History of archaeology in Czech lands


The next few programmes will be dedicated to one particular discipline, archaeology, which in this country has a long and interesting history. Czech excavators have made many achievements both in this country and abroad, and thanks to the rich history of this part of Europe, there is always much for them to do.

Photo: CTK
Professor Jan Bouzek is the head of the Institute of Classical Archaeology at Prague Charles University and the chief curator of the Classical Collection of the National Museum in Prague. As a university teacher, Jan Bouzek lectured for many years in this country and abroad. As a scholar he has organised a number of excavations in several countries, including Bulgaria, Lebanon and Sri Lanka. Here is Professor Bouzek telling the story of archaeology in the Czech lands.

"Of course, it is a very long story, because in a way it started in the 18th century. But the first people were interested in ancient monuments already in the 16th and 17th century. There we have the first chronicles and also the great Comenius was interested in old finds somewhere. So it is a long story. But when it became really something like the modern science, it was the second half of the 19th century as everywhere. It started with the Romantic era first, about the middle and second quarter of the 19th century. Then it was much connected with the organisation, founding and activities of the National Museum in Prague. Then came something more at university and Jan Erazim Vocel was the first man who had courses at Charles University already in the 1840s and after that there was the big wave in the 1870s and 1880s and it is how the local archaeology developed."

The 19th century was a time when great European archaeologists travelled to southern countries or the Middle East to carry out excavations in the cradles of European culture. The most famous perhaps was the German Heinrich Schliemann, who discovered Homeric Troy in the 1870s. The interest in ancient sites was strong in this country as well. Here's Professor Jan Bouzek again.

"There were many people in the 19th century who made great discoveries in other parts of the world. In the Arab countries there were the big names like Alois Musil and so on and the Czechs also participated in Austrian projects in the 1870s and 1880s. It was in Greece, in Samothrace and other areas. At the turn of the century it became more international, there were the first synthetic books concerning large areas and a classification of the prehistoric cultures was already established roughly as it is now, in the general terms. Many expeditions abroad were in the 1920s. There were some big names, like Bedrich Hrozny who deciphered the Hittite script. He made excavations in Turkey and in Syria. Antonin Salac, who was my teacher, excavated in Asia Minor and in northern Greece. And after that when there was less money in the 1930s, it was once again more concentrated on this country. In the late 1930s it was already well established here. There were the synthetic pictures which were the background from which I arose when studying the local prehistory."

Join us for next week's Czech Science, in which Professor Jan Bouzek will talk about archaeology in this country between the start of the Second World War and the Prague Spring of 1968.