Reconstructing the Human Past

What is archaeology?

In this session we begin by explaining what archaeology is. What do we mean when we use the term? Are we talking simply about bits of broken pottery and obscure piles of stones? In fact, archaeology is about people who lived and died in the past. In order to learn about them, archaeologists ask questions like:

Satellite image of the Mediterranean, with approximately natural colour. Crete lies just east of the central divide.
(Click to enlarge) Collins

Archaeologists try to answer questions like these, using different types of evidence - environmental, material, documentary, and even oral - and applying approaches from several disciplines - anthropology, geography, history, and science. But the focus of our work is always the people who made and used the evidence that we archaeologists find and analyse.

In this course, we focus on the archaeology of Crete, and in so doing we will introduce you to a number of the basic issues in archaeology.

Introduction to Crete

Crete: satellite image of the whole island. (NASA). Sphakia lies in the SW of the island, directly S of the hammer-head peninsula near Khania. The Samaria Gorge and the White Mountains (capped by clouds) are clearly visible.
(Click to enlarge) Nasa

Crete is a large island in the eastern Mediterranean, where people have been living and interacting with the landscape for over 5500 years. Human time on Crete is divided into three main epochs:

Each of these will be discussed in detail in Session 3 of this unit. We will also look in Unit 3 at several case studies. We will cover three major sites, one for each epoch:

We also look at several small sites drawn from our own field work in south-western (SW) Crete, the Sphakia Survey. We will cover this in more depth in Unit 4.