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

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