Web Exclusive! The Man Behind the Tutu
There are certain years in life that just seem to stand out. One such year for me was 1981, the year I graduated from high school. Disco was finally dead, there was a republican in the White House and the hit movie that year was "Raiders of the Lost Ark." I still remember sitting in a dark theater, clutching a large tub of buttered popcorn thinking Indiana Jones had one of the most rewarding careers I had ever seen. If I hadn't already been smitten by surveying I would have probably followed in his footsteps. One minute he was the consummate intellect, the next moment he was rescuing some dark-haired beauty using only his whip. Little did I know that surveying and archaeology had more in common than just the transit that is frequently visible in photos of archaeological sites.
A Budding Measuring ManPetrie made his way into this world on June 3, 1853, in Charlton, England. As a child Petrie was plagued with ill health. Due to his frail constitution Petrie was educated at home. His intellect developed quickly, as did his love for the art and science of measurement. Petrie's lifelong passion for archaeology and surveying began at age 13. Charles Piazzi Smyth, a prominent astronomer and family friend, gave young Petrie a copy of "Our Inheritance in the Great Pyramids." The book, written by Smyth, contained theories on how the ancient pyramids had been measured and constructed. Petrie would later disprove most of these theories. As Petrie grew into a young man he soon became enamored with measuring and analyzing ancient ruins. Petrie, along with his father who was also a surveyor, measured several ancient monuments in England, including Stonehenge. His first book titled "Inductive Metrology: or the Recovery of Ancient Measures from the Monuments" was based upon his work at Stonehenge. The careful measurement and analysis of Stonehenge allowed Petrie to determine the basic unit of measure used while constructing the ancient monument.
Petrie kept these fragments and categorized them into 50 different classes. The sorting was accomplished by the physical characteristics and location of each shard within a tell. He grouped the fragments by attributes such as decoration and handle design, among other criteria. Petrie also determined the depth of each fragment layered within a tell. When a shard was found that was from a known period, it could be used to date the remaining material in the tell. This data could then be correlated with data all across the Near East. The layers of shards acted as a sort of vertical timeline that could be used to sequentially date and relate tells across Egypt. This simple technique revolutionized archaeology forever and is now referred to as "cross-dating." Petrie did not limit himself to the obvious; he understood that truth is most often found in the subtleties. He instinctively understood that evidence, both qualitative and quantitative, should be fully utilized to uncover the true "footsteps" of the past.