First came the Stone Age, then the Bronze Age, followed quick sharp by the Iron Age. Then there was a good while when nothing really happened. Until, that is, we invented archaeology, and so began the Herit Age.
Whilst all societies have a past (a sense of their place in a continuous narrative of time) not all societies have archaeology (a sense of their place externalised in a narrative sequence of scientifically organised objects).
The careful, controlled excavation of those objects – wrestled back from the depths of decay – is a specialist business, but one whose fruits can be enjoyed by the many. This is the hallmark of the Herit Age. Enjoyed by the many: practiced by the few. It both belongs to, and is paid for, by everyone.
Global economic changes have flung the doors open on an ideology that threatens to take us into a dark age. Lets call it the Heret-ic Age: wilful ignorance masquerading as intellectual curiosity. Under the guise of getting our economy back on track, a utilitarian principle has taken hold of our elected representatives and passed into public discourse (relatively) unchallenged. To the Heret-ics, the moral worth of archaeology is determined solely by its usefulness in maximizing utility – which in this case can be taken as reducing the budget deficit and returning the economy to health. Given that archaeology is a cost to business and a drain on public funds, its value, the heret-ics conclude, must be zero.
Take this comment, left on the ‘How the West was Won’ article on diggingthedirt by a fine proponent of the genre:
“Interesting article – Sort of.
I would like to know why anyone thinks archaeology is of any “useful” value.
What does an archeologist do that makes one bit of difference to the average guy on the street making a daily living?
I question where does any finding resulting from an archeologist work make a difference any anything in today’s working world?
Can anyone produce documentation or papers where one can find an actual “Return on Investment” on an archeological site?
Since it appears that no one even reads “written” history current or otherwise) to apply lessons learned in order not to repeat mistakes why would anyone think that archeological history is of value? Since most archeological work is “educational guess work” any way!
Challenge to the archaeologist reader: in 100 words or less, destroy this viewpoint.
Or learn to live with it.
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