Archaeology for Fall 2013

This term one of the things I have to do for my Archaeology class is submit blog posts on certain topics so I figured I’d post the same material here and get even more feedback. I’ll supply the instructions and of course my post that I make on Blackboard–which I do not believe anyone outside of the class has access to.

This term’s schedule is a little twisted. I have Archaeology and Greek Mythology on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays online. Tuesdays and Thursdays are Medieval Europe at 9:30 am and then Archaeology Lab and Field Methods at 1:30. No idea if I will have a weekly blog (yes, I have read the syllabus, doesn’t mean I remember anything on all four of them!) but you’ll be getting something!

So let’s begin shall we?

Professor Instructions: After reading Archaeology as a Political Tool, find an article that relates to archaeology and politics or modern issues (e.g., archaeological methods being employed in excavation of Kurdish mass graves or the looting of the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad in 2003) and read about your chosen topic. Write a 400 to 700 word blog on the issue, and provide your own response to the problem. Be detailed and thorough. Writing should be entirely your own, and direct quotes should be used sparingly. Include a descriptive title in the subject heading.

Blog Post:

There have been many instances where politics and archaeology have overlapped. The most famous is of course the time during the Nazi when Hitler was out to justify the so-called Aryan supremacy. He created the “Ahnenerbe” or “Ancestral Heritage Society” program in order to find the evidence of the Aryan greatness. Archaeology was subverted to these political ends. We are well aware of how these events eventually played out but many myths were created around “archaeological” finds to suit the needs of Hitler.

The Indus Valley is rife with political purposes controlling archaeology. In Ebla, Syria a palace archive was difficult to read but many decided to make biblical claims—stating that this archive was the ancient text of Sodom and Gomorrah which could have been spurred by territorial claims. The archive actually ended up being a list of metals.

You don’t have to travel very far to find politics polluting archaeology. Since it was impossible that Native Americans could have built the effigy mounds found in the Midwest, white archaeologist in the early 19th century tried to prove that it was another lost tribe or maybe Aztecs or Toltecs that had built them. Wisconsin’s Aztalan effigy mounds are a sad example of this. Mindsets often can determine how finds are interpreted.

But one I find most daunting is the happenings in Egypt. 1,000 artifacts have been stolen from the Malawi Museum in the central Mina governorate on August 14 2013. All because there have been moments where security was lax; like when Islamist President Mohamed Morsi was ousted by the military in early July and then again when there were clashes between troops and Morsi’s loyalists. The museum was burnt and mummies and statues that were too large to be carried off were destroyed.

Museums are not the only places that have been left vulnerable, archaeological sites, old churches and the ancient Egyptian royal necropolis of Dahshur are also in danger. Not even the famed Egyptian Museum in Cario’s Tahrir Square is immune as in 2011, 50 pieces of the museum’s artifacts disappeared. Cairo University’s affiliated museum had pieces go missing as well. All which has prompted the closures of all archaeological sites and museums across Egypt.

It’s not just the artifacts that have already been excavated, but the ones of the future. Archaeologists are looking to the future of excavation in Egypt with little hope. Excavations were shut down during the revolution in January 2011 which left many sites unprotected from looters and to illegal excavations as well. But not being able to excavate is only one in a series of obstacles archaeologists have had to face because of politics. Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) has been paralyzed since the departure of its leader Zahi Hawass who was forced to leave as he was an ally to the deposed president Hosni Mubarak. The SCA has gained and quickly lost three heads since July 2011. Today it is headed by Mohammed Ibrahim

Another barrier for archaeologists is the blow to the economy as tourism in Egypt has suffered greatly. Excavations led by the antiquities ministry have ground to a halt as well as many of the foreign-financed digs as the continued unrest has deterred many. But the biggest barrier yet is from the Archaeologists Syndicate (formed in 2011) coordinator Salah Al-Hadi who stated in a press statement that the syndicate wanted “all ties with foreign archaeological missions, especially American to be cut and for foreign researchers and students to be prevented from entering Egyptian museums and archaeological sites.” They have asked the ministry of state for antiquities (MSA) for all work with foreign archaeological and cultural institutions, mainly the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) and Chicago House as they believe our country “support for terrorism in Egypt”. The ban is wanted to be continued until the above mentioned institutes provide official rejections of America’s policy of intervening in Egypt’s interior affairs. “We are not happy about our heritage being in the hands of our enemies,” Al-Hadi said, adding that “if the MSA does not accept our demands, our archaeologists will implement the policy themselves and will work to cut cooperation with foreign institutions.”

Should this action actually go through it will be the first time since the 1955 Suez Canal crisis that foreign/non-state intellectuals have been ejected from Egypt. Although a few doubt that the Syndicate has any legitimate standings to make this claim of the MSA as these types of announcements tend to grandstanding rhetoric and fairly removed from any actual policy threat.

One can only hope that it will not be too much longer before the real intellectuals can step back in and save what is left of Egypt’s past before too much is lost for all time. Like someone said, if a building falls, we can easily rebuild it. If a monument is destroyed there is no way to rebuild it as the original builders cannot be resurrected. And even if they could, I am not sure how well zombies do heavy lifting or other related jobs.


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