Form and Content

C. W. Ceram relates the story of archaeology by focusing on the people who made major contributions to the field. He divides his volume into five books: “The Book of the Statues” deals with classical Italy and Greece; “The Book of the Pyramids” treats Egypt; “The Book of the Towers” considers Assyria, Babylon, and Sumeria; “The Book of the Temples” recounts the exploration of Mesoamerica; and the brief “Books That Cannot Yet Be Written” touches on discoveries that were then recent (such as the Dead Sea scrolls, found in 1947) and mysteries still unsolved (such as the Easter Island script).

Johann Wincklemann, whose writings did much to popularize the excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum, begins Ceram’s procession of contributors to the study of archaeology. The hero of the first part of this study, however, is Heinrich Schliemann. When Schliemann’s father gave him a book with a picture of Aeneas carrying Anchises out of the burning city of Troy, Schliemann remarked that someday he himself would find that lost city. Thirty-nine years later, he did. Schliemann learned languages easily; he taught himself all the major languages of Europe and then, in 1856, Homeric Greek. In 1869, Schliemann retired from the grocery business a rich man and began his excavations.

Homer’s epics were regarded as myths that were not based on historical fact, but Schliemann believed otherwise. In 1870, accompanied by his twenty-year-old wife, he began...

(The entire section is 606 words.)