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The Tenets Of Post Processual Archaeology History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

Archaeology had always been thought of as a neutral discipline, where material culture is used to create knowledge of past societies and give that information to the public in an impartial way. The theory of post-processual archaeology, created by a number of scholars such as Ian Hodder (Johnson 2010) lead to a “loss of innocence” (David Clarke 1973) within the discipline. The introduction of these ideas caused others to think of their political role within society throughout the world. These occurrences are particularly important within state ideologies; to create a culture in which a collection of ideas are accepted by the populace (Johnson 2010, Galaty & Watkinson 2004).

This essay will discuss a number of examples of political uses of archaeology in both modern and historical settings. Nationalism; the agenda for creating a nation which exists prior to nation formation (Kohl 1998), dictatorship; where single or multiple persons take absolute control over the government (Galaty & Watkinson 2004), and imperialism; the policy of creating and maintaining an empire for economic gain (Gosden 2004), in turn so as to show how much impact the discipline can have on political ideas.

Archaeology appears to have been greatly utilised by the National Socialist regime throughout its period in power from 1925-1945. Germany therefore gives a great insight into how alterations to archaeological views can be used to build a powerful nationalist or racial pride (Arnold 2006).

The excavations at Erdenburg hill fort in 1939 are a good example of archaeology used within politics (Arnold 2006). Buttler and Schlieff refer to the site as a Wallburg, which is designed to bear no relation to Caesar’s naming of the Celtic oppida (Arnold 2006 citing Buttler & Schlieff 1939), thus avoiding the association with the Celtic identities of other nations. The choice of Germanic tribe is also of great importance as the authors choose to associate the Wallburg with the Sagambri; referred to as “the invincible vanguard of free Germany” (Arnold 2006 citing Buttler & Schlieff 1939). This shows that archaeology could be turned into a nationalist cause for pride in ones’ history through selective readings of archaeological and ancient historical information.

The new Nationalist Socialist regime also attempted to tie itself to the history of the Germanic peoples through the building of monuments at specific sites, such as the Teutoberg Forest (Arnold 2006). This battle was viewed as the beginning of the decline of Roman Empire who were viewed by the periods’ German scholars as Nordic peoples being tainted by Semitic peoples (Arnold 2006). The governmental party even made the year of the Teutoberg Forest victory (A.D.9) become year 1 of the regimes calendar (Arnold 2006). Finally a monument was erected to Hermann in 1875, this was designed to commemorate Germany as a federation, as well as being another attempt to link the regime to a historical background through well known historical events.

The German Nationalist Socialist party also attempted to instil ideas of racial supremacy into nationalism through archaeological theory (Gosden 2006, Jonassen 1951). The rejection of ‘ex oriente lux’ in favour of ‘lux ex septemtrione’ (light comes from the North) is one major example of such an attempt (Arnold 2006). Wiwjorra for example mentions that the original light from the east theory was a conspiracy created by the Jewish and Freemasons (Arnold 2006 citing Arnold 1998); whereas other scholars such as Eisele argue that ex oriente lux came from areas such as Sumer rather than Israel (Arnold 2006). This could be seen as an attempt to disassociate the Jewish populace with anything related to the Nationalist Socialist regime.

Germany also used archaeological material to validate its reasons for invading Poland and Eastern Europe in September 1939 (Arnold 2006). The Slavic populations of Poland were represented as inferior to the Germanic race so as to justify the takeover and right to ownership of these regions (Arnold 2006). This however has been a representation of Slavic peoples since the early 19th century based on their contemporary way of life (Arnold 2006), suggesting that archaeology was utilised only to base this idea within a historical setting.

The political organisations within the party also suggest the importance of maintaining control of the archaeological record. Two divisions dealt with cultural aspects of the regime; AMT Rosenberg and SS-Ahnenerbe (Galaty & Watkinson 2004). The SS-Ahnenerbe had many roles, one of which appears to have been to promote the ideology of the party within museums in conquered territories. The Oldsaksamling (Antiques Museum), Oslo for example was such a place. Here the president of the university and 3 professors, which included the director of the museum, A.W. Brogger were arrested for not accepting imposed state ideologies within the city (Arnold & Hassmann 1995).

The above information shows that archaeological evidence can be extremely useful to politics with the formation of a new regime, by enhancing the idea of nationalism within Germany through the use of historical connections to events and material culture. The evidence also shows how new ideologies can be difficult to impose on conquered areas while political or popular figures remain. The examples above also demonstrate how archaeology can be used as a reason for conflict; Armenia continues this idea in a more modern perspective.

Armenia; a country located within the Caucasus region as shown in figure 1, has kept its national ideology since the collapse of the Soviet Union and utilises its history to pressure territorial claims on neighbouring countries, most notably Turkey (Kohl & Tsetskhladze 1995). The government of Armenia does not appear to have direct control over archaeological activity, but the local archaeologists themselves skew the view of the material culture in an essentialist way (Kohl & Tsetskhladze 1995). This essentialist archaeology is the view that, “cultures assume a distinctive shape that characterises them from time immemorial to the present” (Kohl & Tsetskhladze 1995). Kohl (1998) infers that this is a continuation of Soviet archaeological aims in relation to ethnos and ethnogenesis; where Soviet countries attempt to trace their origins to the lands on which they are situated so as to have a historical claim to them.

Armenia traces its heritage in a number of differing way, firstly through linguistics. A number of articles such as MESHAG suggest that Palaeolithic petroglyphs were partially utilised in the creation of the Armenia alphabet by Meshrob Mashtots in A.D.406 (Lindsay & Smith 2006). Secondly Armenia tries to associate itself with the Urartian Kingdom which existed as a state from 9th century BC to its collapse in the 700s BC (Kohl & Tsetskhladze 1995). These two examples however are conflicting; the Urartian Kingdom utilised cuneiform rather than the expected language. This has lead to the explanation that the original kingdom exercised the same area of control as Tigran II (below); linking both Armenia and its language to a territory within this empire (Lindsay & Smith 2006).


Figure 1: map showing Caucasus region and modern territories. (http://www.c-r.org/our-work/caucasus/images/map.htm)

File:Armenian Empire.png

Figure 2: Map showing extent of Tigran II empire (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Armenian_Empire.png)

Another nationalist idea of Armenia is that of its claims to territory (Kohl & Tsetskhladze 1995). This is based around the empire of Tigran II, as shown in figure 2 (above), an empire which lasted circa 50 years until the Roman victory in 59BC (Kohl & Tsetskhladze 1995). This map is shown in the Yeveran museum and is thought to suggest the idea of the retraction of the countries territory over time (Kohl & Tsetskhladze 1995). Others however view the map as a claim to historically owned territories, particularly in relation to Eastern Anatolia (Western Turkey) due to the countries’ recent pasts (Kohl & Tsetskhladze 1995).

The concept of “Historic Armenia” can therefore be seen as an attempt at reclaiming lost territories, but this idea has an adverse effect on the country and its relationship with neighbouring states such as Georgia as the ideological goal of ‘reconquestia’ is forefront (Lindsay & Smith 2006). The example of Armenia shows how archaeology can cause problems within international politics, risking their relationships with their neighbours for the idea of “Historic Armenia”.

Political ideas can also be affected by archaeology between indigenous populations and colonisers; an example of this is the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (Bruning 2006), passed in 1990 by the American Government.

Archaeology can also be affected by ownership rights to material culture, making political unrest likely in some areas. An example of such a political change can be seen in America with passing of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) passed in 1990 (Smith 2004). This act required the return of particular remains; most notably burials to the societies from which they were taken for repatriation funded by federal grants. There are however controversies which arise from such an act, the Kennewick Man case is the best known example in regards to the NAGPRA. The case began on the 28th July 1996 when a skeleton was unearthed and 5 different tribes claimed the Kennewick man as their ancestor but the expert that examined the remains claimed the body was too old to belong to any contemporary Native American cultural group (Smith 2004). The Umatilla tribe chose to continue with court proceedings until in February 2004 when it was ruled that the cultural link did not exist; allowing the scientific remains to stay for study (Owsley & Jantz 2001). This example shows that archaeological management by the government will always come under fire, particularly between those who claim ownership of said items.

Nationalism and archaeology are still being used in the modern period in countries such as France; where a combined Gallic identity is being used to enhance the ideas of a group identity within the territory (Dietler 1998). The three major sites are places where Caesar was defeated, or important anti-roman invasion events took place. These sites are Alesia, Gergovia and Bibracte respectively. These sites have been used as focal points to construct collective traditions for the nation since the 1860s (Dietler 1998).

The site of Gregovia for example has been monumentalised as the place where Vercingetorix won a victory over the Romans prior to becoming head of a tribal federation. This site has been monumentalised a number of times since its rediscovery by Colonel Stoffel under Napoleon III in 1862 (Dietler 1998). A small stele was first placed at the site in 1862 with the village of Merdogne also changing its name to Gergovie, but Napoleon III chose not to build a monument until 1870 (Dietler 1998); this monument was however utilised elsewhere and only in 1900 was a 26m stone monument constructed upon the site. This site was also important for continued national resistance against Nazi Germany as an archaeological facility, which existed on the plateau became a brief centre for resistance in 1940. The reasons for this resistance were based around an archaeological reasoning relating to the story of Vercingetorix (Dietler 1998). The occupying force also attempted to utilise the monument to link the Vichy government to France by running a large ceremony, but ultimately failed in their attempt to link P├ętain and Vercingetorix (Dietler 1998). The site of Gregovia was last utilised in 1989; suggesting a continued association with nationalist ideas as two European election candidates chose to start their campaign from this monument; emphasizing in their speeches continued French identity within Europe (Dietler 1998).

The second site to be discussed in relation to France’s national identity is Bibracte, used in a more modern setting although it was discovered in 1867 by Jacques-Gabriel Bulliot under Napoleon III’s creation of a Gallic identity; the site was not monumentalised until 1985 by Francois Mitterrand (Dietler 1998). This president resurrected Bibracte as a symbol of modern France’s identity. The site was excavated in 1984 and in 1985 Mitterrand officially monumentalised the site as a ‘national site’ and also commemorated Vercingetorix and Gallic unity with different monuments. In 1995 a large museum was completed at the site to display the associated finds where France’s “first act of history took place” (Dietler 1998). Finally the site was connected via a walkway to Alesia allowing a link to be made physically and mentally, in terms of national identity (Dietler 1998). The museum itself also contained a research centre, which was designed to allow France to share its Celtic heritage with the rest of Europe, and relating the Celtic tribes to the European Union. This suggests that Mitterrand wanted the idea of Gallic identity to be used in a more European setting in comparison to the ideas of Napoleon III and the Vichy government

Imperialism also utilised archaeology politically in an attempt to create cultural links with their colonies. Malta for example experienced rule by Britain from 1800-1963 (Vella & Gilkes 2001). Before nationalism began to create the concept of a Maltese nation, Britain and Italy were arguing over ownership rights through governmental parties. This led to Britain making an attempt at linking itself with Malta historically through their similar association with the Phoenicians (Vella & Gilkes 2001). Sir Gerald Strickland was one of the key figures in the creation of this inter-historical link through his use of physical anthropology and other historical sources relating to Phoenician histories of Britain by authors such as Colonel Laurence Waddell (Vella & Gilkes 2001). This shows how history and archaeology can be manipulated by ruling parties so as to establish connections with those it wished to control.

The opposition to British rule however, did much to discredit Strickland’s theory through the medium of newspapers and cartoons so as to emphasize pro-Italian ideas after the party’s defeat in 1927 (Vella & Gilkes 2001). The Italians then proceeded to create a journal to publish Maltese historical materials called the Archivio Storico di Malta; the preface of which stated that Italian scholars were in a far better position to understand Malta’s place in history (Vella & Gilkes 2001). The journal was later taken over by a propaganda Bureau so as to further promote the Latin heritage of the island. As well as the journal, cultural centres in both Italy and Malta began to open exhibits relating to the others’ cultural heritage, this furthered links between the two cultures (Vella & Gilkes 2001), enhancing the power Italy held over Malta through cultural similarities. The works of Luigi Maria Ugolini are also of importance in understanding Italian actions within Malta, who in 1931 began conducting research into Maltese prehistory through archival materials and site visits (Vella & Gilkes 2001). Ugolini’s major work on Malta was about ex medio lux or light from the centre, in an attempt to establish Malta rather than the East as the origin of the Neolithic; this idea was however largely discredited by various scholars as propaganda post World War II (Vella & Gilkes 2001). This suggests that colonial archaeology is extremely effected by political ideas, as much of the archaeological record is ignored or even hidden so as to create more intimate links between imperial leader and colony.

To conclude archaeology plays a varying role within politics dependent upon time period and the political regime under which the archaeology is being practised. Archaeologies relationship with politics will always exist due to its first conception, as part of the formation of modern nation states; consistently being associated with capitalism in the West and Marxism in the East. This means that archaeology will indeed always have some measure of political resonance, knowingly or unknowingly due to its role as an interpreter of the past and its material culture

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