Reconstructing the everyday life of the past is not unlike inducing a complete dinosaur from a stray bone or two: the more fragmentary the evidence, the more ample must be the skills and techniques brought of classical archaeologists not only bring their skills in the techniques of their profession into play but display aw well a talent for bringing vividly alive the ancient days of Greece and Rome and making the reader feel that they were only yesterday – which, in the right perspective, they were. Assembling a wealth of detail that will fascinate without overwhelming the reader, the ten contributors impart a feeling for the ways in which the people went about their daily business of earning their livelihood, entertaining themselves, creating their art and artifacts, fine and folk. All of this is illuminated by over 100 illustrations.
The sources of this material are evenly divided between recent discoveries of modern archaeology and the literary and artistic record that has been a proud part of the West's heritage for many centuries. Numerous passages from the classics are quoted (most freshly translated) and numerous art objects pictured. As archaeology's contribution, the editor notes that the writers of the various chapters “... wished to show how classical archaeology can help to explain ancient technology, how it can be used to work out an historical process and to illuminate some characteristic activity. In some cases, as in pottery making, the vases themselves, combined with a knowledge of modern chemistry and ceramics, are all important; then, too, while there are many representations of ships in ancient art, information about their construction comes from the wrecks discovered by underwater archaeology. In other cases, archaeology can flesh a bare and fragmentary skeleton of knowledge from the literary tradition: the lines of early Greek trade may be made out by studying the distribution of pottery and the coins found in merchants' hoards. Agriculture was so fundamental that its practice was not only a familiar literary theme but the subject of a technical literature. Yet here, too, archaeology has helped by providing an ancient vineyard excavated near Pompeii. Each writer, in his own way and by using selected material, has tried to express the intrinsic interest of his subject.”
This book originated in a series of popular lectures given by members of the archaeological Society of Chicago, one of the local societies of the Archaeological Institute of America.