Thursday, 8 September 2016

The "cultural heritage" group neurosis 19: GroupThink analysis and examples (vi)


For the GroupThink chart, see section (i) in 31st August post

Box C: Symptoms of GroupThink

C2. Closed Mindedness.

Unlike most governmental, military, or business occurrences of GroupThink, archaeology has some extra dimensions. As a discipline, it is far more theory-laden than other disciplines, even theoretical physics, because it not only follows various general philosophies but adds a number of its own. Of all of its homegrown theories, context is the most idiosyncratic. Instead of using context in its normal, English language, definition, which would be a very sensible thing to do, it picks at its central point, the archaeological site. What is found within the archaeological site are designated as objects, but the site itself is only so designated when a number of related sites are included in any study. Then, it is commonplace for archaeologist to make the claim that an object without the association of the other objects at an archaeological site loses a great deal of its information. However, when the focus is the archaeological site, that information is primarily about the site and not so  much about the cultural content of any object within it.

This is easily demonstrable with all of the cultural property laws which define ownership according to where an object was excavated. Thus a Greek pot in the U.S. that was known to have been discovered in Italy but was made in Athens, if "repatriated", goes back to Italy. Ask yourself where Greek culture is best expressed: Greece or Italy? If the same pot was discovered for sale in the U.S. under suspicious circumstances and the find spot was unknown then it could be repatriated to Greece. The term "cultural property" is illiterate. It is really "national property".

Furthermore "culture" is anchored in time and is recognized as its objects being the property of the people currently occupying that modern country. The Elgin Marbles were allowed to leave Athens under the authority of the Ottoman Empire which had occupied Athens between 1458 and 1830 when the Ottomans relinquished their control of the country. Elgin took possession of the marbles in 1801. Yet, quite often, while saying that cultural objects are the "cultural heritage" of the people in the modern nation where the find spots are now located the people are not free to own them. As they belong to "everybody" the state looks after them for the people. In any practical sense, they are state-owned and many of them are not on display for the people to see, and if they want to put a picture of one of them on a T-shirt, its copyright is owned by the State and the State charges its people to depict their own property. The loophole is that a photograph of an object is the copyright of the photographer and only work-for --hire photographers might be allowed to photograph such objects in some jurisdictions. If a photograph is taken by an independent photographer it can then become that photographer's intellectual property (other than in Egypt, apparently). Data, however, is internationally uncopyrightable. So the description of an object does not belong to the author, but the visual image does belong to the photographer unless he is paid by someone else to create the photograph. Many of these laws are in a state of flux, of course. Images of two dimensional objects of a certain age are considered to be public domain, but most often sculpture are not included because they can be photographed "artistically:" from different angles. Bas-reliefs and coins, etc. are a grey area as they can only be properly photographed from the front, just like a painting. I also remember the Museum of London prohibiting people from drawing any of their exhibits. Like Egypt, the ownership of an image of a work of art is now the property of its owner.

The cultural content of any object also slips in importance  to its material content contexts:
"Right from the beginning our position was clear: not until much more was known about the Gundestrup cauldron itself and its material aspects, so to say, would it be sensible to consider such intricate points as age, origin(s) and cultural setting(s) of this unique artefact."
Svend Nielsen, in the introduction to: The Gundestrup Cauldron: New Scientific and Technical Investigations, (various authors), Acta Archaeologica vol. 76, 2005, pp. 1–58
Yet many of these considerations are about the environment of the find and materials that might well be much more recent than the cauldron in its original form by way of being additions, repairs, replacement parts etc. A good example being the beeswax backing of the plates. The real cultural content of the cauldron being both the art and the iconography. Its geographical origins as an object, are considered to be Thracian as the workmanship is certainly in the native Thracian style. It is still not understood by archaeology in general that artists followed markets rather than that their clients went to visit them, or obtained the object through "trade". In some cases, this is well-known. for example a great number of eastern Greek artisans moved to Etruscan Italy (which was already quite a cosmopolitan centre) to escape from the Persian domination of Asia Minor. Much of the genesis of early Celtic art owes much to the styles of such people that they brought with them. In Britain, trade is dismissed by Martyn Jope for the arrival of Early Celtic art there because of the lack of continental examplars and he says that it arrived in the hands and minds of artists trained in continental workshops. The Witham shield, for example contains southern Italian workmanship. There are a number of objects of Etruscan and/or Italian origin that have been found in bogs in Denmark, including the same bog where the cauldron was found. In my forthcoming book on the subject I will not only give very strong evidence for its manufacture in northern Italy by immigrant Thracian craftsmen, but will also fully interpret the iconography as a unified theme with Dionysian and Celtic syncretism expressed in Thracian styles using many Italian models. I will also tie this into the recorded history of ancient Italy and identify the various cultural groups involved in events that are symbolized on the cauldron, a record of such objects leaving Italy, and the date of the cauldron estimated to within about twenty years in the first half of the third century BC, but proven to be within a range of about 90 years. None of this could be determined by using the scientific methods deemed most important in the above paper and the correct results could not even follow from such evidence. Vincent Megaw thought my ideas were "better than most" and Raimund Karl, after I discussed them in depth with him, said:
"This your theory about the Gundestrup cauldron date, origins & imagery I actually like quite a lot, and find quite convincing. I'd have to follow Vincent Megaw on this, it is definitely one of the most convincing theories about the origins & meanings of the Gundestrup cauldron I have seen so far! In fact, I may go even further and say that - without going through the other main theories again with a fine comb and comparing them to yours - it may even be the most convincing proposed so far!" (Celtic-L)
But don't worry, Ray and I still have lots of disagreements about related matters so these  topics are still very viable. As he says: "ends are usually "dead ends".

While some of the evidence is fairly obscure, a lot of it will seem very obvious to anyone reading it and perhaps they will wonder why none of it was even considered before. I can answer that quite easily: in most archaeological studies materialism is favored far higher than any other factors. Trade is preferred over migrating artisans because the material proofs of the latter are mostly unobtainable: objects can be seen to have moved more easily than people. Art-historical matters are treated with suspicion by many archaeologist as "subjective"and were largely abandoned before art-historical methods became far more objective and mathematically provable (through evolutionary cladistics utilizing overlapping  features of many design elements), and of course, mythology is still widely believed, by archaeology to be "primitive science" instead of  human psychology-based metaphor. We also have to consider that many archaeologists come to that subject because of their materialistic psychology, the same factor that separates Newtonian, classical, physics from quantum physics (where many even doubt the existence of the material in the extreme microcosm).

Theories, academic house-styles, and cliques often define sub-groups within archaeology, but how they manage to remain cohesive will be introduced in tomorrow's post which will be on C2a) Collective rationalization, and C2b) Stereotypes of outgroups in the chart.


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