Golden pharaohs, lost cities, grinning human skeletons—archaeology is the stuff of romance and legend. Many people still think of archaeologists as adventurers and treasure hunters, like Indiana Jones of Hollywood movie fame seeking the elusive Holy Grail. This enduring image goes back to the late nineteenth century, when archaeologists like Heinrich Schliemann of Troy fame could still find lost civilizations and excavate three royal palaces in a week. Today, few, if any, archaeologists behave like Indiana Jones. They are scientists, not adventurers, as comfortable in an air-conditioned laboratory as they are on a remote excavation.
The development of scientific archaeology from its Victorian beginnings ranked among the greatest triumphs of twentieth-century science. Archaeology has changed our perceptions of ourselves in profound ways, giving us a better understanding of our biological and cultural diversity. Welcome to the fascinating world of archaeology and world prehistory.