Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Social Utility Of Archaeology

Archaeologist Graeme Barker has been working on a Neanderthal site in the Kurdistan region in northern Iraq. In August 2014 he had to leave that region due to advances made by ISIS forces. Last month he returned to continue his studies.

He makes a pointed observation on the social uses of archaeology.

You have also worked in Libya through civil war and conflict. What has driven you to persist with these digs?

People say to me they won’t go on holiday where I choose to work next, but in both cases we embarked on the excavations in conditions of stability and then events took over! But these excavations are enormous intellectual opportunities. They are ways of tackling big, fundamental questions about the human past, using the techniques of modern archaeological science.

There is also a broader social purpose. Archaeology is often thought of as a cosy sort of subject, but most of the killing that is going on around the globe relates to people's sense of whether they are similar or different to each other, all of which is rooted in how they feel about their past and where they come from. Archaeology has a huge role to play in building civil societies that are comfortable with the complexity of their past.

This is very relevant to the situation in India too, where tension between ancient social divisions erupts into communal violence from time to time. 

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