UNTIL a generation or so ago, most archaeologists were bookish scholars, at home among long-dead languages; they did their best work using ancient records as guidebooks. In this way, Schliemann found Homer's Troy under an undistinguished mound in western Turkey.

The literary approach is still useful, but it breaks down when written records are scarce or nonexistent. To find and interpret remains of people who never dreamed of writing, modern diggers have borrowed techniques from many other sciences. They study airplane photographs for soil disturbance. They analyze their finds chemically and date them...

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