chapter  1
45 Pages

Discovering the past

WithAlain Schnapp, Kristian Kristiansen

One of the oldest references to archaeological practice appears on the base of a statue found at Memphis in Egypt, of Ka Wab, one of the sons of the pharaoh Keops (c. 2700 BC): c. 1300 BC Khaemois, the son of the pharaoh Rameses II, had added an inscription in which he explained that, during work in the estate of Memphis of which he was in charge, the statue of a prince, precisely identified, had been found and honoured with cult status (Gomaà 1973). Another example comes from Mesopotamia, where German archaeologists found in one of the sixth-century BC levels of the palace of Babylon a group of statues including some that dated to the third millennium BC, and where Nabonid, the last king of Babylon, has left an extraordinary account of the excavation of the great sanctuary, the Ebabbar, carried out in order to recover traces of the constructions of his predecessors (Schnapp 1996:13-17). These included the famous Hammourabi, to whom he attributed, probably correctly, a foundation tablet found during the work. In China, we have evidence from as early as the fifth century BC for the interest of scribes and emperors in collecting and identifying bronze age cult tripods.