Archaeology and Reconstructing History

While archaeology can be a helpful tool in understanding past cultures and histories, it can also be used in a negative way to reconstruct narratives that justify certain unjust practices. The past is typically seen as indisputable fact, but in reality it is highly contestable. Archaeology aids in constructing a skewed reality of the past by “othering” groups of people defend their discriminatory policies.

For example, British diplomats in the East India Company justified manipulating and demeaning the Hindi religion by explaining that they were simply exploring the culture. At this time, the British Empire was at its height and had immense influence on not only its own country, but the rest of the world. Sanskrit manuscripts, history books, and other parts of their culture were systematically destroyed to create a place for new stories about India that the British had complete control over. This technique is very useful in colonial domination because by erasing the truth and inserting a new reality, it is easier to give grounds for the actions and violence they are committing. By saying that India was a less advanced country that needed the assistance of a great nation like Britain, invading is warranted.

Reconstructing of narratives also occurs today and with recent history. There are many cities in the United States that are characterized as unsafe places ridden with drugs and crime. Biased articles are written and skewed statistics are shared to distort the real image of the city. For example, Brownsville is a neighborhood in Brooklyn that is notorious for high levels of poverty and crime. The only time that it is ever in the news is when people are reporting on the intense level of crime and drug use in the neighborhood. The people of Brownsville are depicted as delinquent criminals who live off well fare and commit horrible felonies. While there are high rates of crime and poverty, these images do not represent the neighborhood and its’ inhabitants as a whole. This is a tactic to scaring people away from the neighborhood and “othering” the residents of Brownsville to further segregate it.

This is an example of the type of news that is presented about Brownsville

This is an example of a Sanskrit manuscript

Archaeology has the ability to reveal certain unknown aspects of cultures, but it is extremely important to acknowledge how archaeologists go about this process. It needs to be clear that there are no alternative motives and that they are not using their position of power to harm others. When this is not the case, archaeology and constructing past histories can have horrible impacts for generations.

Sources:

Photo sources:

http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/13-year-old-brooklyn-boy-killed-brownsville-street-shooting-article-1.1143542

https://technoayurveda.wordpress.com/2011/10/14/manuscripts/

Further Interests:

https://www.encyclopediaofauthentichinduism.org/articles/31_organized_efforts.htm

 

Phenomenology and the Archaeology of Poverty

Poverty has taken the stage as a key theme in modern archaeology. One archaeologist characterizes this pull: “Archaeology, with its emphasis on materiality and time, has the potential to offer insights into the power relations that create economic polarization over time” (Barnes 26). Archaeology is equipped to examine poverty through a clear base in material analysis and post-processual insights into class and capital. Since the discipline has an intimate relationship with the material world, it is oriented in line with biopolitical and even phenomenological methods. Most disciplines, including archaeology, encounter biopolitics in some form. Taken up in political science and philosophy expressly, biopolitics is an analysis of physical bodies and their relationship to power. Phenomenology, for my purposes, is the study of embodied consciousness (the body) and its relationship to the world – a biopolitical analysis substituting power for the world. This branch of philosophy serves the purpose of centering experience and subjectivity (historically a means of displacing modernism and rationalism). For anthropology and archaeology, this means analyzing how bodies move through and experience spaces. Connecting these methods to archaeology is not new, but I hope to enlighten what this approach can bring specifically to the archaeology of poverty.

To explain this, I’ll bring in Jodi Barnes’s article “Land Rich and Cash Poor: The Materiality of Poverty in Appalachia.” This essay uses sites in the Blue Ridge Mountain region of Virginia to form a “materiality of poverty.”

Map of Moses Richeson’s farmstead (Barnes 31)

Taking a spatial mapping of households with a post-processual lens, Barnes paints some elements of life:

“Excavations in the shed kitchen resulted in the expected collection of kitchen utensils, mainly spoons and knives, and canning lids, as well as a number of buttons… The buttons suggest that the kitchen may have also functioned as a place to wash laundry (Jordan 2005). Most of the time laundry was done outside, but in the winter women would wash their clothes in the kitchen (Wigginton 1973:265). The Hughes family may have taken in laundry to earn extra money” (Barnes 34).

 

Excavations in the shed kitchen (Barnes 35).

Phenomenology begins with asking how material life was inhabited. Architectural studies can assist in recreating building layouts to bring in certain questions. How was the kitchen oriented towards specific use patterns? If the kinds of cooking and consumption remains tell us how food was prepared and consumed, can we formulate a pattern of work in the household? What path does the cook need to take to gather water or other materials and ultimately serve the meal?

 

Here phenomenology is essentially a focus on “in-time” life, the everydayness gleamed out of an archaeological site. Using artifacts, landscapes, and contextual analysis archaeology can illuminate the extent to which capitalism, racial discrimination, and gendered oppression infiltrated life. How much time was spent on certain activities (cooking, farming, shopping), who (which bodies) performed these actions, where was work carried out (as opposed to leisure), and where were leisure objects (furniture, games, valuables, etc.) situated in relation to objects of work? This shift orients Barnes’s analysis: “in the winter women would wash their clothes in the kitchen,” and “may have taken in laundry to earn extra money,” to include the extent to which the need to take on laundry work effected existence for women (how much time was invested in this income production? how close were the means of laundry work to other gendered spaces?). These questions build a foundation for archaeology to capture the experience of poverty, with the goal of contributing to holism in the archaeology of poverty.

Text and Image Sources:

Barnes, Jodi A. “Land Rich and Cash Poor: The Materiality of Poverty in Appalachia.” Historical Archaeology 45, no. 3 (2011): 26-40. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23070032.

Further Reading:

Ahmed, Sara “Orientations: Towards a Queer Phenomenology” GLQ 12, no. 4 (2006): 543-574. For more on phenomenology and its use to illuminate cultural structures.

Orser, Charles E. “The Archaeology of Poverty and the Poverty of Archaeology.” International Journal of Historical Archaeology 15, no. 4 (2011): 533-43. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41410896. For more on the archaeology of poverty and issues dealing with the study.

Historical Archaeology 45, no. 3 (2011). http://www.jstor.org/stable/i23070027. This volume centers the archaeology of poverty, for further examples of this scholarship.

Understanding Traffic in Pompeii

Image

There is a misconception that cities in ancient societies were incomparable to the cities of today. However, cities of the past had many of the same problems that modern cities face today,  including: poverty, pollution, and even traffic. Archaeologist Eric Poehler, an assistant professor of Classics at University of Massachusetts Amherst, wrote The Traffic Systems of Pompeii, which analyzes the wear and tear of the streets of Pompeii to determine the infrastructure.

Traffic in Pompeii

 

Pompeii left an immense archaeological record that has proven to be instrumental in understanding ancient roman cities.  Professor Poehler focused his research specifically on the the streets and road systems. In an interview with Archaeology magazine,  Poehler explained how he was able to study the traffic in Pompeii. “The most obvious features in Pompeii are wheel ruts left in the paving stones. You can easily imagine the thousands of vehicles that made them. The ruts tell us there was heavy traffic” (Conversation: Rush Hour in Pompeii in Archaeology 2008). However, Sarah Bond, an Assistant Professor of Classics at the University of Iowa, brings to light why studying the infrastructure and traffic systems of Pompeii is important.“The historic growth of a city’s road system is itself a reflection of the ideas, ideals, laws and people that pulsed within a community and the economy that underpinned it”( Pompeii Had Some Intense Rush Hour Traffic Too in Forbes 2017).

For instance, traffic systems  had to be put in place because in an city if there was no regulation, then there was chaos. Professor Poehler illustrated how the Roman government enforced the traffic system in Pompeii.  “They didn’t have stop signs or one-way signs. So while it’s clear traffic flow was designed by the city administration, it was actually run by the people who were involved in it–the drivers. It was their cooperation that actually kept the system going”(Conversation: Rush Hour in Pompeii in Archaeology 2008).  Two thousand years ago, governments were faced with the challenge of implementing rules that the citizens would obey.

Archaeologists can use traffic as a medium for comparing cities ancient and modern.  It is easy to  forget that transportation has always been a problem of society. In cities, old and new, thousands of people were/are asking how do I get from point A to point B the quickest?  Answering this question has been proven to be crucial in  determining the best layout of the city. By learning about how ancient cities, such as Pompeii, dealt with their own traffic problems, city planners of today can use this information to improve the urban landscape.  

The street layout of Pompeii

 

Additional Readings on Roman Traffic:

https://www.penn.museum/sites/expedition/the-embattled-driver-in-ancient-rome/

https://www.sciencenews.org/article/ancient-rome-forbade-downtown-traffic-day

Sources:

Bond, Sarah. “Pompeii Had Some Intense Rush Hour Traffic Too.” Forbes, 16 Oct. 2017, www.forbes.com/sites/drsarahbond/2017/10/16/pompeii-had-some-intense-rush-hour-traffic-too/#7edd23127b5b.

“Conversation: Rush Hour in Pompeii.” Archaeology, vol. 61, no. 6, Nov.-Dec. 2008, archive.archaeology.org/0811/etc/conversation.html.

Picture Sources:

“Principle Streets on Pompeii.” Destruction and Re-discovery, sites.google.com/site/ad79eruption/pompeii/principal-streets. Map.

Traffic in Pompeii. University of Pennsylvania Museum, www.penn.museum/sites/expedition/the-embattled-driver-in-ancient-rome/.

Sustainable Cities: Water, Trade, and the Human Population

As we work towards a sustainable landscape in our current world, cities around the world have shown variable amounts of sustainability. Examples in early Mesoamerica show similar limitations. The Olmec civilization based around agriculture in fertile soils deposited in floodplains and slash and burn agriculture. One of their cities, La Venta, was built on in island the drainage basin of a river with associated farming on nearby fertile fields (Renfrew and Bahn 1018). After about 1000 years of existence, La Venta declined, corresponding to a rise in Maya power and shifting river channels possibly affecting transportation (1022). Although the causes of the decline are not very well understood, it is possible that a decline in trading power led to an inability to trade for enough food to sustain the population of the island. At the same time as changing water availability, these socioeconomic relations could have significantly contributed to the decline.

Parts of Mayan civilization decline was likely also based around water scarcity. Mayas used intensive agricultural techniques including reservoir systems and agroforestry (Lentz et al.). The Maya city of Tikal was inhabited from 500BCE to 900AD (“Tikal National Park”). These farming techniques, along with some agricultural adaptations, allowed the city to survive a drought (Douglas et al.). However, at about 850 AD, the system began to fail (Douglas et al.). Reservoir systems were essential in watering crops, but also decreased the rechargeof springs. This created a system dependent almost entirely on rainwater for both agriculture and drinking water. Deforestation and forest thinning then caused a feedback loop lowering the amount of rain in the area. Combined with having a population near or exceeding the carrying capacity of the land, a drought became an issue too big to adapt to.

Map of reservoir system in Tikal

Left: A pyramid erected during the peak of Tikal
Right: The last artifact erected in Tikal in 869 AD, showing the deterioration of social functions in the city.

Previous cycles of collapse had seen the lands abandoned repopulated after the natural resources were replenished (Masson), however this was not the case in this instance. Maya culture continued in the north, shifting importance to maritime trade and alliance making in the Caribbean (Masson), but the south was mostly abandoned.

Both of these cities faced issues partially based on population size. In La Venta, the location of the city likely made it challenging to support a large population without external trade. In Tikal, the agriculture was more exploitative of the land, and while able to support people for a while, eventually led to climate change. In both areas, increasing population size led societies unable to adapt to changing environmental and socioeconomic factors.

Human populations are currently at an all-time high and are climbing. At the same time, we are rapidly diminishing standing reserves of many resources and there is relatively rapid climate change. All of these factors are leading to changing socioeconomic and political relationships between people, which could potentially lead to conflict. In the US, there is no one location where everything necessary to our way of life is produced, all foods, technologies, etc., and many of our current solutions closely match those used by these two cities. La Venta warns of the dangers of over-reliance on trade and external influence, and the possible consequences of being unable to produce enough of a product within one’s own people. Tikal emphasizes that our nation cannot become stagnant. Even though one solution may have worked in the past, a novel approach may be needed for us to continue in the future.

Sources:

Douglas, P. M., M. Pagani, M. A. Cantuo, M. Brenner, D. A. Hodell, T. I. Eglinton, and J. H. Curtis. “Drought, agricultural adaptation , and sociopolitical collapse in the Maya Lowlands.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the Unites States of America, vol. 112, no. 18, 5 May, 2015, pp. 5607-5612., doi:10.1073/pnas.1419133112

Lentz, D. L., N. Dunning, V. L. Scarbourough, K.S. Magee, K. M. Thompson, K.Weaver, C. Carr, R. E. Terry, G. Islebe, K. B. Tankersley, L. G. Sierra, J. G. Jones, P. Buttles, F. Valdez, and C. E. Ramos. “Forests, fields, and the edge of sustainability at the ancient Maya city of Tikal.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the Unites States of America, vol. 111, no. 52, 30 Dec. 2014, pp. 18513-18518., doi:10.1073/pnas.1408631111.

Masson, M. A. “Maya Collapse Cycles.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the Unites States of America, vol. 109, no. 45, 6 Nov. 2012, pp. 18237–18238., doi:10.1073/pnas.1213638109.

Renfrew, Colin, and Paul G. Bahn. The Cambridge World Prehistory. Vol. 2, Cambridge University Press, 2014.

“Tikal National Park.” UNESCO World Heritage Centre, United Nations, whc.unesco.org/en/list/64.

Photo sources:

b3_010_011. 18 Oct. 2006, mayaruins.com/tikal/b3_010_011.jpg. 

Kollecting-Koordinates-Tikal-6. 19 Feb. 2017, www.kollectingkoordinates.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Kollecting-Koordinates-Tikal-6.jpg.

urn:cambridge.org:id:binary:2659:20160526051323287-0663:02793fig2_1. 16 May, 2016, https://static.cambridge.org/resource/id/urn:cambridge.org:id:binary:2659:20160526051323287-0663:02793fig2_1.png?pub-status=live

For future reading:

Scarborough, Vernon L, et al. “Water and Sustainable Land Use at the Ancient Tropical City of Tikal, Guatemala.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 109, ser. 31, 31 July 2012, pp. 12408–12413. 31, doi:10.1073/pnas.120881109.http://www.pnas.org/content/109/31/12408.full?sid=d3df8792-8d88-4136-be4a-d4660368c11b

Salazar, Cristian. “How New York City Gets Its Water: From Resevoir to Tap.” Am New York, News Day, 22 Mar. 2017, www.amny.com/lifestyle/how-nyc-gets-its-water-1.9205765.

Constructing Narratives: The Display of Lynching Artifacts and Remains

The legacy of racial violence through an archaeological perspective, specifically lynching, perhaps is one of the most relevant examples of how to present the idea that the discussion of how to ethically present histories from our past is intensely relevant today.

The ways that artifacts are presented create narratives that either fetishize or humanize the archaeological remains of such atrocities. For example, after the 1901 public murder of George Ward in Terre Haute, Indiana, the crowd immediately fought amongst one another in order to obtain any part of Ward’s body. His extremities were broken off and kept. His toes were auctioned off to the highest bidders (Young 168). The remains of lynching victims became a memory of the ritualistic murders to those who commoditized the black body. In contrast, the families and friends of the lynching victims would scour sites to find any remains, so that they could bury them (Young 183).

The infamous lynching postcards that were and are insensitively displayed in family photo albums bring this hate crime to life (Simon 1:Without Sanctuary). Postcards portraying lynching victims continue to circulate within the market, perpetuating a sort of looting that represents the way that we still view the victims of these violent acts. It evokes visions of the colonial past, creating a modern ‘cabinet of curiosity’ that continues to other and fetishize the secrecy and yet loudness of racial violence. It is obvious that systemic and violent dehumanization, social or physical, of black and brown bodies is not something that is limited to the past.

Figure 1. Rope used in the lynching of Matthew Williams in December of 1931. It is currently displayed at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

This is not to say that archaeological remnants of lynchings should not be displayed in any circumstances.  Emmett Till’s family donated his casket to the Smithsonian Museum. A piece of the rope used to murder Matthew Williams is at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. James Allen and John Littlefield’s collection of lynching postcards and photographs literally take these artifacts from people’s collections and turn them into a condemnation and remembrance of the victims. All of these artifacts are intended to become materials for teaching and remembrance by those descended from victims and by allies, and this is what we must hope happens to as many cultural remains as possible.

But we must remember that certain voices must be put at the forefront. James Cameron, a victim of a botched lynching, founded a museum based on this black genocide. He is a living testimony to the remains that have become ecofacts to museums and collectibles to many others. America’s Black Holocaust Museum had wax figures of lynching victims on display, as well as rope used to lynch a man. It evoked such negative reactions that the exhibit was taken down. The Museum shut down in 2008, and although it reopened this year, its temporary failure serves to show which narratives continue to dominate and gain support. Archeology must be collaborative, because only those who have lived the repercussions of such horrors can adequately help to create the ethical narratives that such remnants deserve.

 

Figure 2. Emmett Till’s casket, donated to the Smithsonian in 2009.

Sources:

Evidence of Things Unsaid

Simon, Roger I. “The Public Rendition of Images Médusées: Exhibiting Souvenir Photographs Taken at Lynchings in America.” Presence: Philosophy, History, and Cultural Theory for the Twenty-First Century, edited by Ranjan Ghosh and Ethan Kleinberg, Cornell University Press, Ithaca; London, 2013, pp. 79–102. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.7591/j.ctt32b58z.8

Young, Harvey. “Housing the Memory of Racial Violence: The Black Body as Souvenir, Museum, and Living Remain.” Embodying Black Experience: Stillness, Critical Memory, and the Black Body, University of Michigan Press, ANN ARBOR, 2010, pp. 167–208. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.3998/mpub.235634.7.

 

Image Sources:

Figure 1.

Emmett Till’s Casket Donated to Smithsonian

Figure 2.

Rope Used to Lynch Michael Brown

Further Reading:

Lynching Site Still Stands in Mississippi

http://time.com/4314310/hanging-bridge-excerpt-mississippi-civil-rights/

Postcards of Lynchings by James Allen and John Littlefield

http://withoutsanctuary.org/main.html

Example of Exploitation of Cultural Property: Postcards of Racially Motivated Violence for Sale Online

https://www.biblio.com/book/negro-homes-burned-rioters-sprinfield-race/d/609677283?aid=frg&utm_source=google&utm_medium=product&utm_campaign=feed-details&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIisj-vZCV1wIVVQaGCh2nPAkQEAkYAyABEgJLI_D_BwE

 

https://www.ebay.com/itm/Early-1900s-RPPC-Real-Picture-Post-Card-Unused-Execution-Hanging-Lynching/362119740700?hash=item545004bd1c:g:NokAAOSwjDZYaewA

Climate Contributed to the Fall of Egyptian Dynasty

The Western world considered Egypt to be one of the greatest civilization in history.  Most of its fame arose from the sense of wonderment surrounding its massive pyramids, and from its legendary people and histories.  Cleopatra was a main figure that American children learn about when they first begin to discuss Egypt.  The fall of her empire was often attributed to the Roman victory over Egypt in the Battle of Actium in 30 B.C..  Whereas this loss was previously comprehended by conditioned notions of Egyptian weakness through infighting, decadence, and incest, recent archaeological findings hinted that the environment and climate may have had a larger impact on the outcome of the battle.  Evidence from ice core data, Islamic records of the water levels in the Nile River, and “ancient Egyptian histories” written on papyrus suggested that a volcanic eruption in 44 B.C. had a massive impact on the stability of Egypt under Cleopatra’s reign.

Antony and Cleopatra — Battle of Actium, 30 B.C.

The result of the eruption was widespread vulnerability.  The intrusive eruption disrupted the flooding of the Nile River, thus impacting agriculture, trade, and social organization.  Famine ensued due to lack of fertility in local soils to produce essential crops and sustenance for consumption and trading.  Additionally, immune systems severely declined with the lack of proper nutrition or energy, which contributed to the widespread disease and famine which swept the nation.  Lastly, social unrest surrounding the irregular patterns of the river caused strained trade and social relations between groups of people and caused either conflict or the need for migration.  All of these consequences of the volcanic eruption in 44 B.C. contributed to the immense vulnerability of Egypt at the time, making Cleopatra’s reign less authoritative, and making it easier for the Roman empire to claim victory over Egypt in the Battle of Actium in 30 B.C..

A map of the Battle of Actium with Cleopatra and Antony’s respective positions labelled.

I found this finding interesting because it proved the necessity of critical thinking and revisitation of academia’s previously conceived notions and ideas surrounding political and social phenomena.  While infighting, decadence, and incest may have contributed to the instability that Egypt felt at the time, it was important to search for more context in order to reveal clues about the rise and fall of “past” civilizations and empires.  Looking at history with such a critical lens could elucidate perceptions of the future cycle of empires in the world and help to understand the meanings behind and implications of international interactions today.

 

Sources and Additional Readings:

https://www.archaeology.org/news/6027-171017-egypt-volcano-nile

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/oct/17/asp-or-ash-climate-historians-link-cleopatra-demise-volcanic-eruption-nile

http://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-017-00957-y

 

http://factsanddetails.com/world/cat56/sub366/item2032.html

https://thisblogisratedpgforpropheticguidance.wordpress.com/tag/battle-of-actium/

 

The Destruction of Cultural Heritage as a Continuous Cycle: How the Destruction in Palmyra Shows It’s More Than Just About Inciting Fear.

The historic city of Palmyra, declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco and celebrated as the “Pearl of the Desert”, once served as a place of refuge for many travelers who traveled on the ancient trade route, Silk Road. Containing several ancient temples and sporting numerous, impressive Roman-Greek architecture, Palmyra was a crossroad to many civilizations and an epicenter of trade and the arts, where Greek, Roman, Persian, and Islamic cultures converged together to form the city’s unique heritage.

Considered the “Pearl of the Desert”, Palmyra is home to more than 100,000 people and myriad historical edifices.

Today, Palmyra, 150 miles northeast of Damascus, is a perilous area occupied by the notorious militant Islamic group, ISIS. Since May of 2015, ISIS, also known as Daesh, clashed with Syrian forces and took control of the city. In a matter of months, they targeted many of Palmyra’s historical sites, pillaging precious artifacts and destroying famed ancient architecture. In the course of their plunder, the 1,800 year-old Roman Arch of Triumph and the nearly 2,000 year old Temple of Baalshamin were completely destroyed and looted. Because of the ruthlessness of the regime under ISIS, attempts by domestic and foreign intervention to preserve remaining artifacts and sites of historical value were futile; the once highly profitable tourism industry in Palmyra also became non-existent as the area turned into an active war-zone, debilitating the lives of many local residents who depended on tourism for survival.

The Temple of Baalshamin in Palmyra, Syria before its destruction in 2015.

ISIS’s behavior in destroying and desecrating many of Palmyra’s archaeological sites does not surprise most historians and experts of cultural anthropology. Palmyra, which embodies Persian, Greek, Roman, and Islamic cultures, is an example of a multicultural and heterogeneous Syrian society that does not resonate well with the monolithic-minded views of the Islamic organization.  However, with recent discoveries, experts believe the unwarranted desecration of Palmyra serve a greater purpose than merely inciting psychological fear. Recent raids conducted by Syrian Army on ISIS installations reveal spreadsheets listing taxes derived from selling antiquities to wealthy, foreign buyers. The ISIS-controlled government, issuing permits to potential looters, authorized the plunder of historical sites for objects of interest and value within their boundaries, which then were sold and taxed by the government. Between 2014 to 2015, large amounts of stolen artifacts were sold as antiquities to black markets and galleries throughout the whole world, netting the Islamic State with more than $200,000 in taxes. The money collected from artifact taxation funds many of ISIS’s ventures—including the expansion of the Islamic State’s boundaries and the future desecration and appropriation of other historical sites.

Stolen artifacts recovered from the Syrian compound of an ISIS official during a US special operations raid.

The growing demand of stolen artifacts worry both archaeologists and politicians alike, as oppressive regimes and terrorist groups destroy and ransack historical sites for artifacts to be auctioned off in black markets. In a constant cycle of destruction and despoiling, the insatiable desire and growing market for artifacts appropriated from historical sites, including Palmyra, contribute to the growth of extremist regimes and the ruthless destruction of invaluable archaeological sites.

Additional Reading:

https://www.thedailybeast.com/isis-raid-netted-stolen-treasure-trove-of-ancient-artifacts

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/23

http://observers.france24.com/en/20120726-palmyra-tourist-hotspot-abandoned-amid-civil-war-syria-homs-refugees-hotels-army-soldiers-archeological-site

 

Sources:

Bilefsky, Dan. “ISIS Destroys Part of Roman Theater in Palmyra, Syria,” New York Times, January 20, 2017. Accessed October 28, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/20/world/middleeast/palmyra-syria-isis-amphitheater.html

Van Bokkem, Rachel. “History in Ruins: Cultural Heritage Destruction around the World.” Perspectives on History, April 2017. Accessed 28, 2017. https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/april-2017/history-in-ruins-cultural-heritage-destruction-around-the-world

The Role of Conflict in the Looting and Destruction of Cambodian Temples in the Late 20th Century

As with many countries around the world, Cambodia carries a complicated and destructive history. These conflicts have aided in the looting and destruction of its heritage sites, especially ancient temples.

One of the most famous Cambodian examples is Angkor Wat, a Hindu temple built in the 12th century in honor of the god, Vishnu (Glancey 2017). During the Khmer Rouge regime and collapse, heritage sites like Angkor Wat became places of destruction caused by war in the latter half of the 20th century. Protection, maintenance, and access to Angkor Wat was limited because of the Rouge’s presence in the surrounding area (Glancey 2017). Even if the fighting wasn’t going on at the site itself, surrounding fights made the area dangerous and abandoned by tourists, locals, and site caretakers (Reap 1997). This hurt the influential tourist trade, meaning less money to fund the upkeep and protection of the site (Reap 1997).

Hindu Temple Angkor Wat (Image by Vincent Ko Hon Chiu)

However, it is not just oppressive regimes that directly destroy archaeological sites. The Khmer Rouge looted heritage sites and temples, but also prevented the protection and continued study of temples like Angkor Wat. In addition, the Khmer Rouge contributed to the desecration because its collapse meant that Cambodia was no longer shut off to the world, therefore open to foreign looters and the illegal antiquity trade. People like Khmer Rouge leader, Ta Mok, had 20 to 30 tons of stolen artifacts at his home when he was arrested in the late 1990s, but “as the Khmer Rouge communist insurgency [collapsed]…many hidden site have suddenly become open to the raiders” (Mydans 1999).

Looted artifacts from the Cambodian temple, Koh Ker (image from Fresh News Asia)

In Cambodia’s case, the attempt to protect archaeological sites can also create conflict. Cambodia and Thailand clashed when the temple, Preah Vihear, was declared to be in Cambodian territory in 1962. This was only exacerbated when Preah Vihear was promoted to World Heritage status by UNESCO in 2009, a “conflict resulting in several civilian and military deaths” (O’Reilly 2009). Throughout the 2000s, the dispute resulted in various damages to the temple itself by both Cambodian and Thai gunfire (UNESCO 2011).

Cambodian temples, and heritage sites in general, are not only culturally significant for their origins, but also for the power struggles that they create. These conflicting power struggles can be over the sites, in the case of Preah Vihear, or damage the sites, as seen at Angkor Wat and Preah Vihear. While looting and raiding erase important archaeological evidence and context for the purpose of an individual’s gain, the occurrence themselves is another chapter in the story of the history of the sites.

Additional Reading:

http://www.dw.com/en/how-cambodias-temples-fell-to-looters/a-17735835

https://www.culturalsurvival.org/publications/cultural-survival-quarterly/legacy-angkor

Sources:

Glancey, Jonathan. “The surprising discovery at Angkor Wat.” BBC. March 14, 2017. Accessed October 24, 2017. http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20170309-the-mystery-of-angkor-wat.

Mydans, Seth. “Lost temple looted by Cambodian raiders.” The Guardian. April 01, 1999. Accessed October 24, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/world/1999/apr/02/cambodia.

O’Reilly, Dougald J. W. . “Cambodia: Cultural Heritage Management.” 2009. Accessed October 24, 2017. https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/978-1-4419-0465-2_1189.pdf.

Reap, Matthew Chance Siem. “Cambodia’s war threatens Angkor Wat.” The Independent. July 13, 1997. Accessed October 24, 2017. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/cambodias-war-threatens-angkor-wat-1250666.html.

UNESCO World Heritage Centre. “UNESCO to send mission to Preah Vihear.” UNESCO World Heritage Centre. February 8, 2011. Accessed October 26, 2017. http://whc.unesco.org/en/news/708/.

Photo Sources:

Chiu, Vincent Ko Hon. “Angkor (Cambodia).” Digital image. UNESCO World Heritage List. Accessed October 26, 2017. http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/668.

Fresh News Asia. Looted Cambodian Artifacts. Digital image. Fresh News. March 30, 2016. Accessed October 26, 2017. http://en.freshnewsasia.com/index.php/829-looted-cambodian-artifacts-displayed-at-phnom-penh-museum-after-decades-in-france.html.

The Mennybraddan Woman (The Meenybradden Woman)

I spent my October break in Ireland this year and while I was there, found something that directly relates to our class. My dad and I visited a visitors center near Connemara National Park and found that they were featuring an exhibit on “People of the Bog”. Specifically, the Mennybraddan Woman.

People of the Bog exhibit in the Connemara National Park’s Visitor’s Center.

The Mennybraddan Woman is a body that was found by turf cutters in Mennybraddan Bog in 1978. Her body was found relatively well preserved because of the presence of peat in the bog. As the textbook claims, “bod bodies… are undoubtedly the best-known finds from the peat bogs of northwest Europe” (57). The organic material found in these bogs would not have survived outside the waterlogged environment. In the case of the peat bogs, “peat dramatically slows the process of decay” (Dr. R. O. Floinn, National Museum). The bog preserves organic material by sealing it in an airless environment. Places such as lakes, swamps, and bogs play important roles in archaeology because of their ability to effectively maintain organic remains.

Pile of peat positioned near a bog in Ireland.

A lot of the individuals whose bodies were preserved in the Irish bogs met their deaths through either sacrifice or through violence. The textbook references the Clonycavan Man who “had been killed with axe blows and possibly disemboweled” and the Oldcroghan Man who had been decapitated (58). The Clonycavan Man’s body was actually displayed in a museum in Dublin alongside the Mennybraddan Woman, though the bodies were found in different locations. However, the Mennybraddan Woman’s cause of death is unknown (Dr. R. O. Floinn, National Museum). She has not been suspected of being murdered, though, because her body does not show signs of a violent end.

The Remains of the Mennybraddan Woman

In an article written about the discovery, she was described as being buried without any other items around her. Her only accompaniment was a woolen blanket that she had been wrapped in. Could this statement about being buried with no items be premature? What if looters took the items? Could the items have decomposed even though her body had been preserved? As archaeologists, we must consider all the possibilities. However, if it is true that if she had been buried without anything, her death may imply sacrifice or suicide. PBS concludes that her death was either a result of either a murder or a suicide. Because her death did not appear violent, I would guess suicide. 

The Mennybraddan Woman is a fascinating archaeological discovery. Centuries-old bodies give us a glimpse into what life was like for individuals. Tattoos imprinted on bodies and tools the individuals carried teach us about the persons’ life and the lives of others at the time. The wool blanket found with the Mennybraddan Woman indicates that she had access to sheep to make wool. It tells us that the climate of the time was cold enough to require a blanket. If her death was sacrificial, it could imply something about the religious beliefs of the time. In conclusion, the discovery of mummified bodies in archaeology can supply a lot of information about past societies and ways of thought.

Sources:

Lewis, Susan K. “Bog Bodies of the Iron Age.” PBS. Public Broadcasting Service. Web. 22 Oct. 2017. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/bog/iron-nf.html

Deem, James M. “Meenybradden Woman.” Mummy Tombs. Web. 22 Oct. 2017. http://www.mummytombs.com/bog/meenybradden.html

Renfrew, Colin and Paul Bahn. Archaeology Essentials. Thames & Hudson. 2007, 2010, and 2015.

Picture Sources:

Deem, James M. “Meenybradden Woman.” Mummy Tombs. Web. 22 Oct. 2017. http://www.mummytombs.com/bog/meenybradden.html

“Bogs of Ireland.” Culture and Heritage Tours Ireland. http://www.cultureheritagetours.ie/?pagid=bogs-of-ireland

“People of the Bog.” A picture I had taken while on my trip. I took it on October 9th, 2017.

Further Readings:

http://nautil.us/issue/27/dark-matter/the-curious-case-of-the-bog-bodies

https://archive.archaeology.org/online/features/bog/

 

The Dangers of Pseudoarchaeology

What do the so-called “theories” about ancient aliens, the Lost City of Atlantis, and eBay postings about “rare Native American art pieces” have in common? Each one of these are products of pseudoarchaeology, a counterfeit version of true archeology whose proponents rely on bias, ignoring accurate scientific methodology and evidence to produce unrealistic ideas about the past. Though it is impossible for archeology to be completely free of bias, those who subscribe to pseudoarchaeology are taking it to a whole new level. More often than not, pseudoarchaeological ideas are produced in the face of the inaccurate interpretation of evidence, such as in the case of the Nebraska Man, a famous example of pseudoarchaeology in which the tooth of an extinct species of peccary found at a dig sight in Nebraska was touted as evidence of a “missing link” in human evolution in North America for several years in the 1920s.

An artistic representation of what the Nebraska man was thought to have looked like.

The tooth that the above drawing was based off of.

Though this particular instance of poor scientific method and pseudoscience may seem more humorous than harmful, the ramifications of this bad science still had adverse effects. Besides hoodwinking a number of professionals, “evidence” of the Nebraska Man was used during the infamous Scopes trial to combat the teaching of evolution in schools. No matter how well intentioned those who endorse pseudoarchaeology may be, the fabrication of a bogus theory based off of scant evidence, as well as using that theory to promote ignorance among the general populace such as in the Scopes trial, is inherently harmful.

As we discussed in class, pseudoarchaeology rears its gruesome head for more instances than just the far-flung, highly publicized bungles like the Nebraska Man. Indeed, this kind of bad science is widely propagated, and even accepted, in everyday life. Misrepresentation of artifacts to fit modern stereotypes of past cultures and peoples, such as selling a broken piece of a common-place object used by Native Americans as an ancient piece of artwork, disenfranchises and creates a racist view of their capabilities.

This is the more sinister side of pseudoarchaeology; bad science aside, it spreads racist sentiments, thereby justifying certain actions that otherwise would not be justifiable. For example, how is it possible that almost 200 years after the Greek government requested it, a large portion of the frieze from the Parthenon, an important piece of Greek cultural heritage which was purchased from the Ottoman Empire in the 1700s by a British archaeologist, has yet to be returned and still resides in the British Museum? How is it possible that stereotypes about African cultures being perpetually less evolved than those of Europe could ever have been propagated when sites such as great Zimbabwe still stand after hundreds and hundreds of years? Pseudoarchaeology will always exist where people are looking for sensationalism or support for their own theories instead of the truth. The best way to combat this is to look to science as a guide and maintain a high level of respect for the people and cultures that we seek to study.

The Elgin Marbles, where they are currently housed I the British Museum.

Sources

“Elgin Marbles.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 26 Sept. 2017,   en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elgin_Marbles.

“Creationist Arguments: Nebraska Man.” Creationist Arguments: Nebraska Man, Jim Foley, 30 Apr. 2003, www.talkorigins.org/faqs/homs/a_nebraska.html.

Forestier, Amadee. Evolution Hoaxes – Nebraska Man. N.d. ThoughtCo. 30 Mar. 2016. Web. 28 Sept. 2017.

Chrisomalis, Stephen. “What Is Pseudoarcheology?” PseudoArchaeology Research Archive (PARA). N.p., 2007. Web. 28 Sept. 2017.

Sánchez, Juan Pablo. “How the Parthenon Lost Its Marbles.” National Geographic. National Geographic Partners, LLC, 28 Mar. 2017. Web. 01 Oct. 2017.

Gregory, William K. “Biographical Memoir of Henry Fairfield Osborn.” (1937): n. pag. National Academy of Sciences. Web. 30 Sept. 2017.

Renfrew, Colin, and Paul Bahn. Archaeology Essentials. 3rd ed. London: Thames & Hudson, 2015. Print.

Further Readings