Channel-ing the Sustainability of Ancient Societies

How often do you think about archaeology being used to help modern societies use resources better? It’s not like Indiana Jones (sorry, for the clichéd example) went around searching for the mysterious, lost sustainable farming methods. However, archaeology can help us protect our environment and resources by showing us how our predecessors dealt with these issues in their time.

Northern Channel Islands (airial)

The Channel Islands

(Source: http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/anthro/faculty/arnold/california-lab.htm )

The Chumash people of the California Channel Islands are one such culture that can give us important insights to resource management. As early as 9500 B.C. Channel Islanders figured out how to regulate their hunting and fishing so as to not completely decimate their food sources. Historical ecology studies examine the dynamic between these people and their environment from 10,000 years ago onward. It appears that, although there were occasional declines in the populations of various animals, these populations also came back[1]. The Chumash clearly understood how to manage their resources.

Discoveries of shell middens have taught us a lot about the Chumash’s way of life[2]. Archaeologists have found many different types of projectile points, showing that the Chumash hunted many different types of animals[3]. By diversifying their prey, they had the ability to hunt certain populations while letting others grow.

chert-300x224

Different tools and projectile points discovered on the Channel Islands

(Source: http://smithsonianscience.org/2011/03/californias-channel-islands-may-have-once-held-north-americas-earliest-seafaring-economy/ )

Interestingly, other evidence indicates that the Chumash and those who came before them did have more impact on the evolutionary diversity of the islands. They brought dogs to the islands! Dogs did a lot of good for the people on the islands, like security, friendship, and hunting assistance. As the numbers of dogs on the islands increased, though, their presence began to impact other animal populations[4]. They killed and drove away many birds and sea mammals. So, although the Chumash’s hunting and fishing techniques are a great example of resource management, their mistakes, like bringing in an invasive species, can also be instructive to today’s society.

DSCN1998

Aww! How could a dog impact the environment? Well, transplant about a hundred into an island ecosystem…

(Source: my own photo)

Human impact of this environment has increased significantly in historic times, with oil spills, over-fishing, and other factors. Luckily, the Channel Islands are protected now, but what about the rest of the world? We can learn from the Chumash’s restrained fishing techniques because, although we do have some regulations today, in my opinion, they need to be stricter and focus more on cycling different fish populations. But there has to be more widespread awareness and understanding of this archaeology first.

 


[1] Torben C. Rick and Jon M. Erlandson, “Archaeology, Ancient Human Impacts on the Environment, and Cultural Resource Management on Channel Islands National Park, California”, CRM Journal Fall 2003: 86-89. Accessed November 14, 2013. http://www.cr.nps.gov/crdi/publications/CRM_Vol1_01_Research_Reports.pdf

[2] IBD

[3] “New Archaeological Evidence Reveals California’s Channel Islands as North America’s Oldest Seafaring Economy”, Smithsonian Science, Last modified March 3, 2011. http://smithsonianscience.org/2011/03/californias-channel-islands-may-have-once-held-north-americas-earliest-seafaring-economy/

[4] John Barrat, “Science Brief: Dog Bones Reveal Ecological History of California’s Channel Islands”, Smithsonian Science, last modified July 6, 2009. http://smithsonianscience.org/2009/07/science-briefdog-bones-reveal-ecological-history-of-californias-channel-islands/

 

An Artifact is Only Worth the Information it Brings

It’s difficult for people to plan for the future.  It’s so much easier to be so focused in the present that one does not realize that to make a better future one has to be cognizant of what is currently happening around them.  And, not surprisingly, looking into the past can help change and perfect what is happening in the present, therefore creating a better future.  It’s pretty simple, but then comes the issue of not only knowing what happened in the past, but knowing how it affected communities in the present so that we can be proactive in planning for a better future.  Are you surprised to hear that the answer to the question is (drum roll….) archaeology!

By using the archaeological record, which is growing over time, archaeologists can discover an enormous amount of information about past cultures and how their ways of life affected their communities. By studying agricultural techniques of past societies, their failures and achievements, we can alter the way we use agriculture to be more sustainable. For example, by studying the past cultures who came up with the three-field system of agriculture, where land and what is being grown is rotated to allow the nutrients to replenish, archaeologists found that this system works and benefits the communities; thus, today we have a better understanding of how to rotate crops and fields to keep the soil fertile.  This understanding makes us more sustainable in the long run, our future.  Understanding the conflicts that caused wars between past societies can assist us in avoiding these conflicts, and prevent unnecessary wars.  A poignant example is wealth distribution; when unequal, we end up with the haves and the have nots, with a top 1%.  This frequently leads to resentment, which leads to conflict and war. Therefore, archaeologists can evaluate how past societies best distributed resources to create the best environment for all. Looking at how cities were planned out and maintained, and consequently if they could survive disasters can help us plan out current cities in the most logical and beneficial manner to support development and growth. Archaeology has a place in many contemporary social issues that need to be evaluated in the present to preserve the future.

Visual description of three-feild rotation

Visual description of three-feild rotation

Distribution of worlds wealth, the unevenness a source of conflict

Distribution of worlds wealth, the unevenness a source of conflict

 

Everyone knows that archaeology is the study of the past. However, most people don’t understand that the knowledge archaeologists learn from the past can be applied to the present to better the future.  The excavation and “cool” artifacts the archaeologists discover seem to steal the image for archeology.  It’s important to understand, however, that what archaeologists learn from artifacts, and apply to the present, is what makes them truly valuable.

Works Citied:

http://forum.paradoxplaza.com/forum/showthread.php?205809-Saga-of-Halland/page2

http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/11/18/ipcc-official-“climate-policy-is-redistributing-the-worlds-wealth”/

Further Reading:

Sabloff, Jeremy A. Archaeology Matters: Action Archaeology in the Modern World. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast, 2008. Print.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-field_system

So You Want to Be an Archaeologist?

Popular media has taught us that anyone can be an archaeologist. It’s easy, right? All you need is a shovel, a couple buckets, and maybe a cool whip to fight off some Nazis, and you’re all set to discover some nifty caves and make a ton of money off golden idols! Right?

Time for an archaeological dig!

Well, not so fast. What Indiana Jones doesn’t show us are the years of study, fieldwork, and tedious lab work that go into archaeological study. And it definitely doesn’t show that if you want to be a respected archaeologist, you need to join a professional archaeological society and agree to abide by its standards of ethics.

That’s ridiculous, you say; the archaeological record is available to everyone and shouldn’t be restricted to a bunch of snooty professionals. I should be able to dig up whatever I please, you say, because history belongs to everyone!

Thing is, that’s not really true. There are a number of groups with specific cultural ownership of archaeological remains, and archaeologists have to respect that ownership and act accordingly.

First and foremost, the descendants of the group or culture being studied have a right to their history. This means a number of things for archaeologists. Firstly, graves should not be excavated without the permission of the descendant community, no matter how much information could be gained from the excavation. The pillaging of sacred Native American graves by white North American archaeologists in the past caused a great deal of backlash, resulting in legislation like the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) of 1990. This also means that archaeologists need to maintain open and respectful communication with the descendant communities that they are working with, when both planning an archaeological project and interpreting its results.

Don’t be this guy. Bald eagles will get really mad at you.

Apart from descendant communities, the public has a right to the archaeological record. You can’t just dig stuff up, put it on a shelf, and not tell anyone about it; you could be hiding away new information that might change the way history is taught or help us think about some of the challenges facing the modern world. In its Principles of Archaeological Ethics, the Society for American Archaeology lists just a few of the possible audiences for archaeology, which include students, politicians, journalists, and many more. Archaeology should be a tool to promote learning and come to new understandings about the past and the present, not just to add to your collection.

Whoever put together this arrowhead collection was not complying with archaeological standards of ethics. These are artifacts, not wall décor!

Finally, future archaeologists have a right to the archaeological record, too. That’s why stewardship is the first principle in the SAA’s list; archaeologists are obligated to preserve sites so that future archaeologists with better technology and different perspectives can also learn from them.

So the next time you’re tempted to start digging for treasure, remember that the archaeological record doesn’t just belong to you, and put that shovel away.

 

Further Reading:

On NAGPRA: http://www.nps.gov/nagpra/

On the Society for American Archaeology’s ethical standards: http://www.saa.org/AbouttheSociety/PrinciplesofArchaeologicalEthics/tabid/203/Default.aspx

Sources:

Ashmore, Wendy and Robert J. Sharer. Discovering Our Past: A Brief Introduction to Archaeology. New York: McGraw- Hill, 2012. Print.

National NAGPRA. National Park Service, n.d. Web. 14 Nov. 2013. <http://www.nps.gov/nagpra/>.

“Principles of Archaeological Ethics.” Society for American Archaeology. SAA, n.d. Web. 14 Nov. 2013. <http://www.saa.org/Default.aspx?TabId=203>.

Sabloff, Jeremy A. Archaeology Matters: Action Archaeology in the Modern World. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, Inc. 2008. Print. 

Image 1: http://static.ddmcdn.com/gif/archaeology-2.jpg

Image 2: http://publications.newberry.org/indiansofthemidwest/wp-content/gallery/nagpra151/research.jpg

Image 3: http://media.liveauctiongroup.net/i/8093/9734883_1.jpg?v=8CD0610F92B8410  

Archaeology: Helping Fight Poverty around the World

Many people think that archaeology is merely a tool that people can use to learn about the past. However, archaeology is a field that has great promise for helping societies deal with more modern contemporary issues.

One of the many issues that archaeology can help society better deal with is poverty. Although it may seem like an odd issue for archaeology to address, there are actually multiple ways in which the field can help with poverty. Two large ways in which archaeology can help with poverty are helping people learn ancient ways of life and agriculture which may prove more fruitful than their current practices, and by hiring unemployed non-professionals to help assist at excavation sites.

In the past, when the United States was in the middle of the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) to help try and foster some economic growth within the country. The CCC employed young men without jobs to helps conserve and restore the nature of the outdoors. Although these young men helped to plant trees and build roads, they also engaged in archaeological investigations. During the investigations, the young men helped to discover and expose historic house foundations, among other things. The CCC was involved in archaeological investigations in over fifteen states. During the eight years that the CCC existed, it employed over 3,000,000 young men across the nation. With this many young men getting employment, it helped to boost the nation out of an economic depression.

A crew of the Civilian Conservation Corps

A crew of the Civilian Conservation Corps

 

Another way in which archaeology can help with poverty is helping modern societies learn about the way of life of people in the past so that they can better understand how to make the most of their land and resources now. One current example of this can be found in Bolivia. In the past century, Bolivia has had harsh times dealing with climate changes. In the 1960’s, a pre-Inca civilization agricultural method was discovered by archaeologists. This method compensated for such climate changes as those that are currently being faced, and the system has now been implemented. The new system allows for better irrigation of water year-round, and it also allows for a higher yield of crops from the same amount of land. This increase in productivity will bring more wealth and prosperity to a society that might have faced struggles otherwise.

 

An illustration of how an ancient agricultural technique would be a more efficient use of the land.

An illustration of how an ancient agricultural technique would be a more efficient use of the land.

Archaeology is not just a field that teaches us about the past, but rather it uses knowledge of the past as a means to better the present.  Uncovering better agricultural techniques and employing non-professionals are only two of the ways in which archaeology can help us deal with poverty around the world.

 

Sources:

http://newdealarchaeology.com/2013/04/05/roosevelts-tree-army-and-americas-past-the-civilian-conservation-corps-ccc-and-new-deal-archaeology/

http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h1586.html

http://www.oxfamblogs.org/fp2p/?p=1380

 

Images:

http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/sites/default/files/styles/article-top/public/m-11023.jpg?itok=jEHItAne

http://inesad.edu.bo/developmentroast/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/camellones.png

 

Further Reading:

http://pastpreservers.blogspot.com/2013/03/help-save-archaeological-sites-and.html

The Penitente Brotherhood and Images of Death

Last Tuesday, Professor Carlo Severi gave a lecture regarding a cult of Christianity (the Penitente Brotherhood) that developed in certain areas of the United States (New Mexico and Colorado).  Since the Penitentes are a rather secretive group, Severi had to draw information on them from images and the conditions from which they arose.  At the heart of his talk, he wanted to convey the necessity of the images and traditions developed within a culture.  It was not enough that the images he presented merely be observed as empirically demonstrable facts; rather, he sought to show that the conditions of the culture in which they arose were such that they had to.

One of the major factors leading to its creation was the interaction of Christian civilizations with Native Americans.  The lecturer noted their relationship was often contentious, resulting in fighting and killing.  One particular image – that of a Native American attacking an image of Jesus – became particularly salient.  The violence and persistence associated with these attacks were given a central role in cultic practice, to the point that a new saint, Dona Sebastiana, was created.  This unique figure is always depicted as a skeletal woman, often wielding a bow and arrow.  Even more interesting is the ritual associated with her in which an effigy of her with bow and arrow in posed to fire arrows at actual members of the cult who represent Jesus.

Dona Sebastiana

Dona Sebastiana

Beyond these visual differences, Severi went on to mention for theological differences between the Penitente Brotherhood and more mainstream Catholicism.  All of the images he provided during his lecture were very morbid in nature.  Dona Sebastiana for one was obviously a reminder of mortality, but beyond her, the Penitente Brotherhood practiced self-flagellation and simulated crucifixion.  One image that stuck with me in particular was that of the flagellation of Christ.  While this was by no means an unusual theme in Catholic imagery in general, the Penitente’s version was particularly graphic, the back of Christ being so abused as to reveal His spine and ribcage.  This paired with the symbolic attack on Christ by Dona Sebastiana mentioned above constitute a view of Christianity in which death seems to triumph over Christ rather than the other way around.

Kneeling Death Figure

Kneeling Death Figure

With this in mind, I felt Severi’s argument for the images necessity to be compelling.  Given the social climate in which attacks from Native Americas were a frightening threat and the relationship Catholic theology already had with death, the incorporation of new death images and attitudes seems at least a natural progression, if not a necessary one.

 

Images

http://cdn2.brooklynmuseum.org/images/opencollection/objects/size3/1997.70_transp5516.jpg

Weigle, Marta.  “Ghostly Flagellants and Doña Sebastiana: Two Legends of the Penitente Brotherhood”. Western Folklore , Vol. 36, No. 2 (Apr., 1977), p 136

Further Reading

Weigle, Marta.  “Ghostly Flagellants and Doña Sebastiana: Two Legends of the Penitente Brotherhood”. Western Folklore , Vol. 36, No. 2 (Apr., 1977), p 135-147

Dona Sebastiana: A Window into the Past

While Frederick R. Barnard coined the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words,” it was mostly likely Aby Warbury whose ideas lead to the creation of that phrase. After moving to Italy to learn about art, Aby Warbury (a German boy) quickly realized that art was more than just an image for aesthetic appeal. Rather, art was created to illustrate the memories of past societies. In other words, Warbury believed that art represents a window into past societies.

In a presentation given by Italian anthropologist, Carlos Severi, I learned about the affects that the arrival of the Spanish had on the indigenous people in New Mexico. Not only did the Spaniards impose their social and political systems, they slowly forced the native people to convert to Catholicism. Franciscan priests lived in the indigenous villages, teaching the natives about Spanish Catholicism. Over time, these native people began to forget their own religion and started to accept this new religion. However, by 1828, the Franciscan clergy left these villages and returned to Spain—leaving the indigenous people with a new religion that they didn’t fully understand and an old religion that they had forgotten.

Padres-with-Indians

Without priests to guide them, the indigenous people started to piece together a new religion: a mixture of Spanish Christianity and their old religion. This new religion, now known as the Penitente Brotherhood, was much darker than Christianity and focused on death rather than on redemption and light. Sacrifice, flagellation, and reenactments of Jesus crucifixion were all elements of Penitente Brotherhood. However, at the forefront of this new religion was Dona Sebastiana, the angel of death. Donna Sebastiana is usually depicted as a skeleton with long brown hair riding in a cart carrying arrows. Every year, she would ‘shoot’ one villager with an arrow, which meant that that villager was chosen to give up his life for his religion (in other words, he would become a martyr). It is believed that Dona Sebastiana is derived from the Christian Saint, St. Sebastian who died after being shot by arrows. This shows how the indigenous people were attempting to recreate the religion left by the Franciscans; however, because the Franciscans left before the indigenous people had fully understood and knew the religion, these dark modifications arose from the piecing together of the two religions.

06-03-14-013

This dark, death orientated religion arose only after the Franciscans left the Native Americans to make sense of an unfamiliar religion. Without guidance, these people pieced together what they remembered from their native religion and what they had been taught by the Spanish. While the rituals and figures of this religion are hard to understand, the context of the time period and the events leading up to development of the religion help us see into the memory of the indigenous people of the time. This idea, then, goes hand in hand with Aby Warburg beliefs on art. By analyzing and contextualizing images like Dona Sebastiana, we have a picture of what these indigenous societies were like back in the 1800s. Images of Dona Sebastiana act as a window into the thoughts and beliefs of the indigenous people.

References:

Image 1: http://www.cherylannestapp.com/colonizing-california/

Image 2: http://www.thelope.com/2006/04/death-cart.html

Extra Reading: http://www.thelope.com/2006/04/death-cart.html

Rituals of the Mysterious Penitente Brotherhood

This week, I got to attend a lecture by Professor Carlo Severi on Doña Sebastiana, a worshipped symbol of death in the Catholic cult called the Penitente Brotherhood. The Penitente Brotherhood, made up of Spanish-Americans, began in New Mexico. The presence of Doña Sebastiana is not the only interesting tradition that arose in this isolated community; the Brotherhood practiced self-flagellation in the belief that they should experience Christ’s suffering.

I was interested in looking farther into the ritualistic practices of the Penitente Brotherhood. Historical records have helped researchers today learn about the Brotherhood. The work of Charles Lummis proved invaluable in painting a picture of the Brotherhood’s rituals when he had the opportunity to watch and photograph a crucifixion in 1888[1].

The ritual involved recreating the Passion of Christ. According to Lummis, he waited for the Holy Week, when he knew the crucifixion and other ritualistic acts of self-flagellation would occur. Lummis had to be persistent to obtain permission to photograph and attend the ritual, since condemnation of their practices had led the Penitentes to be very secretive. What he saw, included a procession where men whipped themselves, and one man even wore a pack of cactus with thorns that dug into his back. Lummis’s description of the crucifixion itself demonstrated how fully the participants believed in their rituals. Thomson writes, “As they tightened the ropes, the man on the cross ‘sobbed like a child,’ Lummis reported, not because of the pain but because he was ashamed that they were not using nails instead”[2].

penitente

One of Lummis’s photographs.

http://www.charleslummis.com/penitente.htm

The Penitente Brotherhood is still active today, although they don’t do self-flagellation anymore. However, they are still very secretive in their practices. One ritual that an outsider was allowed to attend involved extinguishing thirteen candles and then praying in the darkness, to symbolize Jesus dying[3]. The Penitentes have also permitted onlookers for their procession on Good Friday, the exact events of which vary in each Penitentes community. Other than these practices, it must also be noted that charity and sacrifice are important values for members of the Brotherhood[4].

75-encuentro-return

Rituals of the Penitente brotherhood today.

http://cozine.com/2010-march/los-penitentes-del-valle/

 

Understanding the rituals of the Penitente Brotherhood today is valuable in understanding a current cultural group, and also in understanding their rituals and reasons behind those rituals in the past. In archaeology, this technique of using behavior of a culture today to understand a similar or ancestral people is called analogy. Talking to the descendants of a group are invaluable, especially when dealing with the ethics of studying a culture. As interesting as the rituals of the Penitente Brotherhood are, they also represent real people’s culture and have to be respected in the past and present.


[1] Mark Thomson, “Encounter with the Penitentes”, in American Character: The Curious Life of Charles Fletcher Lummis and the Rediscovery of the Southwest (New York: Arcade Publishing, 2001), Accessed 11/10/13 http://www.charleslummis.com/penitente.htm

[2] IBID.

[3] Ruben E. Archuleta, “Los Penitentes del Valle”, Colorado Central Magazine, Accessed 11/10/13, http://cozine.com/2010-march/los-penitentes-del-valle/

[4] IBID.

Not Just a Pile of Bones

Context is very important. Context is especially important to archaeology and the study of artifacts. Without context, the artifacts have no meaning, a piece of glass is just a piece of glass, and a plate is a plate. If we don’t know where an item was found and what it is in relationship to the site and the site’s past then it means nothing.

sheep-pile-head-on

Is this just a pile of bones? or with context could this mean much more?

For instance, a bunch of cow bones is just a pile of animal bones, until we factor in that it was found in the dump site of an 17th century pub and inn, and the cut marks on the bone shows that it was hand sawn and the cut of meat that it was shows the socioeconomic class that the people who ate the cow were in, and therefore reveals the people whom the pub catered to. Any other bones can do the same thing. Different fish are found in different areas, and different people and social classes eat certain kinds of fish. By finding a particular fishes bones in the inn we know that they fed and whom they traded with, as well as at that time, and what was available to them. Bones, as well as many other artifacts, such as plates and ceramic bowls, can be very useful in finding this type of information out, but only if there is context and background.

for this to mean anything, we would have to know the where, and what and who

for this to mean anything, we would have to know the where, what and who

The different patterns on plates can tell us if they were decorative or used in every day life. The type of style and skill that went into the plates can also tell us how they were used, when they were used, and who used them. The same goes for ceramic bowls, for if only the outside was decorated, that means that it was a larger bowl or vase, with a smaller opening on the top, or that it was meant for other people to look at, while decorations on the inside means that it was small or meant for more personal use. Still, context is very important. If this was found in the inn, then we know what it was used for, and if they were nice plates and bowls, what types of people they housed.

This idea of context can also be applied to where in the site it was found. Many hours are spent labeling the bags where the artifacts have been placed, with detailed locations of where the artifacts were found, at what test pit, with a unit number and other specific location identifiers. Location is very important to context and the meaning of an artifact, for if bones were found in the dumping site of a house, then they would mean a totally different thing then if they were associated with a barn or pub.

In general, artifacts aren’t just pieces of pottery, or a pile of bones, they are items and objects that, because of context, lend themselves to a bigger picture and a better understanding of our world.

-Laila

The Secrets Revealed in Lab Work

What comes to mind when you think of archaeology? Do you think of the archaeologist who seeks to learn and preserve the past—the archaeologist who sees a broken glass bottle as treasure? Or do you think of the stereotypical archaeologist who digs up mummies and gold? Regardless of which you picture, you think of the archaeologist as working in the field. Rarely do people picture archaeologists in the lab. What does archaeological lab work really entail? How do archeologists find out information about artifacts? I didn’t know what to expect when I went to my lab work, but I was excited to find out.

When I walked into the lab, there was a long table with two boxes full of plastic bags in the center of the room. I sat down and took a peek at the contents of the boxes—from my quick glance, I saw bags full of pottery, bones, and broken glass. My professor walked in and told us that our task was to sort and organize artifacts from a site in Annapolis, Maryland. And with those instructions, my first archaeological lab work began.

Untitled3

The first bag I grabbed contained many different buttons. There appeared to be different types of buttons—some were white and shiny while others were rusty and black. After separating the buttons into categories based on appearance, we determined that there were six plastic buttons, eight glass buttons, two metal buttons, and two oyster-shell buttons. One of the metal buttons had an emblem on it—and with some research, my professor determined it was military button from the Civil War period. Thus, we could conclude that soldiers must have been in the area—but for what? Were soldiers just passing through the local tavern? Or was a solider returning home after battle? This question is left hanging until more research is done.

Untitled2

My group sorted about twenty bags of artifacts—some containing rusty nails others with pieces of glass. My two favorite artifacts were the broken pottery pieces and the animal bones. By looking at the material and color, we could sort the pottery pieces into types and estimate the time period it came from. Some of the pottery was white-ware while other pieces were buckley ware and others earthenware. Similarly, by closely looking at the bones, I sorted them into bird, reptile, mammal, and fish bones (with help of course). By working with my professor, I was able to see difference in each type of animal bone. For example, mammal bones are thick and dense while bird bones are mostly thin and hollow. Understanding these differences helped bring me one step closer to being an animal bone expert!

Untitled

While fieldwork might provide an exciting adventure, it is in the lab that artifacts’ secrets are uncovered. In the lab, archaeologists can learn about the change of artifacts over time, their importance, and their relevance in history. Simply stated, it is in the lab where the past is revealed.

 

 

 

 

References:

Ashmore, Wendy and Robert J. Sharer. Discovering Our Past: A Brief Introduction to Archaeology. New York: McGraw- Hill, 2012. Print.

Image 1: http://twipa.blogspot.com/2011_01_01_archive.html

Image 2: http://www.antiquebuttons.nl/index_en.php?p0=history_of_buttons

Image 3: http://www.culture24.org.uk/history-and-heritage/archaeology/art72020

A Picture Worth a Thousand Words

While to many the idiom, “a picture is worth a thousand words” is nothing more than an overused cliché, to some this phrase could not prove to be more accurate.

When Spanish settlers first arrived in Mexico, it became their mission to convert the natives of common day Mexico. The Spanish people forced the natives to assimilate themselves to the Spaniard’s language and religion and almost immediately upon settling, the conquistadors began outlawing parts of the Native culture. Most significant was the shift in religion that began to take place. The change started slowly, but eventually, the Native’s no longer knew how to practice their own religion. As Carlo Severi, an Italian anthropologist, discussed in his presentation, as the number of Franciscans began to dwindle, a new religion was born. Essentially, this new religion was based upon one image—an image of Dona Sebastiana.

 

Dona Sebastiana

Dona Sebastiana

The picture of Dona Sebastiana, arrow in hand, came to represent this new religion. It has been said that she was the angel of death and she picked who would next serve as priest by shooting an arrow at them. Thus, people sacrificed their lives for their religion. By merely looking at the image of Dona Sebastiana, one can understand just how much these Natives yearned for Christianity—they looked to the image of Dona Sebastiana because without it, they felt that God had abandoned them. For the Natives, the image represented much more than an simple picture.

Few people have studied the versatility of art in a more in depth manner than Aby Warburg. Warburg, a German art historian and theorist, believes that images serve far more than aesthetic purposes. He believed that art is a means of communication, a way of uniting communities and representing ideologies.

Aby Warburg

Aby Warburg

In his final years of life, Warburg became increasingly enthralled with the concept of memory and how images can actually construct the memory of an entire society.
He believed that one image may come to represent everything in which a culture is based.

Flag Raising at Iwo Jima

Flag Raising at Iwo Jima

I could not agree more with Aby Warburg. In my opinion, the quality of an image has nothing do with its aesthetic beauty. Rather, the most important aspect is the subject matter and the story the image represents. My favorite photograph, the flag raising at Iwo Jima, has come to represent the United State’s main goal: freedom and justice for all. It captures a memory in American history that will never be forgotten. A memory that Americans can look at in times of tribulation, which will give them strength to carry on. While aesthetically it may not be the most beautiful photograph, there is no denying that its power of unification is worth a thousand words.

Works Cited:

Image 1:http://www.catherineroblesshaw.com/images/rubel%20death%20cart.jpg

Image 2: http://www.defense.gov/specials/nativeamerican01/images/lflage.gif

Image 3: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c4/Aby_Warburg.jpg