A win­dow to our past

The Compass - - OPINION -

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.

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