“ARCHAEOLOGICAL ARTIFACTS ARE OUR NATIONAL IDENTITY”


An article in today’s New York Times describes how the National Museum of Afghanistan is attempting to rebuild its collections and exhibits after having 70% of its artifacts looted or destroyed. Mohammad Yahyeh Muhibzada, the museums archival head, is quoted as saying that archaeological artifacts are our national identity. Its our national responsibility to protect them so future generations will know who we are and who we were. Back in 2007, I wrote a column for the Columbus Dispatch in which I compared what was then occurring in Afghanistan with what happened in Ohio during the 18th and 19th centuries. The European Americans in early Ohio were not destroying our heritage out of malice, but the destruction was nearly as complete. That column is no longer available on the Dispatch webpage, so I am re-posting it here. ___________________ Archaeology bridges gap between modern people, past cultures What is the value of archaeology? Why should anyone care about the broken bits and pieces of past lives scattered across the landscape? Paul Minnis, an archaeologist at the University of Oklahoma, asked several colleagues this question. Their answers were published in the Society for American Archaeology’s November newsletter. One of the best answers was provided by Barbara Little, who edited a recent book on the public benefits of archaeology. She wrote: “Our history is an anchor, a vantage point and a library. Archaeology is the tool for expanding that history.” William Faulkner once said, “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.” This speaks to the enduring power of the past for informing and enriching our lives. Yet, as Little also observed, the power of the past can be abused as a weapon. In Afghanistan, for example, the Taliban destroyed ancient Buddhist statues and other relics in acts of archaeological terrorism. In a story broadcast last month on National Public Radio, Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reported that Afghanistan’s National Museum in Kabul was hit by rockets and pillaged by looters. Much of what was left was smashed by the Taliban. Now, however, museum staff members are working hard to rebuild this national treasure. They cut an inscription into a marble post in front of the building to express their faith in the sustaining power of their past: “A nation stays alive when its culture stays alive.” Rory Stewart, who directs a nonprofit group working with the museum, told Sarhaddi Nelson that the key to success was getting ordinary Afghans to reconnect with their heritage. In Ohio, during the 18th and early 19th centuries, European-American settlers destroyed many of the monuments erected by ancient American Indian cultures. The farmers and town-builders of that era simply didn’t acknowledge the earthen mounds and enclosures as part of a heritage they had any obligation to preserve or understand. Since then, several decades of archaeological investigation have added the achievements of indigenous cultures to our expanded view of Ohio’s history. Archaeological parks preserve many important sites, and museums display the artifacts made and used by hundreds of generations of Ohioans. These special places allow us to reconnect with our heritage, which did not begin in 1803, 1776 or even 1492. It began with the original discovery of Ohio by the first Americans more than 14,000 years ago. Bradley T. Lepper The Columbus Dispatch Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Posted January 13, 2014
Topics: Archaeology

eNewsletter Sign-Up