Wednesday, March 14, 2012

An Authentic Replica

Tourism is a growing industry, especially in the area of the 'archaeological experience'. Tourists are looking for the opportunity to experience archaeology first hand, a wish that is fulfilled with rides such as Disneyland's Indiana Jones Adventure Ride. Alongside their experience tourists are demanding an opportunity to bring some part of the experience home so they can preserve the memory. In response the industry is now mass producing archaeological souvenirs such as an authentic pottery, carving, or statue.

How is it though, that this mass produced souvenir is authentic? It was not actually made in the ancient or historic past. It is simply a piece of modern day culture made to look like something from the past. People are satisfied with it though, and take it home after their vacation to show family and friends that they have participated in an archaeological experience.

The question of authenticity in archaeology is also present for replicas. In 1987 a prehistoric menhir was discovered in Germany. In 1989 a replica was erected near where the original was found. The original itself had been transported to the State Museum of Wurttemberg in Stuttgart. To make matters even more interesting, the original is in the cellar of the museum, while a second replica is on display. The material of the copies is not the same as the original, and knocking on a copy will result in a hollow sound. i Even though they are copies, locals and tourists alike treat them as the originals and believe them to embody the same aura and value as the original. This is a phenomena that takes place at sites all around the world. Needless to say, in both the case of the souvenirs and the replicas, they are viewed as being authentic.

How then, is this authenticity created and maintained? Cornelius Holtorf insists that in the case of the souvenirs it has to do with what individuals “believe themselves to have bought, not what they have actually bought”.ii Individuals, though they know otherwise, choose to believe that they have bought an ancient relic, not a modern day mass produced object. This belief solidifies the objects aura as 'authentic' and not 'created' for as long as the individual holds that belief. In the case of the German menhir, it functions the same way. The individual chooses to accept the object as the real original and treats it as such. They allow it to hold the same value. In this way one can argue that authenticity is decided on an individual basis.

Another example worth looking into is that of the replica of Stonehenge III in Maryland, Washington.

Constructed our of concrete under the discretion of Sam Hill, it was intended as a memorial to “thirteen young me who had lost their loves during World War I”.iii This replica contains less than half of number or bluestones that the original does, the Heel Stone is in the wrong spot, and the alignment in off. Yet, even though it is so inaccurate, it is flocked to by pagan worshippers who use it for celebrations and rituals. One individual who attended a celebration there commented that to be “at Stonehenge as it was in its days of glory, for a total eclipse of the sun, as an experience for which we had waited a hundred life times”.iv To these worshippers, even though the replica is vastly inaccurate, it is just as real as the original. They are more than happy to use it for their rituals and celebrations. They have even pointed out that “at least in one respect the replica is superior to and more authentic than the original”.v They are referring to how this replica, unlike the original, is not fenced in and they have year round access to it like people did to the original in the past.

All three example lead to the same conclusion. Authenticity is not something that is inherent in an object. It is something that has to be created and applied to it, it will only hold for as long as people find it believable. Authenticity, like beauty, is the eye of the beholder.

i Holtorf, Cornelius (2005). From Stonehenge to Las Vegas: Archaeology as Popular Culture. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press. pp. 119-121.
iiHoltorf, Cornelius (2005). From Stonehenge to Las Vegas: Archaeology as Popular Culture. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press. pp. 121-122
iiiHoltorf, Cornelius (2005). From Stonehenge to Las Vegas: Archaeology as Popular Culture. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press. pp. 122.
ivDalley, Kirsten and Artemisia (2006). Creating Circles and Ceremonies. USA: Book-mart Press. pp. 115.
vHoltorf, Cornelius (2005). From Stonehenge to Las Vegas: Archaeology as Popular Culture. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press. pp. 122.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

"Really?" "Of course! Archaeology says so!"

In the previous entry I discussed how archaeology is is influenced by popular culture and what kind of a portrayal this leads to in the media. Supported popular cultures perception of archaeology, parts of society have come to use archaeology incorrectly as means to support theories and ideas when no historical information is to be found. Part of their ability to do so comes from the fact that “archaeology is defined by methodology, and thus the use of methodology validates archaeological activity. If archaeology can show relationships or activities in a new light, it is valid-no matter how recent, or in principle well documented, the subject is”.i

The best examples of this come from within folk archaeology, otherwise known as pseudoarchaeology. Folk archaeology can be defined as a category that encompasses “[a] broad spectrum of largely unconnected topics and approaches which misapply, misinterpret, misrepresent archaeological material in a non-scientific and often speculative way”.ii Take Stonehenge for example. Stonehenge is a site that has been studied in depth by archaeologists who have come to various conclusions in regards to specific aspects of it. For instance, they have studied that bluestones there and concluded that their weight is between 20-30 tons each. At the time when Stonehenge was built, people did not have transportation like we do. There were no trucks and cranes. There was no wheels. The could make simple canoes and boats. The moving of these rocks to Stonehenge is a remarkable feat that has long been puzzled over and many theories have come up that make use of this information. One in particular stands out as it is good example of the misuse of archaeological information. In this theory, the stones were said to have been transported by Merlin. The theory asserts that the weight of the stones is to much for people to have drug as it would have required too many people, and not enough people would have been left to ensure resources. Therefore, this theory stresses that it would have to have been Merlin who moved those stones from Ireland. Belief in this theory is further supported when authors uses phrases such as “[a]rchaeologists have been even firmer in their support for a belief in an almost superhuman feat”iii

Theories such as this use archaeological information incorrectly. In the case of this theory, a lot of the facts were left out, such as that it has been shown through a mineral analysis that the bluestones “most likely source was the Carn Maini ridge of the Preseli mountains in south-west Wales, 200 sea- and land- miles away”.iv This fact dissects the Merlin theory, for it shows that the stones originated in Yale, not across the seas in Ireland. So therefore, whether or not Merlin actual does or does not exist, he is not responsible for the transportation of the bluestones at Stonehenge.

Although this example is a little far-fetched, it clearly shows how you can misuse archaeology information to prove or attempt to prove that a theory or artifact is real and/or valid. Other examples includes pseudo-artifacts such as Dropa stones, Newark Holy Stones, and the Lenape stone.

Misusing or misinterpreting archaeological information can lead to wild claims and allegations. It also makes the job of archaeologists harder as they can not control how the information is used by people, and they then have to work against these created theories to show people the facts. One should therefore be careful when considering claims about archaeological theories, artifacts, and sites, that are made by the general public, for intentionally or not, they may have misapplied, misinterpreted, misrepresented the archaeological material in some way.

iPrice, Jon (2007). “Great War, Great Story: A Personal View of Media and Great War-Archaeology.” In Timothy Clack and Marcus Brittain (eds.). Archaeology and the Media. Walnut Creek, California: Left Coast Press. pp. 178. “Pseudo-archaeology.” Retrieved March 9, 2012.
iiiBurl, Aubry (1999). Great Stone Circles: Fables, Fictions, Facts. London: Yale University Press. pp. 102-114.
ivBurl, Aubry (1999). Great Stone Circles: Fables, Fictions, Facts. London: Yale University Press. pp. 103