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Events in Archaeology: Buried Cities and Lost Tribes Essay

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Updated: Mar 25th, 2021

Archaeology and Pop Culture: The Commercialization of a Study

The study of archaeology has seemingly undergone a transformation within the past few decades with the public interest in the field growing to unprecedented levels. In order to meet this demand, various organizations such as the National Geographic Society have created programs geared to show the world of archaeology to the general public. While such actions are a step in the right direction towards increasing public awareness of the value of learning about humanity’s historical past and origins one must wonder whether the rampant commercialization is not adversely affecting the field itself.

The article “2,000 year old nails may be tied to the crucifixion” by the Associated Foreign Press details how two Roman nails found in the burial cave of a Jewish high priest, supposedly the very one who handed Jesus Christ to the Romans to be crucified, are now assumed to be the very nails used in the crucifixion of Christ himself (AFP Global Edition 2011). First and foremost, what must be understood is that with the inexorable march of human progress details regarding the past are often buried and forgotten under layers of dust and sand, the result is that when sites and artifacts are often uncovered the precise detail behind their original meaning and use is often lost to the annals of history and it is up to the archaeologist to discern what is fact from basically wild speculation.

In the case of the two Roman nails, an Israeli filmmaker and documentarian Simcha Jacobvici immediately made the sensational connection between the nails and that of the historical crucifixion of Jesus Christ. It must be noted that Jacobvici is the creator of the popular archeological series “The Naked Archeologist”, commonly broadcast on the History channel (AFP Global Edition 2011). In this particular case, the article presents distinct divisiveness in the world of archeology between the academic archaeologist and his pop-culture counterpart the enterprising documentarian.

For seasoned archeologists, the presence of nails within a tomb, despite an apparent connection to Christ, cannot be immediately attributed to them being the very ones used in the crucifixion. During the Roman Era, thousands of people were crucified and at times the nails used for the crucifixions were in fact recycled. To immediately connect the nails to those used by Christ without any evidence to back up such claims is verging on academic dishonesty.

Yet filmmakers and documentarians who use archaeology in their various films are at times not concerned with historical accuracy but rather on the controversy and interest their films create which increase the likelihood that they will be viewed. For me, this article is important in that it clearly shows the divisive culture that is currently encompassing the field of archeology wherein the validity of academic rigor is being contested by the cheapness of entertainment value.

Similar in context to the finding of the nails of Jesus comes the article “Noah’s Ark found in Turkey”. It explains how a group of evangelical Christian explorers supposedly found the ark used by Noah during the great flood which inevitably found itself perched on the top of Mount Ararat in Turkey (Than 2010). One thing I learned in class regarding the origins of human heritage is that not all stories should be believed, in this particular case it is the story of Noah and Ark.

While I do not intend in any way to disparage the faith of Christians and Catholics alike the fact remains that it is inconceivable to believe that a large percentage of Earth’s species were able to be accommodated within a structure that would have taken the better part of a century to complete. Similar to the story of the finding of the nails of Christ, this particular “archaeological” discovery neglects to take into account valid facts before making statements.

For one thing, the diversity of species within the Mount Ararat area today is hardly diverse at all compared to areas such as Africa or the Amazon. If a large percentage of species from around the planet had actually been deposited in that location there would be a greater degree of biodiversity and fossilized remains explaining as such. Once again academic archaeology which prides itself on scientific reasoning takes a backseat to sensationalist claims which further deteriorates the credibility of the field.

What must be learned from this article is the fact that people have become so obsessed with the concept of discovery that they neglect to learn the proper history and facts behind it before making associations (Than 2010). In fact, this very method of sensationalistic findings is a worrying trend in the field of archaeology since it gives the general public the wrong idea behind what the true process of archaeological discovery should be like.

The article “the lost city of Atlantis” presents a sensationalistic view regarding the presence of the lost city of Atlantis under the marshlands of the Dona Ana Park located within Southern Spain (MSNBC 2011). While I am not immediately stating that I don’t believe that the research team’s hypothesis is wrong what I would like to say is that they are being too presumptuous with their immediate assumption. One thing I learned in class regarding archaeological discoveries is that at times people see what they want to see which in turn skews the data in favor of what the archaeologists want it to portray.

For example, previous studies attempting to discover the Atlantian civilization posited that mustaches seen on various Incan stone portraits were indicative of an advanced civilization visiting the Incans and teaching them how to build their stone structures. What these theorists assume is that since the Incan’s did not sport beards or mustaches similar to those seen in Ancient Greek civilization then it can be assumed that it was elements of a Greek civilization that escaped the destruction of Atlantis that is being portrayed in the various stone portraits.

Unfortunately for supporters of this theory studies investigating the ancient Incan civilization do indicate that they did indeed have facial hair and that beards and mustaches are not the exclusive property of the ancient Greeks.

What this article does is that it further exemplifies the sensationalism that has been attached to archaeological discovery without solid proof to back it up. Lately, sensationalism without solid proof has become more prevalent in the public eye compared to actual discoveries with research to back up the claims (MSNBC 2011). What I learned from this article is that even experts in archaeology are apt to fall into the sensationalistic mindset that has developed as of late. While there is nothing wrong with rejoicing when a theory has been proven there is something to be said about sensationalizing something before adequate evidence can be presented.

Antiquities: Fakes and Originals Side by Side

As noted by noted anthropology professor, Charles Stanish, of the University of California, Los Angeles there is actually an embarrassingly large amount of fakes in the various collections scattered throughout most of today’s antiquity exhibits. In the article “Art, authenticity, and the market in Pre-Columbian antiquities” what is elaborated on is the growing level of expertise of various workshops around the world in which they create fakes of such exacting detail that at times they even have the potential to fool so-called “antiquity experts” (Joyce 2011).

The reason behind this is simple, as the wealth of human knowledge grows so do the various descriptions pertaining to various artifacts researched and categorized become available to forgers who then use this information to create their forgeries (Joyce 2011). Such items have become available on various street corners in Egypt, Mexico, and China, even on websites such as eBay all in their attempt to fool buyers into obtaining a piece of history (Joyce 2011).

Based on what I learned in class the inherent problem with forgeries is not that they are being sold to the general public but rather their increasing level of sophistication has actually caused many archaeologists to assume different ideas regarding various aspects of human heritage which in fact are based on nothing but a fake item. This of course creates the possibility of “academic pollution” in the greater context of understanding human origin since such information may be used in the future in order to examine various aspects of ancient human society and will as a result create anomalous findings.

This particular article actually portrays archaeology as a defunct science that cannot effectively tell originals from the fakes. The fact is human ingenuity coupled with sufficient time and effort can fool even the sharpest minds as evidenced by the variety of fakes found in museums. As such, what I learned from this particular article is that as technology continues to grow so to will the fakes inundate the market leading to a nightmarish situation wherein the study of archaeology will change from trying to determine the history of antiques into trying to determine what is real and what is not.

In the article “Fake Silver Dollars From China” it is seen that the creation of fakes as seen in the article “Art, authenticity, and the market in Pre-Columbian antiquities”, is not limited to ancient pieces of antiquities that are part of age-old historical cultures but rather extend to time periods within the past 200 years or so (Goldsborough 2010). The creation of fake silver dollars and various other coins and collectibles from America’s time periods has actually become a booming business for several Chinese entrepreneurs wherein through the use of the internet they are able to reach a global market of individuals willing to pay top dollar for supposedly original merchandise which is in fact fakes (Goldsborough 2010).

It must be noted that while archaeologists do not condone the sale of antiquities from civilizations that have long been wiped clean from the face of the Earth, they are however supportive of industries involving the sale of various artifacts from recent historical periods. Based on what I learned in class I can say with certainty that the inundation of fakes into the current sales circuit in antiquities does nothing to support the industry but rather is far more effective as a death knell towards its continued existence.

What must be taken into consideration is the fact that the current sale of various antiquities such as types of old currency is in fact the only methods that archaeologists can utilize to examine objects that normally are kept well hidden from prying eyes. In this particular case, the article portrays archaeology as an ineffective science in preventing the inundation of fakes since not only are the artifacts nearly indistinguishable from originals, chemical testing can also come up as inconclusive due to various aging techniques that can be utilized on the metal.

The reason why this particular article should be considered important is due to the fact that various artifacts such as silver dollars are an important aspect of the cultural heritage of American society. Even if it is not apparent now eventually people will start to be derisive over cultural artifacts since the rarity that makes them special has gone away to be replaced by the overabundance of knock off pieces of culture that are far from beneficial towards effectively helping any progress towards promoting a nation’s heritage.

Forgeries being passed off as originals is nothing new in today’s modern society with people able to buy “priceless” pieces of ancient cultures for apparently a few hundred dollars off of ebay. On the other hand, few people were as skeptical back then as they are today with various sensational pieces of archaeological significance winding up in museums and being considered 100% authentic, case and point the finding of the relics of Joan of Arc (Viegas 2011).

In 1867 a small bottle was located in a pharmacy with a label distinctly stating “there are the remains found under the pyre of Joan of Arc, maiden of Orleans” (Viegas 2011). Based on what I’ve learned in class regarding the need for scientific thinking and evidence before making judgments on any item of archaeological significance one must wonder why a bottle with a label stating it contained the remains of Joan of Arc was immediately considered authentic at the time.

When the remains were examined recently using forensic pathology techniques they were discovered to have come from an ancient Egyptian mummy and the cloth scrap where the note was scribbled on was similarly from the cloth used to embalm mummies which were identified due to its unique chemical mixture that contained various chemicals used in embalming process (Viegas 2011). What this article does in terms of portraying archaeology is that it casts a negative light on nearly all discoveries of a sensationalistic nature and posits the question of whether or not a large percentage of what has been discovered is actually real or are fakes.

It has already been proven that ancient fakes do exist and as such the authenticity of various “discoveries” must be subject to the lens of scientific inquiry in order to ensure the integrity of the science of archaeology. What makes this article important is the fact that it shows that fakes can be anywhere and everywhere, in any museum around the planet or in various private collections. As such, it casts a distinct light on the science of archaeology wherein not only must an archaeologist become a discoverer of ancient truths but he must also be a chemist, biologist, and forensic pathologist in order to effectively tell fakes from originals. This could be indicative of a growing shift in the field due to advances in science that cast a new light on old discoveries.

Liberating Countries and Treasures

Most of the world was watching as the Egyptian people rallied against their government regime resulting in the liberation of Egypt from the dictatorial rule of Hosni Mubarak yet what most people didn’t see was the pilfering going on in various antiquities storage depots and in Qantara and in other parts of the city. In the article “Experts fret over Egypt’s treasures and ancient sites” it is shown that the street battles that took place a little over a month ago acted as the perfect distraction for thieves who raided these locations and stole various artifacts unique to the Egyptian people (AFP 2011).

Most of what was stolen consisted of easily transportable items however as stated by the British Museum in London “all artifacts housed in Egyptian museums are objects with unique importance to world heritage” (AFP 2011). While there have been unsubstantiated reports of what has actually been stolen, Zahi Hawas, the recently appointed minister of antiquities, did mention that while several items have been a broker in the museum they can be restored and the rest recovered through official or unofficial means (AFP 2011).

What this article shows about archaeology is that despite the science taking great care to preserve artifacts for future generations of humanity the fact remains that openly displaying them in museums practically invites people to steal them. Based on what I learned in class I can say that the purpose of artifacts as an educational tool is incalculable however the fact remains that current practices of the display may in fact result in their destruction or disappearance one day.

This creates a debate in the field whether artifacts should truly be displayed or fake replicas are put in their place in order to better preserve such objects for future study and archiving. The subject of this article is important to take note of since it represents a real danger that artifacts in the future may potentially face. The fact remains that any number of calamities whether man-made or natural disaster may one day damage such the delicate structures housing them, as such one must question the logic of displaying humanity’s treasures so openly in an evidently chaotic world.

Most people think that artifacts come in the form of objects and treasures, the fact is most of the time artifacts come in the form of places and things. In relation to the previous article involving the looting of artifacts the article “the garden tomb where Jesus rose again” presents the argument that it is this location and not that of the church of the Holy Sepulcher that is the real tomb of Jesus (Mitchell 2010). The reason why I relate this article to that involving theft is that in a way this “other tomb of Jesus” steals concepts and ideas related to the story of Jesus and presents them in a manner that seems to be a compelling argument but arguably contains a lot of plot holes.

Based on what I learned in class the fact is any claim, historical or otherwise, must present enough compelling evidence to justify its statements. In this particular instance, the article mentions that the justification for that particular tomb being the tomb of Jesus is based on the fact that it is a tomb, has a garden, and that the natural cistern located underneath the tomb meant that thousands of years ago the area would have also held a natural garden similar to what was described in the bible (Mitchell 2010). What the site owners fail to mention is any conclusive evidence showing ownership by Joseph of Arimathea.

This article portrays archeology as a field that apparently anyone can enter and stake a claim to. Unfortunately, this results in claims such as this one which is basically unfounded on actual concrete facts and instead relies solely on assumptions. While it may be true that archeology itself assumes many things the fact is these assumptions are usually supported by conclusive facts and not by even more assumptions. The subject of this particular article is important in that it reveals how it is not only artifacts themselves that can be stolen but the very concept behind them as well. People can construct “archaeological” claims to further their own ends and yet such claims are often thought of as fact despite the utter lack of evidence to prove their validity.

So far I have shown how artifacts can be stolen by people and how ideas can be stolen to create artifacts in this particular case I will show how nations can steal against nations. The article “Egypt’s stolen artifact wish list”, details how various artifacts associated with the Egyptian culture have found themselves entrenched in various museum collections around the world (Muller 2010). I use the word entrenched in order to reference the fact that such artifacts will most likely remain in those museums if the curators have anything to say about it.

Throughout the various lessons I have learned in this class one specific fact stands out among the rest, namely, the fact that artifacts connected to a country’s history and past are a part of human heritage and must be protected and preserved in order to understand our origins and let future generations seem them as well. In this particular case, the concept of “global heritage” comes into the spotlight as the defining factor behind the debate over Egypt’s artifacts in other museums.

While it may be true that such artifacts belong to Egypt the fact remains that through the proliferation of ancient Egyptian lore in the modern world the culture and distinction that was ancient Egypt is no longer something isolated to the country itself but rather has captured the fascination of a global audience. It is due to this distinction that such artifacts are considered a part of the “global heritage” of humanity and not just of Egypt itself. In this particular case, the article portrays the field of archaeology in two distinct ways: for one it makes it seem that archaeology steals treasures from one country and deposits them in another.

While such an assumption is true for previous cases involving archaeology in the past this is not applicable to archaeology in the present where strict guidelines are met in order to ensure archeological treasures remain in their country of origin. The second way archaeology is portrayed is a manner in which it is shown to contribute to the concept of “global heritage” wherein the various archaeological discoveries shown around the world in several museums help humanity as a whole understand the facets of the various past cultures that have inhabited the Earth. The reason why the subject in the article is important lies with what can be defined as human heritage.

Should heritage be specified on a country by country basis as defined by Egypt in its request for its artifacts to be returned or should it be defined in terms of a global heritage where everyone is entitled to consider the artifacts as rightfully belonging to the world as shown by the attitudes of the museums refusing to return the artifacts to Egypt?

Practices Carrying Over from the Past into the Present

Archaeology has always concerned itself with the events of the past since not only do they show how human society and grown and changed over the millennia but also how certain practices carry over from the past and into the present. In the article “ancient debit card discovered”, readers are introduced to the first concept of what is now known as the debit card (The Local 2011). It is a simple tally stick with various notches carved into the side as a method of identification with various markings on both sides of the stick to be used to indicate the amount due (The Local 2011).

The practice as hypothesized by the researches was that the amount due was carved into the stick with the stick being split lengthwise after the notches were completed (The Local 2011). Both the creditor and the borrower in question would keep each half of the stick in order to indicate the amount needed to be paid and as a means of identification, on the day of repayment, both halves would be joined together in order to confirm the amount of debt to be paid (The Local 2011).

Based on what I learned in class I can surmise that this particular practice is actually an aspect of human heritage that carried over into the present day in the form of current day banking practices. Though far more evolved than the procedures they used before the practices utilized are still basically the same. As such based on this it can be said that the current practices of the modern banking industry did not come about recently but are actually based on old practices. In this case, the article portrays archeology as a means of connecting past practices with modern methods and finding the connection between the practices.

All in all, it can clearly be seen that there is a definite connection between the two with current methods being the zenith of the practices established back then. The reason why the subject of this article is important is that it shows a definite connection between ancient and modern practices. Most people when asked about the modern-day banking industry and the use of credit cards, debit cards, and checking accounts always seem to assume that it was only within the past 200 years or so that the current methods of banking came about. Based on the findings stated in the article it can be seen that the wealth of human heritage extends so far into the past that what was done then has a definite impact on what we do today which facilitates the need for further examination of past practices and their implications on modern society.

In relation to past practices carrying over into the modern-day era, the concept of luck and its ability to influence human destiny has been an- going theme in human society for quite some time. In the article “gold phallic find in Norfolk” a Roman pendant made of gold shaped in the shape of a penis was found among others similarly fashioned but wrought of cheaper base metals (Past Horizons 2011). These pendants found in various areas throughout the British Isles were thought to be connected to Roman soldiers since a vast majority of them were found in areas that are known to be sites of Roman occupation (Past Horizons 2011).

These items were thought to protect the wearer from harm and as such were prominently worn by Roman soldiers during various campaigns in the area (Past Horizons 2011). Similar to the concept mentioned earlier which evolved into the modern-day banking system this particular case shows a distinct trait from our shared human heritage that has been passed on to the present. Historically, the use of amulets to ward off evil, bring luck, or protect oneself from physical harm has been a predominant trait in human society that manifests itself today in the belief of luck, safety, or protection coming from various miniature inanimate objects.

A lucky rabbit’s foot, monkey hand, a lucky hat, underwear, shirt, etc., are concepts that have become so ubiquitous with our current culture that few consider such belief to be overly strange and unusual. As such the concept of luck being derived from an object shaped like a penis does not seem as strange compared to the belief in a decapitated animal limb bringing luck to the bearer. In this particular article, archaeology is portrayed as a method of determining the origin of certain facets of human belief and culture. It shows how certain cultural habits in ancient civilizations live on carrying onto in the present.

Whether we know it or not, certain facets of what is known as “human heritage’ carry on in our present-day society. As cultures change and evolve certain societal and behavioral changes occur however as archaeology shows in this article certain beliefs carry on and could be considered an inherent facet of human cultures. It even is considered the responsibility of archaeology to determine where in history such facets originally developed in order for us to understand why such a feature of human heritage has continued on to the present. The subject of this article is important because it shows how certain aspects of our beliefs and behavioral perceptions are in fact not recently developed but rather are echoes from the past.

The concept of luck and lucky items has been a belief that actually transcends cultures and eras and is a facet of human heritage that transcends literally all barriers in the form of race, culture, or ethnicity. This article shows that this behavioral concept is not limited to the present-day human civilization, nor is it limited to human civilization a few hundred years in the past, rather, it continues for thousands of years into the past. As such this poses an interesting question regarding the origin of the concept of luck and how it developed into being thought of as originating from an object a person had a time.

In relation to the earlier articles of aspects of the past carrying on to the future, the article “oldest leather shoe discovered” details the finding of the oldest leather shoe in the world dating back at least 5,500 years. It was discovered, along with a few other artifacts, in a cave from Armenia. At 5,500 years this shoe predates the pyramids constructed at Giza by at least 1,000 years and is even older than Stonehenge by about 400 years (BBC News 2010). While today the practice of wearing footwear is a generally accepted tradition few people have really come to terms as to why we wear shoes in the first place.

Based on the concepts I learned from human heritage I can say that the concept of the shoe is actually something that originated from various ancient civilizations and is a carry-over of their unique cultural traits. An examination of the piece of footwear left behind shows that it follows the same design used today despite its primitive construction (BBC News 2010). Similar to the other two articles examined this article portrays archaeology as a method of discerning how traits, even fashion sense, traverses time and culture and incorporates themselves into the present day.

Archaeology here is shown to be a beneficial practice since not only was it able to determine the value of find but through the scientific method, it was able to pinpoint from which particular time period the shoe came from thus increasing its overall performance. The reason why the subject of this particular article is important lies with the fact that our culture continues to change and grow we continue to lose sight of the generations that came before us and what they have already accomplished.

This article helps to prove that even after thousands of years of change we still implement the same type of designs used by our ancestors. As such, the shoe in the article represents a link into the past wherein trying to decipher the motivations human behavior archaeology discerns more than just objects but rather the history behind them.

Bibliography

BBC News. 2010. . Electronic Document. Web.

Past Horizons. 2011. Golden phallic find in Norfolk. Electronic Document. Web.

The Local. 2011. Ancient debit card discovered in Saxony-Anhalt. Electronic Document. Web.

AFP Global Edition. 2011. 2,000-year-old nails may be tied to crucifixion. Electronic Document. Web.

MSNBC News. 2011 Lost city of Atlantis believed found off Spain. Electronic Document. Web.

Than, Ker. 2010. . Electronic Document. Web.

Goldsborough, Reid. 2010. Fake Silver Dollars in China. Electronic Document. Web.

Joyce, Rosemary. 2011. Art authenticity and the market in Precolumbian antiquities. Electronic Document. Web.

Viegas, Jennifer. 2011. Joan of Arc Relics Confirmed to be fake. Electronic Document. Web.

AFP Global Edition. 2011. Experts fret for Egypt’s treasures, ancient sites. Electronic Document. Web.

Mitchell, Chris. 2010. The Garden Tomb: Where Jesus Rose Again. Electronic Document. Web.

Muller, Sarah. 2010. Egypt’s Stolen Artifact Wishlist. Electronic Document. Web.

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