Friday, November 13, 2009

The Archaeological Site, Piece of Living Land

Archaeology is one of these disciplines which seem to contain a contradiction in its own essence. In spite of being destined to study the living nature of human civilisation – especially if we consider burial rituals as a living interpretation of the dead -; the site’s medium is cold and dead material. However the archaeological site itself is anything but deprived of humanity. This becomes particularly visible when it is imagined as the central point of a wide circle of human lives.

The particular case of the Park Safari animal graveyard makes us realise how an archaeological site is part of a living land. In the distance during the afternoon, we can hear the echoes of the guns fired by hunters not far away. The site become a element of the local community; people come around to see what it is all about, bringing with them their own stories concerning the site and its previous occupants. We have been witness of such phenomenon as a local stopped to tell us that he know the previous owner of the zoo, adding his own interpretation of what was dug, all that while realising he is acquainted with Liz, one of the archaeology students. We may expect that the word will spread around: “Did you know that there is archaeologists digging in farmer X field? Yes there are hoping to find…” a phenomenon which surely exist for every archaeological site in the world.

But there is also another circle of human interactions that need to be considered around the site: the group of archaeologists, students in archaeology, teacher-assistants. For them, for us should I say, the site is much more than just an assemblage of material. It is certainly a part of our life to which we refer in our conversations elsewhere. The site is also a centre where we share glimpse of our own daily life, chatting around our trowels. For us, the site is an escape from McGill benches, a cookie break and a stinky mud puddle, from which come out much more than just artifacts: a group feeling, friendships, laughter.


The McGill team

In spite of aiming at dead material, an archaeological site is a living matter. The experience lived by the local community – which needs to be enhanced through visits and promotion – and the archaeological team is the most vivid proof of this phenomenon. In fact, it is through its humanity that a site like the park safari takes its full dimension; by being incorporated in the society which produced it and kept it alive in its living memory. Not only does it enables a better knowledge of the past of the site, but also enhances its meaning, why doing archaeology if it is not for the people surrounding a site…

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