End of class

Well, today’s lecture was something.   I can’t really believe that that was the last one.  I learned so much in this class about so many different cultures.  It doesn’t really seem like that long ago that the Pyramids were our new topic, or that we were discussing the basics of archaeology.

Sorry, memory lane is one fun detour.

What I meant to say is that this class has taught me a lot about different cultural histories and ideologies, like the Incan tax system and the Mayan fixation on astronomy or Chauvet’s cave paintings.  (Yes, it was a weird video, but Herzhog definitely put a lot of effort into getting that footage, and it shows)  It really is amazing how much we can learn from what looks like simple drawings or piles of dirt.  The Mississippian culture in particular was something rather unexpectedly large and complex.  Yes, I’d heard bits about it before, but I’d never actually studied it, it was really enlightening to see the accomplishments of pre-Columbian american cultures, rather than take the view that earlier ‘archaeologists’ took (but I wrote about that in another post)  But still, this class has shown me so much new information and piqued my interest toward all of these cultures we’ve studied.

I know this sounds like gushing about this class, but I did really enjoy learning about these subjects, I like history, I am a Science major,  and archaeology is pretty much scientific examination of history.  If I end up switching out of my program now, this class has convinced me to at least look into archaeology/anthropology as a field if study, especially with the field schools that seem so often available to students from MSU.  I was actually going to sign up for the Belize trip for a while, but former engagements prevented much of anything from really going on.


So, to start wrapping this all up, I would totally recommend this class to anyone interested in history or archaeology, it was fun, informative, and full of new information I’d never really heard before, sure, we had some scheduling gaffes, but I can excuse that since we had such a nice class time.  Better to have a good experience late than a bad experience on time, right?

Thanks Professor Watrall, you had to take this one on on short notice, but you did a great job.  I just hope I finish strong now.



Ancient Union disputes

At the end of the Valley of the Kings lecture, when we heard about all the everyday writings (receipt, court transcript, workers rights complaint) found in the Deir el-Medina workers camp, all I could think of was ‘The Flintstones were Egyptian.’

If you ignore the dinosaurs and foot-powered cars, they really were.

So much of modern pop-history has anything before fairly recent times portrayed as horrifically ignorant and unable to accomplish anything of substance, and yet we have spent nearly all of this class so far talking about the culture whose remains are still not only visible, but dominate the nearby landscape.

This is one of the dark sides of Archaeology.  The tendency of early ‘archaeologists’ and antiquarians to discount many now-concrete theories of ancient construction has been well noted in this class so far, and provides a rather depressing look at the early history of this field.  This is, from my student’s perspective, representative of the sad effect that the ‘white man’s burden’ mentality had on so many scholars that could have done so much with the field, instead of searching for ‘truth’ about how non-Western civilizations were too stupid and too primitive to create such marvelous architecture.  As was said in class a few weeks back, all the theories about alternative construction (Atlantis, the Myth of the Vanished Civilization we learned about in class just today) just reek of blatant racism and condescension towards non-European peoples.

I apologize for the rant, but this just never sat right with me.

Something else I noticed in today’s lecture, besides the recurring aspect of arrogance among many early archeological theorists, was a weird parallel between the moundbuilders/Mississippians and the Egyptians.
Both civilizations’ greatest treasures have been found in burial or mortuary sites.
Both of the most known mortuary sites are pointed.  (the Pyramids and the conical mounds)
I haven’t heard enough about the Mississippians to make any concrete conclusions yet, that has to wait until after spring break.
I found that really cool though, how there’s this wierd parallel between two people who had likely never seen each other or had any type of contact whatsoever, yet built similar monuments to their former fellows’ journeys to the afterlife.
Maybe, if there were writings by the Mississippians, we’d know as much about their lives as we do about the Egyptians, maybe then, we’d find some ancient union dispute on both sides of the Atlantic.


I love stories.  I love the majesty of the ancient past, how their architecture and cultures have somehow resounded even through the millennia to still enter our thoughts today.

Despite being a Physics major, I decided to take this class precisely because of that wonder, I wanted to hear the stories told by these old ruins, by the long-abandoned sites where civilization once thrived.  I wanted to feel the age of these places and to hear what they really had to say.

When I first signed up for this class, I had somehow convinced myself that there was going to be local fieldwork involved (I don’t know how I came to believe that, but I did) so I was slightly nervous coming into the first day, and more than slightly relieved when I finally figured out it was only a lecture class.

This is the second Anthropology class I have taken at MSU, the first being my ISS course in Physical anthropology.  Given that, I knew a fair bit of the first few lectures’ material already, and what was new managed to splice into what I knew fairly easily, but once we finally began our first Great Discovery during the last lecture, it finally clicked that I was going to really enjoy this class.

The Pyramids enjoy a great deal of attention from the rest of the world, and as the first and the last of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, they are quite deserving of such attention.  The last time I had studied Egyptian history was in middle school, so most anything I’d have learned was quite neatly forgotten by Tuesday.

Despite the gaps in my education, I quite enjoyed the video we watched, since it was quite informative and the artist’s renderings of the Pyramids in their prime were beautiful.  I can only imagine what they would’ve looked like before time and grave robber got ahold of them.  Tracing the origins of the pyramids through burial mound and step pyramid was a nice look into the Egyptian culture of the afterlife and how it was imitated by the Kushites, foreshadowing a very similar relationship (at least, that’s how I saw it) between the Greeks and the Romans; that both Greece and Egypt were conquered by foreign cultures, but influenced them to the point of absorbtion.

My one disappointment in this class is that, according the the class schedule, we aren’t studying the Petra complex in Jordan.  If it’s available for the Great Discovery project, I’d really like to look into that for mine.