Monday, August 7, 2017


Eric H. Cline, Three Stones Make a Wall: The Story of Archaeology (with illustrations by Glynnis Fawkes). Princeton, Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2017. Pp. xix, 455. ISBN 9780691166407. $35.00 (hb).

Reviewed by David Gill, University of Suffolk (

Version at BMCR home site

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

The starting point for this personal and highly readable view of archaeology is the gift of Marjorie Braymar's The Walls of Windy Troy: A Biography of Heinrich Schliemann (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1960) from the author's mother: "After reading it, I announced that I was going to be an archaeologist" (p. xi). And we can all look back to the acquisition of memorable books. Over 20 years ago, in a review of David A. Traill, Excavating Schliemann: Collected Papers on Schliemann (1993) [BMCR 94.03.01], I reflected on my purchase of Glyn Daniel's The Origins and Growth of Archaeology (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967). Daniel does not feature in the bibliography of Cline's wide-ranging study, but Schliemann's work at Troy and Mycenae finds honourable mentions here.

This is a very personal 'story of archaeology'. There are frequent mentions of Cline's own fieldwork, both excavation and survey, that includes the Athenian Agora, the Pylos survey in Messenia, Paphos on Cyprus, and Megiddo in northern Israel. It took me some chapters to realise that this was not a history of archaeology, but rather an introduction to archaeology. For a history I suggest Paul G. Bahn's (ed.), The Cambridge Illustrated History of Archaeology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996) and The History of Archaeology: an Introduction (London: Routledge, 2014). Rather, Cline presents an overview of some key sites, placed alongside some more general questions, and interspersed with some autobiographical comments. While there is a bibliography with selected references to support each chapter, this is not intended to be a comprehensive introduction. There are no photographs, and the text is supported with illustrations by Glynnis Fawkes.

Cline presents a global story that takes us from the Mediterranean to the Ardnamurchan peninsula in western Scotland; to Africa; southeast Asia; the Middle East; and North and South America. In chronological range the 'story' starts with the remains of Homo naledi in the Rising Star cave in South Africa (pp. 97-98), to the Confederate submarine, the H. L. Hunley, sunk in 1864 (pp. 314-17). This review will focus on the Mediterranean region and the classical material through North Africa, Europe, and the Middle East.

The prologue starts with the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun by Howard Carter in 1922, an event that overshadowed other immediate post-war discoveries such as the excavation of Mycenae by Alan Wace and Carl Blegen. The main body of the book is divided into six main parts: Early Archaeology and Archaeologists; Africa, Europe and the Levant: Early Hominins to Farmers; Excavating the Bronze Age Aegean; Uncovering the Classics; Discoveries in the Holy Land and Beyond; New World Archaeology. The main chapters start with the historic excavation of Pompeii and Herculaneum buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79. Cline points us to the poignant discovery of a child's cradle that featured in the exhibition at the British Museum in 2013.1

Some of the strongest sections are (unsurprisingly) on the Bronze Age. There is a helpful overview of the Bronze Age town of Akrotiri on Thera with a discussion of the dating issue (pp. 146-54). The Ulu Burun shipwreck features in 'Enchantment under the Sea' (ch. 10). One of the more recent studies that does not feature in the references is the exhibition catalogue issued by the Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum in 2005-06.2 Cline reminds us of George Bass' suggestion that the ship was carrying enough copper and tin to make bronze sufficient to equip 300 soldiers (pp. 162-63). The importance of this shipwreck for our understanding of the economies of the eastern Mediterranean in the Late Bronze Age has now been analysed by Keith Padgham.3

The classical world has some complex stories. The chryselephantine statue of Zeus at Olympia was created in the workshop of Pheidias excavated by a German team. In Late Antiquity the statue was transferred to the Palace of Lausus, located near the hippodrome in Istanbul, where this marvel was displayed apparently alongside other notable works. The complex itself was destroyed by fire in AD 475.4 Likewise the bronze Plataian monument erected at Delphi is displayed in the ancient hippodrome in Istanbul (p. 182). Both these examples are reminders that objects need not be viewed against a single context or setting.

The account of the archaeology at Rome explores the ways that archaeology has intruded into the later life of the city. The account of the Augustan Ara Pacis is placed against Mussolini's use of archaeology to promote his own fascist view of the contemporary world (pp. 192-93). The desert city of Palmyra is discussed more for the damage to the remains than for what had survived (pp. 260-63). There is also a moving tribute to the murdered Khaled al-Assad. Palmyra is followed by a discussion of Petra in Jordan (pp. 263-68). Yet the archaeology of the Roman Empire could have been usefully explored through the narratives around the excavations at Ostia, the Roman fort at Vindolanda, or colonies in North Africa.

At times it would have been helpful for Cline to push a little bit further. He notes, for example, the great palace at the northern end of Masada, and suggests that Herod the Great may have wanted "to emulate what he had seen in Rome" (p. 248). But what does this display of Roman taste say about a Jewish ruler? Cline dwells on the account of the siege recorded by Josephus, but it would have been worth exploring the archaeology of the siege works as described by Sir Ian Richmond.5

The story of archaeology is created at one level by its practitioners. And there are mentions of Heinrich Schliemann (and Frank Calvert), Flinders Petrie, Sir Mortimer Wheeler, and Dame Kathleen Kenyon. There perhaps should have been a place for Manolis Andronikos whose excavations in the Macedonian royal cemetery at Vergina drew international attention, as well as to the number of women who have made significant contributions to the discipline.6 From a classical perspective it would have been worth considering the contribution of foreign institutions to the excavation of major sites in countries such as Greece.7

John Disney deserves a place in any history or story of archaeology, as it was his benefaction to the University of Cambridge that allowed the Disney Chair of Archaeology to be established. Cline makes the observation that the professorship "has nothing to do with Walt Disney" (p. 104). But in fact the North American Disney family is derived from the Disneys of Lincolnshire in England, who settled at Norton Disney after the Norman Conquest. John Disney's money was derived from the Grand Tourists Thomas Hollis (a benefactor of Harvard where there are Hollis Chairs in Divinity, and Mathematics and Natural Philosophy) and Thomas Brand-Hollis. Brand-Hollis bequeathed the bulk of his estate to Disney's father, the Reverend John Disney, a former clergyman in the Church of England who had resigned his orders to become a minister in the Essex Street Unitarian Chapel in London.

The sections titled "Digging Deeper" allow Cline to explore common questions addressed by the public: How do you know where to dig? How do you know how to dig? How old is this and why is it preserved? Do you get to keep what you find? There is a discussion of the Anglo-Saxon ship-burial at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk revealed on the eve of World War II (pp. 285-86). The drama of this major excavation on the eve of World War 2 is captured in John Preston's novel The Dig (Viking Press, 2007) and is due to feature in a BBC film. Cline does not mention that the team included specialist archaeologists from the Ordnance Survey including W. F. Grimes who is better known for his excavation of the Walbrook Mithraeum in London.

In the Epilogue, "Back to the Future", Cline speculates on how our present culture will leave its mark on the archaeological record, with mention of David Macaulay's Motel of the Mysteries (1979). He then turns to how archaeology will be conducted, perhaps with more remote and non-destructive methods. This reviewer agrees with Cline in that archaeology is "also about preserving and curating those remains for future generations" (p. 339). Yet there are genuine concerns that there is sustained damage to the archaeological record in countries such as the United Kingdom through the growing use of ever more powerful metal-detectors that penetrate well below the plough soil. Cline has a strong desire to protect the finite archaeological resource, and there is a discussion of his work with Sarah Parcak in Egypt where remote sensing was deployed to detect looting.8

Cline makes frequent reference to UNESCO World Heritage Sites and several feature prominently in this 'story'. Visitor numbers for a handful of such World Heritage Sites in Greece account for the vast majority of all visits to archaeological sites in Greece. The suggestion that Olympia received "nearly half a million" tourists annually is a little on the optimistic side (p. 175).

There are occasional references to Indiana Jones, hardly a model for an ethical archaeologist: "don't believe the film" (p. 265). And remember that Raiders (1981) is now more than 35 years old. Cline includes comments about Erich von Daniken's Chariots of the Gods? (1968), and makes observations on the Mystery Park in Switzerland (p. 292).

Cline writes with a passion to communicate his love of archaeology to future generations ("a new introductory volume, meant for people of all ages", p. xvii). His title is taken from the discernment of archaeological features (p. 217); he continues, "Six stones is a palace built by aliens". His closing paragraph reflects on how he would rather be digging and demonstrates Cline's commitment to the careful scientific study of the past. At times this (British) reviewer found the book idiosyncratic (as Cline accepts, p. xix, and suggests critics write their own version), the style relaxed, and the choice of locations were sometimes unexpected. For all that, I am glad to have read it, and to have absorbed a little bit of Cline's enthusiasm for our shared discipline: and I look forward to Cline's students, who have shared this journey, becoming the next generation of archaeologists.

Table of Contents

Preface: A Petrified Monkey's Paw
Prologue: "Wonderful Things": King Tut and His Tomb
Part I. Early Archaeology and Archaeologists
Ch. 1. Ashes to Ashes in Ancient Italy
Ch. 2. Digging Up Troy
Ch. 3. From Egypt to Eternity
Ch. 4. Mysteries in Mesopotamia
Ch. 5. Exploring the Jungles of Central America
Digging Deeper #1: How Do You Know Where To Dig?
Part II. Africa, Europe, and the Levant: Early Hominins to Farmers
Ch. 6. Discovering Our Earliest Ancestors
Ch. 7. First Farmers in the Fertile Crescent
Part III. Excavating the Bronze Age Aegean
Ch. 8. Revealing the First Greeks
Ch. 9. Finding Atlantis?
Ch. 10 Enchantment Under the Sea
Part IV. Uncovering the Classics
Ch. 11. From Discus-Throwing to Democracy
Ch. 12. What Have the Romans Ever Done for Us?
Digging Deeper #2: How Do You Know How To Dig?
Part V. Discoveries in the Holy Land and Beyond
Ch. 13. Excavating Armageddon
Ch. 14. Unearthing the Bible
Ch. 15. Mystery at Masada
Ch. 16. Cities of the Desert
Digging Deeper #3: How Old Is This and Why Is It Preserved?
Part VI. New World Archaeology
Ch. 17. Lines in the Sand, Cities in the Sky
Ch. 18. Giant Heads, Feathered Serpents, and Golden Eagles
Ch. 19. Submarines and Settlers; Gold Coins and Lead Bullets
Digging Deeper #4: Do You Get to Keep What You Find?
Epilogue: Back to the Future


1.   P. Roberts, Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum (London, British Museum Press, 2013), 122, fig. 128.
2.   Ü. Yalçin, C. Pulak, and R. Slotta, Das Schiff von Uluburun. Welthandel vor 3000 Jahren. Katalog der Ausstellung im Deutschen Bergbau-Museum Bochum vom 15. Juli 2005 bis 16. Juli 2006 (Bochum: Deutsches Bergbau-Museum, 2005).
3.   F. Keith Padgham, The Scale and Nature of the Late Bronze Age Economies of Egypt and Cyprus (BAR Int. Ser., vol. 2594; Oxford: Archaeopress, 2014).
4.   C. Mango, M. Vickers, and E. D. Francis, "The Palace of Lausus at Constantinople and its collection of ancient statues," Journal of the History of Collections 4 (1992) 89-98.
5.   I. A. Richmond, "The Roman siege-works of Masada, Israel," Journal of Roman Studies 52 (1962) 142-55.
6.   G. M. Cohen and M. Sharp Joukowsky (eds.), Breaking Ground: Pioneering Women Archaeologists (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004).
7.   S. L. Marchand, Down from Olympus: Archaeology and Philhellenism in Germany, 1750-1970 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996); R. Étienne, "L'École française d'Athènes, 1846-1996," Bulletin de Correspondance Hellénique 120 (1996) 3-22; L. E. Lord, A History of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens 1882-1942: an Intercollegiate Project (Cambridge, Mass.: American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 1947); L. S. Meritt, History of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens 1939-1980 (Princeton: American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 1984); H. Waterhouse, The British School at Athens: the First Hundred Years (British School at Athens suppl. vol. 19; London: Thames & Hudson, 1986); D. W. J. Gill, Sifting the Soil of Greece: the Early Years of the British School at Athens (1886-1919) (Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies suppl. vol. 111; London: Institute of Classical Studies, 2011).
8.   S. Parcak, D. Gathings, C. Childs, G. Mumford, and E. Cline, "Satellite evidence of archaeological looting in Egypt: 2002-2013," Antiquity 90 (2016) 188-205.

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