Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Where the sun never sets...

Why can't there just be a disinterested interest in a place or time? The foundations of archaeology fall within the particular endeavor to pursue the origins of Western civilization, the zenith of mankind, whether it be from man the hunter to land of King David, or anytime or place in between, there is concurrently this interplay between the burgeoning field of archaeology from the 19th century and the  socio-cultural politics surrounding this condition. In the particular situation of archaeology in the 'Holy Land,' there is a concentrated effort based on the implicit interests pursued through excavation to further the presence of Western, Christian, Anglo-Saxon merits via tracing its origins.

Much of the earliest excavations took place under these conditions, whether it be in Palestine, Egypt, Turkey, etc. As Margarita Díaz-Andreu points out in A World History of Nineteenth-Century Archaeology: Nationalism, Colonialism, and the Past, the archaeological excursions in these regions were due to their links to the Bible and relation to the development of Western civilization. Ironically, in the strand of thought introduced by Edward Said, it appears that early archaeologists pursued the study of the other as an implicit study of us, i.e. the 'West.' To see what one is, one must see what he/she is not. Likewise, in the way of thinking that the West is at the pinnacle of humanity, seeking out the other, in the case of the biblical lands, is a means to seek our origins, albeit a teleological one. Origins imply a privileged outcome. Furthermore, a fascination and characterization with the other, is a form of exoticism that is more reflexive on the one who is defining that other. This mentality foregrounds the entire development of archaeology in the biblical archaeological narrative that Díaz-Andreu describes. For Egypt, it was the land of the other that was a predecessor to Rome, a main stepping stone of Western accolades: "...the attraction exerted by the Pharaohs' land was principally connected to its ties with the classical world--mainly the move of obelisks to Rome in the early centuries of the era--, the presence of spectacular remains like the pyramids and the romanticism of its association with the exotic" (137). It was to seek out those relations of Romans and Egyptians that inspired early archaeologists, as it was to pursue the biblical narrative elsewhere.

This plays out throughout the early archaeology of the region. Through exoticism as a means to preference the self and defining the rhetoric of archaeology in the holy land, archaeology developed as an extremely imperialist endeavor. These efforts, although in some way moved beyond by much of the archaeological community, has endeavored through political influence. Western perceived origins within the land was used to define political boundaries, and has continued to be prevalent in the national subconsciouses and the archaeology pursued under such mentalities.

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