MARTIN'S HUNDRED by Ivor Noël Hume
Kirkus Star


Email this review


If you always wanted to be an archaeologist, here's your chance to find out what excavating is really like--the weather, the tedium, the frustration, and, of course, the excitement and exhilaration. Noël Hume, resident archaeologist at Colonial Williams-burg, began digging nearby Carter's Grove for the sole purpose of restoring an 18th-century plantation; but true to long-established archaeological principle, he uncovered something entirely unexpected--the earliest extant site of colonial America, Martin's Hundred, founded in 1619. This scruffy site of post-holes and pits bristles with life because of Noël Hume's ability to explain the role of the lowliest nail or the meanest pipe-stem. He takes the armchair archaeologist through the painstaking day-by-day, season-by-season (1976-1980) process of revealing buildings, uncovering artifacts and laboriously removing them from the ground, and theorizing how each thing (object or building) works. Then he combines all this disparate information to reconstruct a civilization now gone--simultaneously writing a complete how-to guide to field archaeology anywhere in the world. While his is a tale of buttons, pipes, and coffins, of ""obsolete"" armor, ""uncirculated"" farthing tokens (excellent for exact dates), and sherds of delftware and majolica, the digging and investigative processes remain the same whatever the site; for archaeology requires not merely the mastery of the latest excavation techniques, but the ability to put those finds in their context through study in related disciplines, such as documentary history, art and architecture, numismatics, and military practices. And here, then, Hume follows the colonial trade routes, as his quest for origins and parallels takes him personally to Bermuda, Sweden, Austria, Ireland, and his native England, and his correspondence and researches carry him to Holland, Belgium, France, and Italy. A superb account of an excavation, and imperative for anyone contemplating leaving hearth-and-home in search of another's, long buried beneath the ground.

Pub Date: May 11th, 1982
Publisher: Knopf