Dismantling a Van in the Name of Contemporary Archaeology

Archaeology is commonly associated by the masses with the ancient, intangible, and ultimately “unimportant” past. However, in the field of study known as contemporary archaeology, this could not be further from the truth. Contemporary archaeology “focuses on the most recent (20th and 21st century) past, and also increasingly explores the application of archaeological thinking to the contemporary world” (“Contemporary Archaeology.”). As the real-world applications of this new discipline have become apparent, more and more attention has been paid to this emerging field, such as when Jason De Leon, a professor who researches, among other things, contemporary archaeology at the University of Michigan, won the National Geographic Emerging Explorer in 2013 for his work in this field.

The van being excavated.

In 2006, a group of archaeologists from the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Bristol explored the potential of contemporary archaeology by performing an archaeological excavation of a Ford Transit Van (Schofield).

Some of the artifacts found during the excavation process.

Over a several month period, researchers Schofield, Bailey, Newland, and Nilsson excavated “three main stratigraphic layers in the rear of the vehicle: a carpet, a plywood lining and the metal body” (Newland). Some of the more unique artifacts discovered during the excavation, “a seventeenth century potsherd, slag, a Victorian threepenny bit, and the types of pencils typically used by archaeologists”, were evidence of the van’s past service as transport for field archaeology projects by the university (Schofield).

They also used forensic methods, such as dusting for fingerprints on the body of the van, to conduct their research (Schofield). This unique form of investigation led to an interesting discovery: no finger prints were found on the body of the vehicle (Moran). When they researched further, it was discovered that this particular model was one of the first in the country to be built solely by robots, thus coinciding with a number of layoffs at a local plant and the increased movement towards automated labor (Moran). This is an interesting example of how contemporary archaeology can reveal patterns in modern society and shed light on their effects

Some fingerprints revealed on the driver’s door.

.We live in a material culture, one which produces a vast amount of waste and puts a large amount of emphasis on the importance of ownership. It follows that because of this, archaeological sites are being mass-produced daily. It seems only logical to use the tools of archaeological inquiry to study our culture to better understand that issues that we face today. The van study was a unique expression of this new area of research and its potential to take archaeology in a radically new direction.

Summer school students visit the excavation site and learn about its significance.

Sources

Schofield, John, et al. “THE VAN – Archaeology in Transition.” Archaeolog, 2006, web.archive.org/web/20101007211822/http://traumwerk.stanford.edu:80/archaeolog/2006/08/the_van_archaeology_in_transit.html.

Newland, Cassie, et al. “British.” Feature: British Archaeology 92, January/February 2007 Sic Transit Gloria Mundi, 2007, web.archive.org/web/20110716195349/http://www.britarch.ac.uk/ba/ba92/feat2.shtml.

Moran, Joe. “Remains of the Day.” New Statesman, 19 Feb. 2009, www.newstatesman.com/society/2009/02/garden-remains-excavation.

“Contemporary Archaeology.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 12 Aug. 2017, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contemporary_archaeology.

Further Readings

https://web.archive.org/web/20110813230857/http://contemp-ironbridge.blogspot.com/

https://web.archive.org/web/20101007211822/http://traumwerk.stanford.edu:80/archaeolog/2006/08/the_van_archaeology_in_transit.html

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The Storied History of Francesco Caucig’s Amyntas Being Rewarded by the Dryad Saving the Oak

Today’s post comes from Bella Dalton-Fenkl, class of 2020 and Art Center Docent.
As we prepare for Amyntas Being Rewarded by the Dryad Saving the Oak by Francesco (or Franz) Caucig to be put into storage and for it to be replaced by The Octavian Gate and Fish Market by Hubert Robert, now is the perfect time to discuss the complex backstory of Amyntas Being Rewarded by the Dryad Saving the Oak

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The Culture of War

Almost all cultures that have ever existed have experienced war in one form or another. War, however, is not meant just to eliminate entire populations. War’s ultimate aim is to change a culture and a way of life, an ideology that is especially prevalent in the United States’ civil war. Civil wars occur when two central ideas of a culture become so polarized that simple negotiation is no longer effective in resolving the issue. During the US’ civil war, the Southern section of the country favored slavery while the Northern was against its practice. Although the two coexisted for a time, war was inevitable because of uncompromising differences between the free and slave states over the power of the national government to prohibit slavery in non-state territories. President Lincoln is often viewed as one of the main causes of the civil war, for he refused to recognize the legitimacy of the states that were receding from the union, fearing a broken-up and jeopardized democracy. Prior to his election, events such as John Brown’s raid and Nat Turner’s rebellion further increased the rift between the North and the South.

John Brown- An abolitionist who believed that armed rebellion was the only way to overthrow the institution of slavery in the United States.

The first real “battle” of the war, however, did not occur until the battle of Fort Sumter. With the secession of many Southern states, several federal forts, including Fort Sumter in South Carolina, suddenly became militia outposts in foreign land. Abraham Lincoln, sensing war, then made the decision to send fresh supplies to the outposts in an attempt to coerce the South into firing the first shot of the war. The strategy was successful, and Confederate warships turned back the supply ship to Fort Sumter to begin a 34-hour siege on the fort, leading to its surrender. After this battle, the war had officially begun between the free Northern and the slave Southern. What followed was one of the bloodiest wars on American soil, a total of about 620,000 deaths at its end- the bloodiest battles claiming 85,000 casualties between them. Despite the death and violence of the Civil War, it was never either side’s initial intention to completely eliminate the other. Instead, the aim of the war was to change the other side’s culture- in this case, the culture surrounding slavery. Due to the North’s victory, their view on slave culture prevailed, completely changing the overall culture of the US. The fate of the then-defeated confederate culture, however, can be observed in the burials of the soldiers. In the Soldiers’ National Cemetery there are markers of 3,500 Union soldiers. However, the confederate soldiers were left in unmarked graves and never properly buried. This reflects the fact that America now considered the slave culture eliminated, and all who believed in it were no longer Americans- only remnants of a past culture.

An example of quickly dug and shallow Civil War graves, meant to quickly dispose of bodies before the onset of decay.

Although war of any kind is a great tragedy, it can succeed in changing the entire culture of a nation.

Sources:

“Civil War Facts.” Civil War Trust, Civil War Trust, www.civilwar.org/learn/articles/civil-  war-facts

Keegan, John. “The American Civil War: the Gruesome Suffering of Soldiers             Exposed.” The Telegraph, www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/6199297/The-American-Civil-War-   the-gruesome-suffering-of-soldiers-exposed.html.

Images:

http://militaryauction.org/s/civil-war-grave

http://www.pbs.org/weta/thewest/people/a_c/brown.htm

Further Reading:

http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/civil-war/

What Happened to Gettysburg’s Confederate Dead?

 

 

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Preserving World Heritage: Where Do the Elgin Marbles Belong?

One important question archaeologists face today is how to best preserve the world’s heritage. Are ancient artifacts safer in more modern museums or should they reside in their country of origin?  The Greeks and British have debated over this issue for years due to some of the world’s most famous artifacts: the Elgin Marbles.

Picture of the present day Parthenon with missing frieze
Photo by: Marissa Kokinis

The story all begins with Lord Elgin. At the time Greece was under the control of the Ottomans and Elgin was the acting British Ambassador to the empire.  Lord Elgin came to an agreement with the Ottoman Sultan to make casts and paintings of the Parthenon sculptures to take back to England with him, but through questionable means Elgin gained permission to “take away some pieces of stone with old inscriptions and figures,” (Sánchez, 2017).  Elgin went on to remove most of the Parthenon’s frieze along with other statues, but after falling into debt he sold the marbles to the British government.  

The horsemen from the west frieze of the Parthenon as displayed in the British Museum

After gaining independence the Greeks asked for the Elgin marbles to be returned, but as of now they remain in the British Museum causing a huge debate.  Those opposing their return argue that Lord Elgin had the legal documents to take the marbles, paid the Ottoman Empire appropriately, and that the marbles have been safely displayed in the British Museum for over 200 years, whereas they could have been completely destroyed had they remained in Greece.  Those in favor of returning the marbles to Greece argue that these marbles are a symbol of Greek heritage and that Elgin did not actually use legal means to obtain the marbles.  Others are concerned the marbles will be damaged if they are returned to Greece, as archeologists say current sculptures at the Acropolis are threatened by air pollution, but Greek archaeologist Alexandros Mantis says that Greece can prove to the British they are capable of taking care of their artifacts by moving these sculptures to the museum and that Greece deserves to have the marbles returned (AFP, 2008).  There are also arguments that the British Museum is more suited to host the Elgin marbles, but the New Acropolis Museum, which opened in 2009, is now fit to host any of the Acropolis’ ancient artifacts.  

The New Acropolis Museum in Athens, Greece

Archaeologists play a large role in preserving the world’s heritage and should participate in debates over questions such as, are there cases where certain artifacts are better preserved in more developed countries? Or if a country requests the return of their artifacts should they be returned even if it might endanger the artifacts? These questions will not be answered overnight, but archaeologists can offer unique opinions on these issues with their knowledge of cultural identity and desire to preserve world heritage.

Sources:

Sánchez, Juan Pablo. “How the Parthenon Lost Its Marbles.” National Geographic, 28 Mar. 2017, www.nationalgeographic.com/archaeology-and-history/magazine/2017/03-04/parthenon-sculptures-british-museum-controversy/.

Silverman, Helaine. Contested Cultural Heritage. New York, NY, Springer, 2014.

King, Dorothy. The Elgin Marbles. London, Arrow, 2007.

Dorment, Richard. “The Elgin Marbles will never return to Athens – the British Museum is their rightful home.” The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, 30 June 2009, www.telegraph.co.uk/journalists/richard-dorment/5699534/The-Elgin-Marbles-will-never-return-to-Athens-the-British-Museum-is-their-rightful-home.html. Accessed 7 Nov. 2017.

Flows, Capital. “The British Museum Should Return The Parthenon Marbles To Greece.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 26 Dec. 2014, www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2014/12/23/the-british-museum-should-return-the-parthenon-marbles-to-greece/#b936d6029e5a.

 

AFP. “Archaeologist says pollution threatening last Parthenon marbles.” ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), 13 Apr. 2008, mobile.abc.net.au/news/2008-04-13/archaeologist-says-pollution-threatening-last/2402058. Accessed 7 Nov. 2017.

 

Pictures (In order of appearance):

Parthenon. 7 July 2017.

“Horsemen from the west frieze of the Parthenon.” British Museum, British Museum, www.britishmuseum.org/visiting/galleries/ancient_greece_and_rome/room_18_greece_parthenon.aspx. Accessed 7 Nov. 2017.

Daniilidis, Nikos. “A nightview of the Parthenon Sculptures of the Acropolis Museum, opposite the Sacred Rock and the actual monument.” Themanews, 29 July 2014, en.protothema.gr/opinion-professor-dimitrios-pandermalis-president-of-the-acropolis-museum/. Accessed 7 Nov. 2017.

 

Additional Resources:

Johnston, Ian. “First-Ever legal bid for return of Elgin Marbles to Greece thrown out by European Court of Human Rights.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 19 July 2016, www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/elgin-marbles-return-greece-legal-bid-thrown-out-eu-court-human-rights-a7145216.html.

 

Robertson, Geoffrey. “Let’s do a Brexit deal with the Parthenon marbles | Geoffrey Robertson.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 4 Apr. 2017, www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/apr/04/brexit-deal-parthenon-marbles.

 

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How Social/Income Inequality and the Fall of Rome is Relevant Today

The adage goes that if we do not learn from our past than we are bound to repeat it. Nowhere is this clearer than when we look at the fall of the Roman Empire and the social and financial situations prior. Before the collapse of the Roman Empire, the top 1% of its population controlled over 16% of its wealth. The Gini coefficient; which measures the level of income disparity in a society where 0 is perfectly equal and 1 is perfectly unequal, measured Rome at an incredibly high 0.43[1].

Diocletian’s Palace, Croatia. Built at the turn of the 4th century for Roman emperor Diocletian.

Further compounding the issue was that wealthy Romans increasingly removed themselves from cities and positions of power as they saw the first signs of collapse from the edges of the empire. This is made very clear in the archaeological record where before the end of the Roman Empire there was a large spike in fortified villas far from cities and people[2].“Their disinclination to lead may have been caused by forced exactions, confiscations, business concerns, tax pressured, or general economic fears, which made protecting one’s own interests seem more prudent than looking out for the interests of others.”[3] In their selfishness the upper class romans abandoned their people when they needed them most, only further destabilizing Rome.

Worsening matters was the fact that Rome had been built on expansion, militarism, and the spoils of war. “Being Roman eventually meant being whatever wealth said it was, and shorn of the old ties that kept the rich and poor together out of a mutual sense of common destiny, they soon turned on one another.”[4] Soldiers and common citizens could no longer trust that they would get what was “theirs” as the ruling upper-class tended to keep all of their wealth to themselves while maintaining slaves who did all of the work of the typical middle working class. All that was left for citizens and soldiers was economic squalor as wealth continued to be inherited by the rich, and labor was taken by the slaves of war.

Rendition of daily life in Pompeii showing interaction between upper and lower class peoples.

These are just a couple reasons for the fall of Rome, but what is perhaps most terrifying about the fall are the corollaries to today. The Unites States of America has a Gini coefficient of .45, and 40% of the wealth is controlled by the top 1% of the population.[5] By every metric, the United States is even more divided and unfair than Rome before its fall. The effects are perfectly evident as well as there is increasing inclination from the rich to build fallout bunkers and withdraw from civilization and politics just as the roman elites did centuries before. Worsening matters is the evidence of extreme racism towards migrant workers who like slaves in Rome “take the labor from the hardworking middle class”. Increasingly the middle class shrinks as social unrest and bigotry grows. It is a scary combination that, if we aren’t careful, could spell the end of civilization as we know it, just like it did for the Romans centuries before.

Bonus:

Sources:

[1] http://www.businessinsider.com/even-the-roman-empire-wasnt-as-unequal-as-america-today-2011-12

[2] Ermatinger, James William. The decline and fall of the Roman Empire. Greenwood Press, 2004, Page 58.

[3] Ermatinger, James William. The decline and fall of the Roman Empire. Greenwood Press, 2004, Page 58.

[4] http://www.mintpressnews.com/how-inequality-diversity-and-empire-brought-down-the-roman-republic/188498/

[5] http://www.businessinsider.com/even-the-roman-empire-wasnt-as-unequal-as-america-today-2011-12

Picture Sources:

Diocletian’s Palace, Croatia. This heavily fortified palace was built at the turn of the 4th century for Roman emperor Diocletian. The massive palace was protected by large walls with numerous towers. Some times, it housed over 9000 people. I’ll post more in the comments. from castles

https://popularresistance.org/the-science-of-inequality/

Reading Thomas Piketty: A Critical Essay

Further Reading: 

Income inequality in the Roman Empire

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2015-09-30/following-ancient-romes-footsteps-moral-decay-rising-wealth-inequality

 

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