Larissa Macfarquhar, archaeology spade in hand, digs for the reason writers delve into the past, enumerating (in suffusive persuasion) a few discoveries (and foundational principles) while exploring Hilary Mantel's bookend obsession with the historical novel:
What sort of person writes fiction about the past? It is helpful to be acquainted with violence, because the past is violent. It is necessary to understand that the people who live there are not the same as people now. It is necessary to understand that the dead are real, and have power over the living. It is helpful to have encountered the dead firsthand, in the form of ghosts [emphasis added].