• In Search of Lost Time: Fiction, Archaeology, and the Elusive Subject of Prehistory

    Joshua Mostafa (see profile)
    Prehistoric fiction, Prehistoric archaeology, Narrative, Science and literature
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    Shortly after ‘prehistory’ emerged in the nineteenth century as an archaeological term and concept, novels and short stories depicting the prehistoric past began to be published. Critics have tended to evaluate prehistoric fiction on the bases of fidelity to the work of archaeologists, and mimetic efficacy in communicating their knowledge to the lay reader. But must literature confine itself to a pedagogical or popularising role? The relationship may not necessarily be purely one-way. One of the earliest prehistoric novels (Adrien Cranile’s Solutré) was written by an archaeologist, in response to an evocative painting that depicted a site the author had himself discovered. More recently, the archaeologist Caroline Wickham-Jones found that a dialogue with Margaret Elphistone, an author researching her novel The Gathering Night, enriched Wickham-Jones’s perspective on her own work. Unlike history, which distils its narratives from a wealth of subjective material in the form of primary sources, archaeology has only the most indirect and implicit access to prehistoric subjectivity. This paper claims that prehistoric fiction helps, and has helped, to bridge the gap between objective evidence and subjective identification.
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    2 years ago
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