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Department of Archaeology


Publication details for Prof Peter Rowley-Conwy

Rowley-Conwy, P. (2006). The concept of prehistory and the invention of the terms 'prehistoric' and 'prehistorian': the Scandanavian origin, 1833-1850. European Journal of Archaeology 9(1): 103-130.

Author(s) from Durham


It is usually assumed by historians of archaeology that the `concept of prehistory' and the terms `prehistoric' and `prehistorian' first appeared in Britain and/or France in the mid-nineteenth century. This contribution demonstrates that the Scandinavian equivalent terms forhistorisk and förhistorisk were in use substantially earlier, appearing in print first in 1834. Initial usage by Molbech differed slightly from that of the present day, but within three years the modern usage had been developed. The concept of prehistory was first developed at the same time by C.J. Thomsen, though he did not use the word. It was used more frequently in the nationalism debates of the 1840s, particularly by J.J.A. Worsaae. One of the other protagonists, the Norwegian Peter Andreas Munch, was probably responsible for introducing the concept to Daniel Wilson in 1849, and suggesting that an English equivalent to forhistorisk was required.


Published on behalf of the European Association of Archaeologists.