During this class we definitely covered quite a bit of information regarding many key archeological sites and ancient civilizations. However I think when it comes down to which site had the greatest historical importance, the Great Pyramids at Giza immediately comes to mind. I think that this discovery played a hugely important role when it came to getting the public interested in learning about our mysterious and under-reported past. In a sense it provided the crucible for the further development of archeological practices and the necessary governing restrictions needed to help propel this field into the scientific community. When the first archeologists began excavation of this site they were able to begin fine-tuning their practices on a very large scale. I think it was this ability to see what works and what does not work that helped lay the ground work for everything that archeology seeks to accomplish today.
This discovery also helped to develop the correct way to address the protection of global and historical sites. Egypt, for example, created a separate government affiliated body to ensure that all the artifacts remained in the country that they had been originally found. In turn they were able to successfully preserve the cultural and historical identity of one the oldest civilizations known today. Before this body had been put in place it was a very common practice to excavate a historical site and send all the important artifacts to a museum thousands of miles away. However this was only one side of the coin, the other side was much less “scientific” and would often result in artifacts being ransacked or robbed from a site. It was these negative outcomes that forced the archeological community to work with governments and landowners to establish a set of best practices that would ensure that mankind could view important parts of our history for many years to come.
Finally I think that this discovery was able to grasp and hold the general public’s attention, something that had been difficult for prior archeologists. Most of the average citizens saw this discovery as something monumental and never before heard of, especially given the pyramids huge size and intricate details. This in turn helped propel discussion among the general public and academics in order to help them understand how an ancient group of people without any of the luxuries or technical advancements could build such a massive structure. At times I think that the power of public fascination has been underestimated, especially when considering the fact that public support of an initiative often results in more financial funding.
For one of the final blog posts for this class I decided to report on something I like to consider “living” archeology. In early February I found an article with the title “Stone Age Tribe Kills Fisherman Who Strayed onto Island”, this article had been published in “The Telegraph” and was written by Peter Foster. The unfortunate fishermen were working in the Andarman Islands when their boat became stranded on the nearby North Sentinel Island sometime during the night. This island is home to one of the last Pre-Neolithic tribes known, the Sentinelese. This tribe has managed to survive many different natural calamities, the most recent being the 2004 Tsunami, and is estimated to have between 50-200 members. However due to their extremely aggressive behavior, researchers have been unable to spend time studying this “living fossil” in order to better understand how they have been able to survive without any contact with the modern world. It has been reported that the tribe will fire arrows and spears at any vessel that passes too close to the island.
Through DNA analysis of another nearby tribe, the Jarawa, Scientists have been able to hypothesize that the Sentinelese tribe was formed from the descendants of a group that migrated to the area from Africa roughly 60,000 years ago. This existence of a group of people living without any technological advances or contact with the outside world got me to thinking about other groups living in remote areas around the world. I would imagine that this is not an isolated phenomenon and hope that educated professionals such as archeologists, anthropologists, and scientists will eventually be able to study these groups more closely. I think that it would provide some valuable evidence either in support or against the many archeological inferences, regarding the Pre-Neolithic era, that could not be physically verified or observed since the civilization disappeared many years ago. I think another interesting point can be made regarding the survival of some of these ancient groups, specifically that the traditions and different methods of survival they have been using obviously allow for them to survive and flourish over an extremely long period of time. If an ancient “stone age” civilization can survive on a tiny island in the Indian Ocean I would venture to say that there have to be many others, perhaps on tiny islands that have remained unnoticed by today’s humans. Hopefully one day we will be able to successfully communicate with some these groups and help preserve the vast amount of knowledge regarding their mysterious past.
Link to the article: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/india/1509987/Stone-Age-tribe-kills-fishermen-who-strayed-on-to-island.html
A few weeks back I read an interesting news piece titled “Was Stonehenge an Ancient Burial Ground?”. This article, written by Leon Watson a writer for the Daily Mail in the UK, more or less debunked all of the current theories involving Stonehenge and its cultural/historical significance. According to the archeologists interviewed by Leon, more than 50,000 cremated human bones fragments have been recovered at the site. This has prompted many of the on-site researchers to propose a new theory regarding the use of Stonehenge. This new theory hypothesizes that ancient groups of people, across Britain, would meet at the site to celebrate the winter solstice by building on the monuments and holding large communal feasts. These findings also helped to date the historical site to somewhere around 3000 BC, which is 500 years older than previously thought. More importantly the scientific analysis of remains found at the site provides new evidence that contradicts the popular theory that the site was only used for ancient astrological practices. After reviewing these new findings many archeologists believe that the actual act of building the large stone monuments was meant to unify all the groups of people that descended upon the site. This new analysis also identifies two Stonehenge sites, the first being an ancient burial ground for the higher class families and the second being the present day remains (replaced the first Stonehenge site).
Additional evidence supporting the two sites theory can be found in the large nearby Neolithic settlement at Durrington Walls. Analysis of the housing remains shows that the site underwent massive construction projects in order to accommodate the increasing number of people traveling to the site. Also the animal remains excavated at this site helped to identify that people as far away as the present day Scottish Highlands came to Stonehenge to take part in the massive festival.
Personally I find this new theory very promising and the most logical. The reason for this belief is the fact that the ancient groups of people traveling throughout Europe would not invest this much time at any given site if it did not have an important purpose or cultural significance. In this case the purpose was a common burial ground for an ancient people that were more or less nomadic in nature. I also think that the new theory about the building of monuments as a way to unite many groups of people makes sense because such an undertaking would never have been accomplished without the support of many people. Finally I think that with our increased understanding of how the scientific method should be applied to understanding these historical sites, archeologists will be able to successfully debunk many of the pseudoscience theories about Stonehenge that seem to constantly grasp at the public’s attention.
We spent some time in class last week discussing the effects of “pop culture” and its role in shaping our early understanding of the pyramids in general. My favorite point of discussion was the relation of the “mummy’s curse” and its mystical ability to slowly kill off all those involved with the discovery of King Tut. I think that this is a prime example of pseudoscience’s unique ability to help accelerate a theory that most of us would now think is quite stupid. However when looking back to when this discovery took place, I believe pseudoscience was accepted as a way to explain something that the people of that era could not, either because the actual practices needed to find the real underlying cause had yet to be invented or understood by the general public. So with that said, I think that the public embraced its teachings in order to quell there underlying fears of the unknown. It also played an important role in ushering in a new era of change and desire to determine the actual reasons/meaning of the daily happenings. What I mean by this is that if these “out of the world” explanations had not been put forth it is very likely that it may have taken much longer to determine the actual cause for something occuring. For example when the “mummy’s curse” was portrayed to the public and then spread like a wild fire, the academics immeditely got to work determining the actual causes of the mysterious deaths, such as Lord Cavaron’s blood posioning. This ultimately served a better purpose for society at the time by helping to educate the public on blood born illnesses and perhaps what can be done to prevent them (even if it did take a while after his death of this to take effect). In the end the portrayal of such wacky explanations only serves as an incentive for actual scientists, educated minds, and archelogists to find the real cause, perhaps benefiting all of mankind in the process.
Similarily I think that the pyramids becoming a symbol in pop-culture ultimately helped to ignite a period of discovery where mankind was determined to find the next big discovery. This is especially true since most people may never have heard of the pyramids, to the extent that they did after in became a world wide symbol, if it had only become an icon among the scientific community. I will end this post with the statement that “no press is bad press” meaning that even if the subject of an article is some wacky/unsubstanciated explanation it will ultimately lead to counter acusations and increased relevance among the general public. Perhaps it might even lead to the discovery of something truly important and beneficial by someone desperate to call out the stupidity or backwardness of a theory.