A window to our past
By now, it’s common knowledge that Carbonear Island is finally surrendering its artifacts.
This summer, an archaeological dig has been taking place on the island at the mouth of Carbonear harbour.
Well-known archaeologist Roy Skanes, along with his six-person team, have been making regular trips to the island. The first artifacts were brought back to shore two weeks ago. Already, nails, smoking pipe stems, earthenware, tin glaze, bricks, bones and part of a wine bottle have been retrieved. Who knows what might turn up next? The dig is being financed by grants from the province, the Gill-Ratcliff Foundation and the Town of Carbonear. Their contribution is vital to the project. Whether or not another dig on the island goes ahead next year depends largely on funding.
Archaeology is not a pastime that turns up useless artifacts to be gawked at in a museum. Yes, such finds should be made accessible and attractive to the public. It’s exciting to look at what was once underground.
But there’s much more to the discipline. It’s a serious endeavour that is eminently worthy of investment by funding agencies.
Martin Carver notes, “ The past is the basis on which contemporary society has been built.” He suggests that archaeology has human value, community value and market value.
Human value is information unearthed that provides a reasonable portrait of the past. Community value is the contribution to modern society. Market is the economic worth of cultural heritage in general, and archaeology in particular.
Archaeologists must have substantial funding in order to operate. That funding is not always easy to come by. Governments often make contributions, as do institutions such as the Gill-Ratcliffe Foundation. Such investors should be acknowledged for their wise involvement, and encouraged to fund future digs. But more is needed. Perhaps the public needs to be convinced of the long-term importance of archaeological discoveries not unlike those on Carbonear Island. Once convinced of the value of the discipline, they themselves can then lobby on behalf of the professionals who are intent on providing us with a window through which to view our past.