To continue elevating the voices of the next generation of archaeologists, we’d like to share a brief thought from Miriam (17), one of our youngest students. Here she shares a vision for a future where archaeology illuminates the past rather than allowing our current social structures to be projected back onto history and prehistory.
To quash social, political, and gender segregation seems virtually impossible in today’s new age, despite the push for universal equality and the rise of acceptance and awareness of various societal flaws. For instance, the #MeToo movement and the extent to which Gay Pride has rapidly grown show that society is moving towards a better and more peaceful place. Such developments, however, do not mask humanity’s deep-seated prejudices.
When it comes to archaeology, Sir Richard Hoare said ‘we speak from facts not theory,’ a statement reassuring to modern archaeologists, however how much of it is fact? The distinct biases that manifest themselves within the population are deeply ingrained, ensuring that we even display tainted perspectives subconsciously. In the 1870s, Hjalmar Stolpe discovered a Viking burial equipped with a sword, spears and various other sharp weapons as well as two horses. The esteem of having horses and violent weaponry possibly for warfare, a universally-assumed masculine activity, was a clear indication to the archaeologists that the skeleton was that of a man before it was revealed in 2017 that it was in fact a woman. Such an error has raised serious issues regarding the modern understanding of Viking Age society, and it has also made archaeologists and historians question the divide between genders in the past and the previous societal roles of gender. The position of women, men, and trans or nonbinary/third-gender people in our interpretations of the periods that we as archaeologists are excavating shows how severely inequality and present political atmospheres can colour our perceptions of the past. It is true that in order for facts to be used to the best of our ability’s theory must be implemented, though bias is unavoidable.
Antiquarians, mostly wealthy European men, once dominated archaeology, hence much of the archaeology we now understand could be tainted by their privileged position within society. However, with the rise of different ethnicities and the increased opportunities for leadership of women in the archaeological field, a more wide-reaching understanding of historical civilisations can be achieved. While perspectives can still be biased based on environmental situations and upbringing of individuals, archaeology is drawing closer obtaining a deeper understanding of life throughout the centuries, pushing the modern world to understand and nurture equality in all respects. The archaeological field has become essential in dissecting and resurrecting the positivity of humanity’s existence.