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.
“The more sites and artifacts that archaeologists discover, the less we know about the past”. Paradox? Perhaps not. Recent excavations in Orkney Islands off the northern tip of Scotland turned up unexpected and unprecedented remains. Here, at a time before long Stonehenge was constructed far to the south, people were building houses and decorating pottery and buildings in ways precious and stunning. Is this new site (dating to 5000 years ago) at the Ness of Brodgar a temple, a village, a workshop? A complex of sturdy long-lasting stone-walled buildings stand within stone walls.
I am worried about all of the talk about the so-called paleo-diet. Cookbook authors (esp. their publishers), diet supplement MLM saleforces, and tabloid columnists have been spreading the word about the advantages of eating like our prehistoric ancestors. Problem is that the words they are spreading are the wrong ones; their message is misguided.
Have you heard about the increasing popularity of Chernobyl tourism? Hundreds of radiation-tourists are visiting the ruined remains of the abandoned city. It is as if you were an archaeologist in the future swooping down into the 1980s of the former Soviet Union. Like some cancer-causing Pompeii, the empty apartment blocks are crumbing and returning the land to nature. Abandoned detritus from everyday life litters the streets and the homes and factories. These are the artifacts of the recent past.
Lost in Space meets Indiana Jones in a deepwater excavation of a 2100 year old ship. Difficult not to get excited about the news from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and from Greece. The modern world has known about the Roman ship at Antikythera since 1900 and Jacques Cousteau studied it in the 1970s. The obstacle to more detailed excavation has been the depth of the wreck: over 1000 feet.
Hard to read the reports from Syria about the destruction of archaeological sites in the chaos of the war there. No one seems to know what to do. No one seems to have any power to stop ISIS from blowing up mosques, churches and shrines. Prehistoric sites, Roman and Byzantine mosaics. Nothing is out of danger. One casualty of war is the bureaucratic structure of protecting remnants the past, many of which are unique. This happens everywhere with every conflict.
If it’s true, then it is a disgrace and a disaster for everyone. Reports are appearing that Caltrans destroyed an ancient site of the Pomo Indian village while they were building a freeway bypass around the northern California town of Willits. Rumors have it that they made a “mapping error”. It is difficult not to share the anger of modern descendants of the people who lived there. Wouldn’t you be angry if someone destroyed an ancestral home of yours? I know that I would.
Why do archaeologists privilege King Richard III and the 1%ers of the 15th century England?