Rock Art Preservation

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One of the most serious ethical considerations in archaeology as is what will happen to the monuments and artifacts once they have been uncovered.  Obviously the scholarly intention is that whatever is found will in some way illumine our knowledge of the field; perhaps through confirmation or refutation of literary sources, discovery of new literary sources, through material types from otherwise unattested locations (thus broadening our idea of  ancient trade routes and cross-cultural exchange), or even by a more precise understanding of the arrangements of everyday living via more extensive site plans.

All of these worthy aims aside, responsible archaeology also attempts to preserve artifacts and monuments for the future.  Certainly it would be a tragedy if better understanding of human migratory patterns were possible due to more advanced techniques of DNA extraction, but no skeletons were left  on which to use those techniques.  Equally, it is possible that material which is apparently anomalous, redundant, or insignificant to us could give a future scholar the final (or the first) clue to understanding a currently inexplicable mode of production or disposal, or an obfuscated  but essential religious ritual.

In addition, the archaeologist ought hope that the physical remains of ancient practices might inspire even the layman – even the tourist – with a sense of  both the continuity of time and physical culture, and an awe at the distance between the everyday world of the ancient person and that of the modern person.  Please note that I do not mean to imply a sort of advancing of “civilization”.  Not only would that be condescending, in many or most instances it would be flatly untrue.  Humans are no more sophisticated or civilized now then 2000 or 4000 or even 8000 years ago.  We have access to specific technology (which was built upon the equally wondrous advancements of earlier ages), and our lives are informed by different sorts of cultural constructs (excluding the ever-present Patriarchy) but we are still products of human brains and our societies are constructed on the foundation of that which has come before us.

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None of the exemplary aims of archaeology would be possible if we did not – and do not – respect the material we uncover through both meticulous recording and cataloguing, and particularly through preserving the material itself.

It is for this reason that I entreat you here – both scholar and layman – to inform yourselves of what you are looking for, and looking at.  Respect the material.  Learn how to appreciate it so that others may come after you and enjoy it as well.  There is no need to carve your name or your philosophy on the material; that is what the writing of books is for.  There is no need to view the lazy way and throw chemicals or water on images you wish to see more clearly; that is what photographs and paintings and happy hours of careful observation are for.

Please, leave something for the rest of us to enjoy when you visit monuments or handle artifacts.  If you feel you cannot be trusted with originals, why then that is what reproductions are for – you may deface them to your heart’s content and hear nary a murmur from me.

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~ by heycarahe on November 27, 2007.

One Response to “Rock Art Preservation”

  1. How timely! Last night Jean Clottes came to my university to speak on the Chauvet Caves, he was saying how the team made a decision at the start to put preservation first. It means there are things they aren’t able to examine as closely as they would like, because it would mean, for example, trampling items on the ground. They did come up with some neat ways of further investigation, like digital cameras on poles used to “fish” into dark corners they couldn’t reach, but he was adamant that the caves be left the way they were found as much as possible. Very cool.

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