Sometimes archaeology uncovers things that make us stop for a moment. I was reading about the discovery of two 700-year old skeletons from the site of a lost chapel at St Morrell, near Leicester in England. Archaeologists dig up skeletons all the time, and there was little doubt that the team working at St Morrell would find ancient bodies in their excavations. What drew my attention was that two of the bodies buried there were placed in a grave holding hands. In a moment, my mind shifted from the science and analysis of skeletons, cause of death, health, age and sex of the individuals to less objective thoughts. How were these two related? Were they brother and sister who had died at the same time, perhaps of the same disease or tragic accident. Were they two lovers?
Too often in archaeology and in other hard science approaches to the human past we avoid the emotional and subjective. We are trained to think as scientists, to be objective, to sterilize our minds of thoughts of personal relationships, on the bonds of brother and sister, or the power of lovers’ connection. Why? Isn’t life full of the rich complexity of our strongest emotions? Can we honestly claim to reconstruct the past if we avoid the emotions of the past? The answer we teach out students in the MA in Anthropology is that there are many different ways to look at the past. No one of them is the best approach. We need scientific analysis just as much as we need to think about feelings, heartaches, and desires. If you want to be part of these discussions, then have a look at our MA in Anthropology website or email us with questions about the program: AnthroMA@sfsu.edu.
Link: Skeletons found 'holding hands' after 700 years (cnn.com)
If you are interested in how archaeologists handle emotion (or avoid it), then have a look at this article:
Tarlow, S. 2012. The archaeology of emotion and affect. Annual Review of Anthropology 41: 169-185. http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev-anthro-092611-145944