Thursday, 5 June 2014

So speak, you dead: thoughts about archaeology. 11 ― recruiting the dead

waiting for their pay in the churchyard of
St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square,
London, August, 1914

History has remembered the kings and warriors, because they destroyed; art has remembered the people, because they created.

William Morris

Cultural heritage is a twentieth century term that should mean the adoption of earlier cultural icons, traits, objects and interests by a later culture. However, its applied meaning is the discriminatory adoption of earlier cultural icons, traits, objects and interests by a nation now in control of lands where the former culture once existed. The majority of artistic works claimed as cultural property are so claimed by states who offered very little support, if any, to the artists who made them. The state believes that if you have a very ordinary idea, then it is yours and then your designated heirs to do with as they wish, but if it is a very good idea then it will belong to the state and will be used to promote their own greatness. If you have been following my blog and did not reach this page through a Google search, then you will have already read a quote from my late wife Carin Perron who, referring to Canadian poets who suffered poverty during their lifetime but are taught now that they are dead, said "Canada devours its children and then worships their bones".

Picasso expressed true cultural heritage in his later styles after he became impressed by the African masks that were being sold on Paris streets by vendors from French Africa. It was the art that influenced his choices and not the fact that France had come into control of the lands occupied by the tribes who had expressed their own culture in those masks. The carvers of those masks had not produced them for their own use, but to sell to tourists or distribute to wholesalers much in the way the Canadian Inuit artists had started supplying the Hudson's Bay Company with soapstone carvings (at a very low cost) to be sold in their stores (at a very high price). Ancient Greek artists sought out whatever markets could best support their work. Sometimes the work itself is what travelled ― shiploads of painted pottery travelled from the countries of origin to other places in the Greek world and beyond, but sometimes it was the artist and his workshop that moved to take advantage of foreign patrons or when their styles grew less popular in the local market. Ancient coin and antiquity collectors express literal cultural heritage in their purchases by their decisions on what to buy and their subsequent descriptions of these objects. We all use true cultural heritage when we say the word telephone which is also Greek for "voice from afar".

The following Ngram shows the usage of the term cultural heritage from data supplied by Google books:

The use of the phrase in English language books started to increase at around the end of the first world war, but did not become an icon (as indicated by its capitalization) until about the end of the second world war or when UNESCO was founded. Its steep rise as a general (non-capitalized) term suggests, if Machiavelli was right, that subsequent falls could be just as dramatic (gradual increases are more stable), and you see a fall during the first half of the eighties which was a time when postmodernism and individuality found much expression. That dip is not reflected in the capitalized iconic form, Cultural Heritage. The smoothing, in this chart is set to 3, but if you set it to 1 you can see a slight increase in the capitalized version during the time of the decrease of the lower-case form. At the very end of the chart at about the year 2000 you see a levelling which might even be the start of another dip.

While the political use of cultural heritage has invested the state with ownership and control (not always in a positive manner) of its formerly ethnic and non-nationalistic cultures, ethnicity as a definition of culture is showing indications of being replaced, in anthropological circles, with cultural frameworks and cultural frames. which are cultures expressed by people and not imposed upon them. These cultures are very specific and reflect personal interests (such as "hip-hop culture", where culture is named or "philately" where culture is not named but still has cultural traits such as a common nomenclature). Any individual can be seen to have multiple cultural frames which can include nationalism and ethnicity but does not indicate any relative importances of any of its expressions other than particular frames are shared with more or less people. The next Ngram shows variations of cultural frames and frameworks. Note the same dip in the first part of the eighties for the singular expressions. The plural expressions are more iconic, but not as iconic as when a term is capitalized:

Combining all of the terms, we get the following Ngram:

The adoption of the term cultural heritage showed a gradual increase from about 1915 to 1925 and that same gradual increase is seen in the usage of cultural frame variations from about 1940 to 2000 which is much longer period and indicates a more stable transition. As it is impossible to learn from history, we cannot positively project any future changes to this Ngram. Only after the fact is it possible to assign causes. A gradual instead of meteoric rise is, however, a good sign as nothing becomes so quickly dated as fashions.

When organisms' survival is threatened, the threat is met with propagation. Any gardener knows that if you fertilize your pepper plants too much and too late, you will get a profusion of leaves which the plant implements in order to gain more water and thus grow bigger, but you will get very few peppers which contain the seeds for the next generation. As the idea of cultural heritage is waning in academic circles in favor of more discrete, localized, expressions of culture, and as modernist archaeology is giving way to more postmodern views, the old guard start acting like the pepper plant. Instead of leaves, they grow more dogma for their "nutrition" and their ideas do not evolve at all. All knowledge needs change to evolve and changes are the seeds of its propagation.

Extreme cultural change in nationalistic aspects of culture is most dramatically expressed in dictatorships, and archaeologists frequently serve as handmaids to dictators as is shown in  Galaty and Watkinson's (ed), Archaeology Under Dictatorship. Chapter 9, "dealing with the Devil ― The Faustian Bargain of Archaeology Under Dictatorship, by Bettina Arnold (and I am a fan of her work) says:
"While compromise is an inescapable aspect of life, it can constrain activity to the point where the basic tenets of a discipline are undermined requiring the practitioner to choose between prescribed practice and professional survival. this occurs on a kind of sliding scale in all modern nation-states engaged in archaeological research, but it is particularly marked in dictatorships, in which the operating principle is that the state determines the scope and focus of the production and dissemination of knowledge about the archaeological past." (p.191).

Accordingly, whenever you see restrictive measures proposed in the name of cultural heritage you should look to the degree of authoritarianism expressed by a state and to the dependence on archaeological societies or foreign states to the archaeologist. You should also look to the degree that their views change over time through the survival-indicating evolvement of their written work. You might also, as I described in the previous episode, also look to the degree of materialistic extraversion in their personalities and to the degree that they project their own prejudices on others instead of accurately assessing other's real views. All of the answers are there.

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