This has been a great semester and it has changed my views about archeology. I have to be honest, when I enrolled in the class I was looking for something that may be interesting but mostly an easy three credits to buffer the ridiculous time commitment necessary for engineering capstone. Its my senior year, I’ve worked hard enough… right? However, what I have found over the past few months is that I have increasingly become more and more interested in the subject and, as a result, I have spent more and more time just reading into archeological finds, research, methods, histories, and the course material. It has become a great hobby of mine. At today’s lecture, the last lecture for ANP 264, Ethan spoke about the importance of archeology and how it is always changing and evolving. He raised the question that all people ask, ‘won’t you ever discover anything?’ This got me thinking. At first, I though, well there is a finite human history, so of course we will be able to eventually catch up with the past. But there was just one problem with my logic, a condition that I did not initially consider. The rate at which we discover is increasingly slower than the rate we leave things behind. At the same time, this is troubling to me. If we can research and discover at a slower place than what is being created or has been left behind, we will forever know through archeology a smaller and smaller percentage of the history of the world. That is simple logic, but what we will increasingly know and understand is the larger themes and major events which are now always being recorded. Its funny to think that in 3000 years when the future civilizations of the world want to study the characteristics and customs of a society, all they will need to do is look it up. We are recording data about ourselves, the way we live, and the way we affect the world constantly and, as a result, society has become a living breathing archeological lab. This is depressing because, for me, the greatest thing about archeology is the mystery and the search for the truth. Maybe this is why I, and so many more, are always drawn back to the Egyptian pyramids. In terms of the history, they are probably one of the most studied and appreciated sites. They are constantly featured in movies and stories for their mystery, or on documentaries about Egyptian alien conspiracies. I think the public interest makes them important, and that interest is sparked by disbelief. It seems as though people are in disbelief that a civilization from thousands and thousands of years ago could have built such enormous, perfectly symmetric structures. From an an engineering perspective, I can see how they we were developed. I realize it would take thousands of works their entire lives to build them, and it cold have been done. The more I learn about their construction characteristics, designs, plans and intended purposes, It makes me understand the society. They were dedicate, planned, controlled, and well organized. The feat even today would be impressive, but to control the organization of thousands of workers when the best form of fast communication is through light signals… or something. I kind of rambled in this last blog post, but I think every thought brings light to why the pyramids are important. It is the mystery that attracts us, and the puzzle that keeps us interested, and no place does that better than the pyramids. ANP 264 has been one of those hidden gem classes, where you do not expect to learn a whole lot about things other than the course listings, but by the end of the semester, you begin to understand so much more about human history, how tolerant and intolerant we are to changing conditions, and we also learn a lot about ourselves. And I think that is the most important thing.
Over the past semester while learning about the ancient and not so ancient world, I have grown to appreciate story of a civilizations rise to power, how established dominance and influence, and by the means it was swiftly wiped away from existence only leaving behind relics of their story. Throughout this class, I have questioned whether it is fair for us to judge and interpret what we have learned being that we only skim the surface of what it is we are studying. Realizing there is so much more than what we are able to cover, it made me appreciate the depth and significant of really understanding all sides of the focus. And I have discovered that really understanding archeology is synonymous to understanding people and the affects of their relationships with you.
Whether in business or your personal life, to really understand the people that surround you, or why you have chosen your entourage, you must approach the reasoning like an approach to solve a great archeological mystery. You must evaluate characteristics of purpose, intentions, relationships, and time of existence. This helps establish meaning and importance. Just as a civilization can appear, a person can be introduced into your life forever changing your future whether you like it or not; but that is your story and you have to live with it. And as that civilization spreads influence through its interactions with the rest of the world, the person in your life affects everything you do, whether directly or indirectly. Finally, as a civilization runs its course, it is replace by a new one, but it will always leave its relics, like a relationship leaves its memories.
A more physical representation of this metaphor can be seen by one of our recent topics of academic conversation in the story of Great Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe, meaning great house or place of royalty, and Great, implying of the most prominent, developed an enormous impact in the story in the life of not only South East Africa but also the world.
The relationship exists for a relatively short period in history. The Kingdom of Zimbabwe began to establish itself in roughly 1000 to 2000 AD and held power and control in the region until roughly 1450 to 1400 AD. During that time it was the epicenter of activity in the region and accumulated great power specifically due to its strategic location. Its strengths were derived from the trade hub for slaves, ivory, and gold for Middle Eastern and Asian trades with the rest of Africa. The enormous economic benefit allows the Kingdom to rule and tax over 150 other centers of population in the region. Its direct influence and relationship with the world ends quite abruptly and its future affects are felt indirectly because it has changed and influenced the region – like a person could influence your life forever even after they are gone.
The rapid demise of the Kingdom was due a combination of: an abrupt change in climate conditions, causing water shortages and famine; political instability caused by stresses of the famine and the growing Portuguese influence who were making major incursions in the region, causing pressure; a shift in the trade network, which contributed to the loss of wealth and control in the region; and the creation of the Kingdom of Mutapa. The Kingdom of Mutapa was founded by a royal of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe who went off looking for salt deposits and decided to establish a new Kingdom at the site. Over time the power and influence shifted to Mutapa. But The Kingdom of Zimbabwe was not forgotten, its influence spread into Mutapa and its relics are still observed today, just as a person exiting your life may contribute to your future indefinitely.
Death is the only guarantee in life. It is the creation of a new begging, to remove the old to make way for the new. We are inherently fascinated with death, but it is completely out of our control. This simple truth is so toxic to our behavior, we become obsessed in trying to understand it, embrace it, or attempts to escape it. In doing so we try to make connections, form relations, and create significance.
Nowadays, we do not embrace death as our ancestors once did. We are too busy with day-to-day responsibilities to consider the inevitable, and we become surprised when death occurs to someone we may know. The fact that many do not embrace life strictly because we know it is limited removes any potential we have to build connections or relations of any real importance. We no longer, as a society, dedicate unfathomable fortunes, resources and manpower to embrace death.
This was not always the case. Even our relatively recent relatives, in relation to the entire length of human history, did embrace, fear, or attempt to escape death.
For example, lets start with the Egyptians – specifically at the great pyramids of Giza Plateau. My first blog post, “It’s Just A Burial Site,” talks about my reasoning at the time and why the Egyptians built these ridiculously enormous monuments that were essentially an oversized tombstone. I state, “They are simply apart of a glorified cemetery whose owners were hell-bent to build the largest representation of [themselves]… relative to the importance, riches, or ego of the individual who lies beneath.
However, as I have grown to understand more about ancient culture, and analyzed their actions from a systems viewpoint with a focus on behavioral and cultural influence, I realize these monuments were not just representations of an individual, but how the civilization viewed death. The Egyptians did not embrace or fear death; their culture was one that believed they could escape it. Their medium of escape was the mummification process and the pyramid was their vessel. Its magnitude and significance increase the chances of a safe arrival to another life. As the Pharos, Priests, and other important individuals gained or loss power or significance, we observe the civilization’s approach to death through their dedication in building these monuments.
The second example of archeological significance I want to address is Stonehenge. As I analyze Stonehenge, its development over thousands of years, the way it was built, and theories of its use, I can hypothesize the civilization(s) in occupation did not try to escape death like the Egyptians, but they embraced it. They saw it as a new beginning. I’m not saying I have discovered the exact purpose of the structure, but I can define with confidence where every theory of its purpose over laps. (see my second blog post, “You Don’t Know What you Don’t Know… Or do you?.”
Stonehenge went through a series of developmental phases over roughly 7,000 years, each generation adding a significant addition. Each theory, or reason for these additions spoke of new begins and celebrating a new phase of life, in many forms. For example: When the ditch and embankments were being created, they were filled with deer and oxen bone, as well as flit tools at the bottom of the pit representing a sacrifice to the monument. In the same time period, Aubry Holes were created surrounding the monument. At the bottom of these holes over 5,000 pieces of cremated human and animal bones were found under tombstone type rock pillars. This finding reveals that the civilization dedicated life to the monument. Not much can be rendered from this, except only when this information is applied to later events. Next, we can observe the Durrington Walls, huge embankments that were used for festivals in December and January, during the winter solstice. At the festivals, enormous volumes of wild game were sacrificed and consumed in celebration of a new beginning – a new year. Many more theories suggest monument for death and life, a calendar to map the winter and summer solstice, and so on. All have over lapping cultural relations with embracing death as a renewal of life.
Today, although we do not see these actions on a grand scale, some individuals realize the significance of death. We view these individuals as different from the rest of us. They embrace life and live it to the fullest. Some choose to party until it literally kills them, while others choose to make a name for themselves. I believe if you do not fully embrace the inevitable, you can never really live in the present. It is those who realize their time is finite that make a lasting impression.
You don’t know what you don’t know. This is my favorite tautology for many reasons. However obvious the meaning is, many do not follow this simple sentence defined by itself in life. When something astounding or unpredicted happens it seems as though the concept of logical thinking and, in fact, remembering that you don’t know what you don’t know for some reason just goes out of the window. Just in my own experiences I can speak of two examples where such lack of reasoning and archaeology have crossed paths.
My first experience begins when I was only eight or nine years old on the sunny beaches of Florida. I was on vacation with my family bored on the beach, so I did what any boy would do and dug giant hole. Ignoring my inevitable sunburn, I dug for hours. Nearing the end of the day I put a chair down in what I believed to be my masterpiece to lay back and relax. As I sat down in a hole that was easily 4 feet deep I stepped on something sharp. I looked down and it was a carved piece of stone. It resembled an arrowhead only it was the size of my hand. Being only eight or nine years old I didn’t think much of it and though it was a perfect tool to carve out what was now becoming dense sand and rocks. About another hour goes by as my mother comes by to gather me in for dinner only to find her son has seemingly dug himself into a hole he literally could not get out of. ( spoiler: she fetched a rope and I got out.. obviously ) I brought the hand sized sharp arrowhead like digging tool with me. After sharing it with my family we decided it must have been an old tool used by the Native Americans hundreds and hundreds of years ago. For a few days, I thought I had discovered a lost civilization or the like. The bittersweet outcome was that the hand sized sharp arrowhead like device I used for a digging tool was actually a huge shark tooth (which I obviously thought was much cooler… because I was nine years old). The point of this story was myself, and my family, uneducated in the science of archeology, cultural history of the region, and wildlife history of the region were quick to jump to a conclusion simply because we didn’t know the facts. We had to make assumptions to fill in the gaps and that is not how one should discover what they don’t know.
The second story comes from 2006 when I was swimming in the blue waters of Capri, Italy. I once again stepped on something sharp ( I guess you could call it my lucky foot ) in the water. It turned out it was just coral but as I reached down to see what it was I noticed a white and blue painted rock. The rock was not just painted; it looked as though it was from a mosaic and there were layers upon layers of human elements added to the surface of this rock that was roughly 1 inch in diameter. I took it with me back on the tour bus and showed the 30 or 40 bus riders. When it reached our guide he gasped and said, “This could be pottery from Pompeii!” ( We were visiting Pompeii earlier that morning. ) Everyone on the bus gasped and instantly believed that I had discovered, once again, some kind of unknown deposit of cultural artifacts. Per Italian law I was forced to give up the object for research. I was notified a few months later that carbon dating put the piece from around the early 1900’s, much to recent to belong to someone who lived in Pompeii. Again, too often people make assumptions to fill in the gaps. I instantly had 30-40 fellow travelers believing something that was not true.
In archeology it is much more important to realize that you don’t know what you don’t know than to assume you know something you may not know as fact. Good science does not have to explain every detail, but only those that can be proven with fact. Good archeologist must also realize that they have no way of knowing what they don’t know and never attempt to fill in the gaps with something other than fact.
Many view the pyramids as mysterious mega-structures built to display the power of a civilization. However, I believe they are simply apart of a glorified cemetery whose owners were hell-bent to build the largest representation of them. I am not attacking the purpose or engineering feat of the pyramids, they are incredible, but only pointing out their relative service. For example, extraordinarily large structures are built today to honor the dead in the form of monuments, head stones, or buildings. In modern commentaries you commonly find an assortment of head stones and monuments all varying in size and extravagance relative to the importance, riches, or ego of the individual who lies beneath.
The Giza Plato is essentially a giant cemetery. On nearly every side of the three larger pyramids exits common graveyards and burial temples, complete with enclosures, and were viewed as a sacred place, not so different from today. The Egyptians even buried with them important items, commonly boats, a common practice in cultures all over the world.
The great pyramids of Giza sit on a granite plateau above the surrounding landscape. There are three extremely large pyramids; they are called Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure. Khufu was built around 2560-2540 BC and Khafre was finished between 2558 and 2532 BC. However, Menkaure’s date is unknown. Menkaure was a monarch and was not exactly known when he died. Khufu was the tallest man made structure in the word until the 14th century AD. Although the pyramids look like a giant rock piles today, they were once covered with smooth stones. Many used limestone and granite and gave off a bright white color in the sunlight. Menkaure’s pyramid still has a lot of the casing stone in tact of the pyramid on the bottom. This is because Menkaure died before the pyramid was finished. Due to this incomplete nature, it provides archaeologies an idea of the process that was used to build the pyramids. Much like the memorials today, they were seen as a display of pristine stone work.
Although these pyramids were designed as a sacred resting place of Pharaohs, as a medium into their next life, they are essentially enormous monuments representative of an individual’s wealth, power, ego, or importance surrounded by other burial and sacred areas. Essentially the same as today, but on a much more dramatic scale, which may be proportional to the level of said qualities associated with the Pharaoh.
It begs the question- in thousands of years will people look back on our civilization’s monuments of individuals and associate our viewpoints of them like the Egyptians of the Pharaohs? Will the future civilizations see Mount Rushmore as the ‘Gods’ of America? Do our monuments have secret meanings? A historical example of similar occurrence can shed light on theses questions.
In 1799 Napoleon invaded Egypt to build a passage from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea. His primary motivation was conquest. On July 21, 1799, at the Battle of Pyramids, Napoleon attacked the forces of the local rulers to control the Nile Valley. After Napoleon took control, his hundreds of scientists went all over Egypt to document and record the findings. They were responsible for finding things like the Rosetta Stone, which allowed the translation of the hieroglyphics. Many artistic drawings were made of the exterior and interior of the pyramids. This work was extremely important because it was widely distrusted throughout Europe to people who never had a chance to see Egypt.
This created a strong obsession with all things ancient Egyptian. As an effect, many Egyptian architectural features began appearing throughout Europe. The most obvious are the obelisk that appeared in nearly every major capital. The ancient Egyptian conspiracy of secret meaning of their monuments other than for burial purposes is still with us today. I can only wonder what future civilizations will think about our monuments and burial sites.