example of Italian colonial propaganda: 'Italy takes up the sword of ancient Rome. To the Italian sailors who are fighting in Tripolitania'Central Institute for Cataloguing and Documentation (ICCD)1911–12 Archaeology could be put to political as well as scholarly use.
MO 001Photograph of archaeological excavations at VolubilisConservation of the Archaeological Site of Volubilis1915The Arab and Ottoman world is full of UNESCO World Heritage sites.
UA 002Head of the Great Sphinx, Pyramids of Geezeh July 17th, 1839Sharjah Art Museum / Sharjah Museums AuthorityPublished 1846LithographThe pyramids would prove an irresistible attraction for generations of visitors.
TN 091Amphitheatre at El JemInstitut Supérieur d’Histoire Contemporaine de la Tunisie19th century PaperThe Arab and Ottoman world is home to some of the best-preserved archaeological sites in the world.
FR 012Ruins of Troy: general excavation plan by Mr SchliemannNational Library of France 1876Cities known only from stories would reveal their secrets.
DZ 100Library museumMusée Public National des Antiquités1863–1896Museums were established across the Arab and Ottoman world.
AT 036Decoration of the Egyptian collection of Kunsthistorisches Museum in ViennaKunsthistorisches Museum, Egyptian Collection1873The European public flocked to museums in ever-increasing numbers to see the latest discoveries.
UK 097Showcasing architecturePrivate collection1889In an ever-more international world, Europeans were as intrigued by the customs of past cultures as by those of foreign ones.
TR2 003Pedestal of the Obelisk in the Ancient Byzatine Hippodrome Ömer M. Koç Collection1854New technologies assisted archaeologists, and brought foreign and ancient cities into the homes of the curious.
DE 003Façade of the Palace of MushattaMuseum of Islamic Art at the Pergamon Museum, State MuseumsAD 743–744; given by the Ottoman sultan ‘Abd al-Hamid II to Emperor Wilhelm II in 1903Encounters with Arab and Ottoman art changed European tastes.