On October 22, 1738, an engineer in the army of the Bourbon royal family in Naples had himself lowered down a well shaft to begin the first systematic study of an ancient wonder just then coming to light: the astonishingly intact ruins of the Roman city of Herculaneum, buried in the eruption of Vesuvius almost 1,700 years earlier. This trip down a well not only marks the beginning of Classical archaeology but also the birth of archaeology itself. Ever since, Classical archaeology, the excavation and analysis of ancient Greek and Roman sites has been one of the leading branches of archaeology, pioneering its basic methods and major innovations, and also uncovering many of the field's most spectacular finds, including:
* Troy: In 1871, the German entrepreneur Heinrich Schliemann confirmed the long-forgotten site of ancient Troy in northwest Turkey, based on astute detective work by a resident English diplomat.
* Athenian Agora: Since 1931, the American School of Classical Studies in Athens has been excavating the civic heart of ancient Athens, the Agora, which witnessed the trial of Socrates and other momentous events. Buildings and artifacts discovered here give an unsurpassed picture of life in a major city of Classical Greece.
* Torre de Palma: In 1947, plowmen working a field in southern Portugal chanced on the base of a Roman column, which turned out to be sitting on a mosaic floor. Archaeologists eventually uncovered an entire Roman country estate, equipped for complete self-sufficiency in the uncertain times of the later Roman Empire.
* Cape Gelidonya Shipwreck: In 1960, American archaeologist George Bass forged the techniques for systematic underwater archaeology by excavating a rich Bronze Age cargo ship off southern Turkey.