An Introduction to Urban Archaeology

Archeology is defined as the branch of anthropology that studies prehistoric people and their cultures. This is often done through excavation of important areas in ancient civilizations. Urban archaeology is a sub discipline of archaeology. This discipline specializes in the material and archeological sites of towns and cities where long term human habitation has left a record of the past. This is often based on the effect that old civilization would build on top of their previous homes. The same building sites used sued for generation after generation of buildings, creating a large layer of material from these people’s lives that are great for determining and studying their culture.

This effect makes many of the large cities of today objects of archeological exploration. One perfect example is the City of London. London sites on a tel which preserves a layer of dark material which was attributed to the burning of the city in 60 AD. The challenge of learning about the previous cities of London is what some urban archeologists face. They must excavate and retrieve objects that are already buried underneath a city.

Before the Second World War, urban archaeologists were mainly restricted to rural areas or towns that had been abandoned. This was possible because of the plenty of open space and lack of people to prevent the excavation. The main problem with excavating cities was that it was often confined to an open lot. In these open lots, the urban archeologists had to remove and document all of the objects that they found before digging deeper into the older generations of ruins. The excavations of cities gained popularity after the Second World War. This is because intense bombing often left certain areas open for excavation by archeologists.

Professor William Francis Grimes was one of the most prominent urban archeologists. He devoted his career to the archaeology of London and the prehistory of Wales. During the 1950s and 1960s, Grimes carried out dozen of excavations in the city of London. He was director of the Museum of London and the Instutue of Archaeology (within the University of London). Among other discoveries, Grimes’ most famous discovery was the London Mithraeum n 1954. This Mithraeum was a Roman temple to the god Mithras. This was discovered at a rebuilding of London bomb site. True to the patterns of Urban Archeology, this discovery was built over, but not before Grimes salvaged many of it’s artifacts.

There is no doubt that the discipline of Urban Archeology will become more and more popular as new technologies are developed. New technologies may be able to detect ruins under current urban structures, without having to disturb the land on top. There is a whole wealth of information of past cultures under our very own feet, and it is the urban archeologists’ job to find it.