The Freud Museum


Freud and Archaeology

The procedures of archaeology provided Freud with one of his favourite metaphors for elaborating his model of the mind and the methods of psychoanalysis itself. The question of what is preserved in the mind from our childhood is fundamental to Freud, and one of the central tenets of psychoanalysis is that 'the child is father to the adult'.

The metaphor provided Freud with a shorthand way to think about the issues of surface and depth, past and present, manifest and latent, adult and infantile, hidden and revealed. It was a common point of cultural reference which the readers of his work could easily grasp. Theories about the history of civilization and the development of the human psyche over time were also deeply informed by his classical education and lifelong study of the ancient world.

In clinical work Freud was engaged in an archaeology of his own, digging into minds to uncover hidden experiences, fragments of the past that he tried to put again into a living context. Like the archaeologist, the psychoanalyst had to work slowly, with great care, gradually uncovering buried 'objects' and reconstructing the relations between them. And in both professions there are long periods of frustration followed by periods of elation and excitement. So like archaeology, psychoanalysis dealt with uncovering the past, with fragments, and with interpretation or reconstruction.

But the importance of archaeology for Freud's work is only part of the story. Obviously there were other more personal reasons why Freud was fascinated by the subject - some of which you may be able to 'reconstruct' from the fragments of quotations given in the following pages. You may also like to compare your experience of exploring this museum with Freud's own reflections on travelling, visiting historic sites, and collecting.

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