Archaeology and Politics

This article spoke to me more than most of the other articles, mostly because archaeology is one of my many interests.  So I wanted to make sure that I wrote this week’s blog post on this article.  Nadia Abu El-Haj makes many arguments, specifically about the use of archaeology in politics.  She talks about how the government, possibly, killed an archaeologist because of a find that could have changed the entire historiography of Israel as we know it.  This rang somewhat true because I have read many stories and watched many movies that play with this type of plot.  Once I started reading the article, one movie in particular jumped out at me.  The movie is titled “The Body” and stars Antonio Banderas as a priest who is tasked with watching over an archaeologist that has made a major find.  She has found skeletal remains that show evidence of crucifixion and comes from the time of Christ.  The movie continues with confrontations with religious community members (I can’t remember their group’s name right now) and her life is constantly threatened because this find could alter the entire history of Israel because of the body’s potential to be that of Christ.

This type of story is continuously used throughout time because of the politics involved with archaeology.  In Italy, Mussolini used archaeology to tie directly with the Emperor Augustus and used as his authority to rule.  The term fascist, which is what Mussolini’s reign is considered, comes from the term fasces, which showed individual’s power in Ancient Rome.  Hitler used archaeology as a way of connecting with the past and to “hold power” over history.  But as the article notes, Israel and Palestine has had a very long history with finding their connections with the Jewish past in archaeological materials.

Another thing that I noted extremely interesting was the idea that archaeologists overlooked many other periods to get back to a specific time.  This is evident even in today’s history.  Some archaeologists use bulldozers to go through a larger set of time because of their projects specific interest.  They aren’t wanting to look at all of the history of a place, but just to look at a specific time in a specific place.  This was the same thing that Mussolini did when he was looking at Ancient Roman materials.  He would encourage the use of bulldozers and the eventual destruction of all material culture between the fall of the Roman Empire and modern day.  All of the artifacts would eventually be tossed into the Tiber, where some of it still lays today.

This practice of searching for what you want in a specific time era doesn’t help the overall field of archaeology.  We should be wanting to look at all aspects of a location, no matter what period in time it is.  Some later periods might tell a lot about how the civilization changes from the earlier times, which could tell you a lot about the earlier time and how they stayed that way for so long.  So Nadia’s argument about the use of archaeology to preserve the politics and cultural understandings of the country is quite correct.  It will probably never change because of the differing cultures around the world and their interests in their historic past.

Something I’d like to note:

I highly suggest watching the movie “The Body” because it not only talks about this type of phenomenon, but it also speaks directly with the relation of archaeology and preserving a cultural identity.  Plus, this movie also ties in with a lot of academic work that is currently being done today.  An April 2015 article from LiveScience speaks directly about the bones of Jesus and his family’s tomb and the controversies that it might cause if the tomb really does have Jesus’ remains in it.  So archaeology and politics is obviously still alive today.

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