Fascination Leads to Desecration


Respect for the dead has proved to be a prevalent notion in most cultures.  However, prior to the development of modern Egyptology and the transformation of archaeologists from antiquarians to scientists, desecration of burial sites and dead bodies was not only common, but in the case of Egyptian mummies, used as a form of entertainment.

22956unwrapparty  During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, “Egyptomania,” a fascination with ancient Egypt, swept over Europe.  While many important discoveries about the Egyptians occurred during this era, wealthy amateur “Egyptologists” and collectors did much damage.  Tombs were raided and mummies were sold cheaply to European enthusiasts for a variety of purposes.  Best case scenario, the mummy served as a collector’s piece, providing little historical information but also oftentimes avoiding destruction.  However, many mummies met a much worse fate.  Some were boiled, and the oil produced was sold as a medical ointment.  Others were publically unwrapped, both in educational settings and during what have come to be known as mummy unwrapping parties.  At these parties, wealthy Victorian Egyptology enthusiasts would unwrap ancient mummies under the guise of science, and often give away the artifacts that were buried with them as party favors.  While these parties serve as a rather extreme example, they demonstrate the danger of pseudoarcheology and the lack of respect that many Western nations showed for the human remains of non-European cultures.   mummy460

The first major step towards putting an end to desecration of Egyptian artifacts occurred in 1859, when Auguste Marlette, an Egyptologist, founded the ESA (Egyptian Service for Antiquities), which was designed to protect and preserve valuable pieces of Egyptian history.  Since then, more action has been taken by archaeologists, Egyptologists, and the Egyptian government to put a stop to desecration of mummies.  These measures ensure that the past is well preserved, but they also raise the issue of respect for human remains.  Who has the right to uproot and examine the body of another human being?  What level of respect must scientists and archaeologists show towards the remains that they study?  Does ethnocentrism play a major role in the amount of respect given to said remains?  This issue is prevalent in American archeology as well, concerning remains of Native Americans that are considered sacred by many of their descendants.  The problem of desecration is one that must be addressed by archaeologists worldwide.


Works Cited:


“Egyptian Mummies | Ancient Egyptian Mummy Overview.” Egyptian Mummies | Ancient Egyptian Mummy Overview. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Oct. 2013. <http://www.kingtutone.com/mummies/overview/>.

“Egyptomania.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 24 Aug. 2013. Web. 27 Oct. 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egyptomania>.

“The Neo-Victorian Parlour.” : Victorian Mummy Unwrapping Parties. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Oct. 2013. <http://neovictorianparlour.blogspot.com/2013/04/victorian-mummy-unwrapping-parties.html>.

“Unwrapping the Mummy – Performance and Science.” Unwrapping the Mummy – Performance and Science. Past Horizons, n.d. Web. 27 Oct. 2013. <http://www.redicecreations.com/article.php?id=22957>.






Aerial Survey: Archaeology from a Bird’s Eye View


It’s a bird!  It’s a plane! It’s aerial survey archaeology!

Aerial photography, the most common type of aerial survey, has revolutionized the archeological community over the past hundred years.   The seed was planted in 1858, when Gaspard Felix Tournachon took the first recorded aerial photograph from a hot air balloon.  His plan was to use the photos to create maps, but the idea of aerial survey began to circulate, and the first aerial pictures of Stonehenge were taken in 1908.  With the onset of World War I, Europe experienced a significant advance in aviation technology, and archaeologists began to fully realize aerial photography’s potential to revolutionize the field.

Aviation technology has made leaps and bounds since 1918, and so has aerial photography. Today, archaeologists divide photos into two distinct categories: vertical and oblique.  Vertical photos are taken at high levels, usually from planes, while oblique photos are most commonly taken closer to the ground, with handheld cameras.  Within these types, there are three stages in the process of aerial photography.  First, the archaeologist takes the pictures, which is called reconnaissance.  Then, he or she looks at other surveys of the same land to identify changes in the landscape.  This is called the archive search.  Finally, comes the mapping stage, in which he or she interprets the information gained from the aerial photographs.

So, why do we need aerial survey?  What can it tell modern archeologists that surface survey and excavation cannot?  Aerial photography is crucial when it comes to identifying burial mounds or other surface characteristics not necessarily visible to someone on the ground.  In addition, archaeologists can use it to detect the presence of demolished houses or buildings by observing “soil marks” (distinct coloration of the soil as a result of past archaeological features).   The presence of subsurface archaeological remains can also change the color and height of crops.  These “crop marks” are another way that archaeologists can gain evidence about what lies below the surface of the site prior to the excavation. 

Non-photographic aerial survey is also useful, because it employs tools such as radar and thermography to penetrate vegetation, and detect archaeological features based on their temperature in relation to the soil.

Aerial survey has revolutionized the field because it allows modern day archaeologists to get a sense of the layout of their sites before excavation, or even surface survey begins.  Additionally, it provides many clues about potential features that surface survey cannot. But most importantly, aerial survey injects a sense of the big picture into a field dominated by minute details. While these tiny pieces of evidence are crucial during surface survey and excavation, a larger perspective, or a bird’s eye view in this case, can make all the difference in understanding the past.

Works Cited:

“AARG: Short Introduction to Aerial Archaeology | Aerial-Archaeology.” XML. AARG, n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2013. <http://www.univie.ac.at/aarg/php/cms/Aerial-Archaeology/short-introduction-to-aerial-archaeology>.

“Aerial Photography.” Learning Archaeology: Pre-Ex:. Past Perfect, n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2013. <http://www.pastperfect.org.uk/archaeology/aerialphoto.html>.

“Aerial Survey for Archaeology.” English Heritage Home Page. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2013. <http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/professional/research/landscapes-and-areas/aerial-survey/archaeology/>.

Sharer, Robert J., and Wendy Ashmore. Archaeology: Discovering Our past. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Pub., 1993. Print.




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