What is really archaeology for?

  • Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 February 2023 14:39
  • Written by Jean-Olivier Gransard-Desmond translated by Francesca Jourdan
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  • 30 May

How many times have we heard the following comments “Archeology is fascinating, but I think it is more useful to donate money for a healthcare or an NGO working in a developing country”. Of course, this choice seems obvious as archeology is still so much associated with dreams and a pleasant pastime with absolutely no consequences in our daily life. It is time to change this vision and to consent that archeology has got consequences in our daily life for more than two centuries now. Discover how archeology get a strong social impact in our daily lives and how it changes our understanding of the Stranger.

Excavations on the roman forum in ItalyThe social impact of archaeological research is only as strong as how it is used - it can contribute to the healthy development of a society or, on the other hand, it can build up barriers between people and create tensions which can take years and even centuries to overcome.

You seem surprised! After all, what is archaeology? Just a way to understand past societies. Is that really all? If for many archaeologists the use often stops there, it is far from being really the case in our societies where it provides the core material for the history lessons to children from grade school to high school, it supplies tourist guides with invaluable information as they could not do their job without it, it facilitates diplomatic relations with foreign countries thanks to archaeological missions under the authority of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in France for example, etc. The training of our children, our own individual construction base and many professions depend on the results of archeology.

That said, ask an archaeologist what impact he has on everyone's daily life or, more brutally, what is he for! Very often, it will be difficult to provide you an answer. This idea of some utility is not yet generalized in university training. However, since the emergence of archeology in the 18th century and the foundations of our European society resting on philosophical thoughts gathered since Antiquity, the archaeologists activity gave birth to many uses. As with any science, we would have done without some of these uses related to fraud and misappropriation of the scientific approach in exchange for results leading to a culture to justify its ascendancy over another: "Our ancestors the Gauls..." during the French colonial period, the Aryan myth in Nazi Germany and many other ideologies nurtured by actors in History (archaeologists, historians, ethnologists, etc.). In a society where only materialist mind is important, get to recognize the importance of the psychology and the value of the intangible remains is fundamental to avoid past mistakes..

The purpose of archaeology?
To produce knowledge for everyday use.

As a scientific discipline, the objective of archaeological research is indeed the production of knowledge.
We all use this knowledge.
Here are some examples.The role of archaeological research in words

At school

Archaeology provide material for History lessons for children, from grade school to high school. Its study fuels reflection on our origins and guides our view of the Other.. Archaeology also serves as a gateway to educate young people about scientific and technical culture. This awareness allows them to learn to think for themselves, to develop their critical mind, their ability to argue and thus to be better equipped in the selection of their studies, to vote consciously, to accept and respect The Other as a partner.
Finally, archaeology serves to build an inter-generational link where exchanging with the older ones becomes a playful way to learn about one's past.

When travelling

Tourist guides tours, audioguides, panels, etc. archaeology provides a material without which guides and editors could not do their job. If this reality is particularly true for prehistoric sites, the same is true for historic sites. The development of archaeological research has shown that while texts do not always provide complete information, their author determines its content. The most striking example concerns the mention delenda in texts from the 18th century. relating to castles whose destruction was only symbolic and not physical as the use of the word suggests. So, the presence of material heritage and therefore an archaeological vestige fuels all the economies revolving around culture. The video of the LeMonde.fr newspaper on The Parable Of The Tuileries. Public funding in culture and arts: A handful of positive economic aspects presents an example that should however has to be treated cautiously, as we pointed out back in 2012, but show archaeological research participates in the economic life of a place.

To protect cultural heritage

Archaeological research contributes to limit trafficking antiquities and art works through archaeological expertise
The activity of archaeologists with regards to matters of expertise with UNESCO, Interpol and specialized organizations is important to avoid the destruction of heritage places as much as the theft of art works. This destruction can lead to serious long-term consequences: loss of Memory with dilution of an identity, economic loss linked to tourism, spoliation of family property, etc.

To facilitate integration

Archaeology contributes to provide a job for youngers who, becoming aware of their rights and their duties towards society, as a scientist. Thanks to archaeology, the foreigners integration in a country, a region or a municipality is simplified. By providing them with the History of that country, region or municipality thus enabling them to understand them and vice versa by accessing to the History of Others to allow those who receive them to better understand their customs and habits.

To influence the new technologies introduction

We have everything to gain by using the experience of ancient civilizations to improve or help the development of populations around the world such as finding the past gestures and techniques thus making it possible to avoid wasting water or natural resources which are becoming scarcer.

To resolve social difficulties

International, archaeological research is a facilitator in diplomatic relations. Through its missions, it encourages scientific collaboration, which can then serve as an example to political representatives.< Archaeology also works to resolve social conflicts by working on historical distance.

It is thanks to archaeologists that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could perhaps be resolved in favor of peace. Indeed, willing to work together, Palestinian and Israeli archaeologists have clandestinely gathered so that the past no longer represents a dissension reason, but on the contrary, a gathering. Through the scientific approach of knowledge of the past, archaeological research helps bring people together instead of dividing them (Read the novel Archaeologists without Borders).

For more than two centuries, archaeological research has been influencing our daily lives by shaping our vision of the world and our environment. Depending on your field of interest (education, professional training, tourism, protection or diplomacy), archaeology can provide as much food for thought as answers.

Archaeology helps to answer the essential question for self-construction: Who am I? © Emdé - Les Bobinettes) Primary school book to learn History to middle-grade students titlet= The Wizard cave in Dordogne Limit trafficking antiquities and art works Archaeology as a tool for multiculturalism

Archaeological research that produces Knowledge affects the construction of our identity.
To deny it, is to regress. If our societies are currently declining, it has not to be our destiny.

CThe cross of pathways: Past, Present, Future With archaeological research,
let's improve our knowledge of the past
to better understand our present
and find solutions for our future.


Credits : ♦ Arpingstone - Wikimedia Commons, Domaine PublicEmdé - Les Bobinettes ♦ Hathier ♦ Jebulon - Wikimedia Commons, Domaine PublicUnescoInvestigation11111 - Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

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