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The Experience of Anthropology
June 8, 2013
12:00 pm

Points: 1906
Thanked 2 times

Heres the essay I've been talking about in The Lounge.  I just saw my grade for it (100%!  I'm soo happy!) so I figured I could go ahead and post it.  After I turned it in I read more of Into the Past and found a bunch of other things that would have been amazing to put in my paper.  Oh well.  There are also a lot of "Figure -" boxes with discriptions in them.  I had some pictures in my paper as well, but they didn't paste onto this document.  You can find a link to them in the Bibliography.  

Also, i realized after I made the post that I typed in the wrong title... the actually paper title is below :)


The Experience of Ancient History

            My greatest memories growing up involve crumbling walls, creaking old floorboards, and the air of mystery.  Historical forts were not any fun unless we got to go inside of them; inside the rooms where soldiers slept and died, and inside the rooms were ammunition and weapons were stored.  There was not a single crumbling piece of structure that I could look at and go “It’s enough to see the outside, why go in?”  Many years later I still have the same fascination with old structures and architecture as well as the people who built them, and I still have the same desire to have that “behind the scenes” look at all of them.  I never really understood the need to block off access to these places, and always wondered why my fun had to be ruined.  Now with my growing knowledge in the “study of old stuff”, better known as Archaeology, I decided to approach my problem from an archaeological viewpoint.  At least, that is what I believed at first.  Originally, my thesis centered on the idea that archaeologists needed to discover a way to preserve ancient or historical sites without taking the experience of it away from tourists.  After conducting a great deal of research, however, I decided that while providing tourists with a learning experiences is still a nice thought, the real issue is how archaeologist can preserve/protect sites and artifacts from both natural and human made threats.  Preservation while still allowing some form of human interaction is possible, but very limited depending on the site. 

The experience: Does it Really Matter?

As stated earlier, my inspiration for this was my desire to interact with older sites while I was growing up.    There was this old town in South Carolina named Charles Towne Landing with the original houses still standing that I used to go to as a child quite often.  Nothing inside the houses were blocked off or off limits, so my sister and I would usually take advantage of this and climb up the small, steep stairs that wound up into the attic which seemed to have acted as the bedroom at one time due to two old beds that still occupied the space.  Almost a decade passed before I was able to visit the house again, but by the time I returned things had changed.  Most of the house was now off limits to tourists and you could go no further than the entry way.  Another location that I was quite fond of growing up was an old fort named Fort Wetherill located in Jamestown, Rohde Island.  There is absolutely nothing stopping people from going on top of and inside of the fort.  The only things there that are newer additions to the area are some metal fences put in as railing on the higher parts of the fort and in attempt to block off other parts of the fort.  The fences are easily jumpable and not very sturdy; any gates with locks on them were torn down long ago and many other spots have holes where people decided to saw through or simply break the bars.  I would often go with friends to explore the outsides as well as insides of the fort and was one of my favorite places to go on the weekends while living in the area.  Looking back on my time at the fort I still miss it greatly, but failed to acknowledge an obvious fact; it was slowly being destroyed by tourists and explorers like my friends and me.  I had been around every inch of that fort; on top of it, each end of it from one side to the other, inside of the rooms, and even inside of the small tunnels connecting various parts of it.  There was not a single spot of that fort that had been left untouched by graffiti.  Even the rooms that were completely covered in darkness with no access to sunlight were covered.  The tunnels hadn’t been touched as much due to the small amount of space, but there were hardly any walls left untouched.  The insides of some of the rooms were missing bricks from the floor, and old rusted metal doors that were once blocking entry were lying in dented heaps on the floor.  In the darker rooms, where flashlights were needed to get around, there were candles and even old pieces of furniture and a microwave.  Many of the outside bunkers had all sorts of trash such as beer cans, glass bottles (many shattered) and spray paint cans.  It was all rather upsetting and while I loved being able to explore with no restrictions, what would happen to other places like Fort Wetherill if we were to have unlimited access to them?  In a book titled Archaeology and Landscape in the Mongolian Altai: An Atlas, the authors make a note that “although it may be difficult to pinpoint the reason for our discomfort in the face of human disruptions to an object or to a site, we sense that natural changes are fundamentally different from those wrought by human intrusions” (Jacobson: pp. 137).  It is true that if the fort were simply fading slowly due to erosion and other natural causes instead of man- made issues, I would feel differently about its destruction.  The fact of the matter is that destruction caused by humans can bring about the ruin of a site faster than that caused by nature.      

After coming to this realization, I decided that it would be best to see what others may think about the situation.  I posted in forums for the school as well as other sites that could bring in a good variety of answers, asking “as a tourist, what would you prefer?”  I received few responses, but they were very eye opening.  Not a single person said that they would want to interact with the site/artifact if they were a danger to it.  One individual responded to my post on the Viking Village Forum saying;

“I visited a site in Hawaii of old stone carvings on lava rocks, and they are insanely cool, but a lot of them have been worn down to near inexistence by tourists touching them, walking on them, etc.  If this continues for much longer, all of the carvings will eventually be gone.  This would just be tragic and awful!”

            I began looking for something to support my original thesis in published field notes and other works, but found no support and instead began to realize that my thesis was not approaching an issue from the view of an Archaeologist, but from the view of the tourist.  In a book titled Archaeology, Relics, and the Law (an edited volume) I found an article written by Tim Padgett titled Walking on Ancestral Gods that spoke of ancient Mayan ruins that were slowly being destroyed by their ancestors. 

“Parts of an ancient Mayan altar at which priests sacrificed sea turtles to the rain god Chac 1,000 years ago…today the stone is a trough for Dzib’s pigs.  In his kitchen he uses other precious altar blocks for sitting and cooking; at his back door a dozen more form a patio… ‘For my ancestors, the stones were very nice over there,’ says Dzib, pointing to the shrine. ‘For me, they look better in my house.  They belong to me, after all.’  Dzib’s attitude represents the latest threat to the peninsula’s famous Mayan ruins.” (Padgett 1989: 298). 

            It were these viewpoints and field notes in mind that made it obvious that my original thesis was created from the point of view of the tourist, who cares more for entertainment and amusement, instead of the archaeologist.  As stated in the beginning of this paper though, I still believe that archaeologists as well as other groups of people can, and have, protect sites while still giving tourists the ‘experience’. 


            One of the first places that came to mind when on the subject of tourism and conservation was Stonehenge; the famous and mysterious stone pillar structure located in Wiltshire, England.  While I have read various different answers on what the rocks that make up this monument could be made of, there was no one answer.  According to a Wiki Ask site, the Stonehenge is made up of 20 different kinds of rock that were added throughout the span of 1,000 years (Web 1).  It is important to know what type of rock the monument is made of because it provides some answers as to what kinds of threats it faces.  Does the rock easily erode away due to rain or wind, or is it sensitive to human touch?  The first collapse of the monument was reported back in 1797 which resulted in its long history of conservation.  Various methods were used in attempt to save the ancient structure, but the biggest changes took place during the 20th century when the site was blocked off to tourist and restoration work first began.  Eventually, restoration made the monument ‘safe’, but people’s access to it varied.  By 1978 the stones had to be cut off from human interaction due to erosion from the constant touch of human hands (Web 2).  Many people who walked by the stones would rub their hands along it, causing the particular spaces of contact to erode quicker than normal.  I also saw on a yahoo answers page that during the time that Stonehenge was open to the public, people vandalized it and would chip away at the stones.  It reminds me of Fort Wetherill in a sense.  If the stones had not been roped off then they would likely be in the same state as the unfortunate fort.   

The Great Sphinx

Figure 4: Here you can see the ‘bumps’ caused by weathering from rain and wind.  The protruding areas are made from harder limestone, while the rest is soft.

Another great architectural wonder that faces the threat of erosion and ruin is the Great Sphinx located in Giza on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt.  For the Sphinx, the biggest threat is the natural forces of weathering.  While tourists are allowed to get very close with a decent view, they cannot actually get close enough to walk on or touch the great monument.  The Sphinx itself is made of several different layers of limestone, and is located in an area that used to be deep underwater millions of years ago.  The layers of limestone vary from soft (sea bed) to hard (coral), and these different layers can easily be seen.  It is easy to see where weathering has eaten away at the soften limestone due to the ‘bumps’, or uneven layers, that can be found throughout the entire body of the Sphinx.  Similar to the process of building Mt. Rushmore, this great monument was carved starting with a large rock and then into the ground.  The harder layer has been able to survive better than the softer layers, but natural forces such as wind and water have slowly been eating away at it since it was first built (Glassman: approx. 15m).  The Sphinx has been buried and unburied many times by various people settling in the area.  Those who had discovered it made their own attempts to restore it to its former glory.  One pharaoh who discovered a piece of it in the sand had workers dig the rest of the Sphinx out of the sand.  There was also the idea presented by past archaeologists who said that the front and back paws as well as the tail were either not added to the monument until later, or there were attempts to restore them (if you look at the front paws of the Sphinx in Figure 3, you can see the separate bricks).  The reason for this was due to the fact that there were various bricks that made up the feet from various points in time and even from what appeared to indicate different cultures (Glassman: approx. 25m).  The deterioration of the monument has become an even greater concern to archaeologist within the past two decades due to increased humidity, rising water table, and air pollution.  The team working on the Sphinx’s preservation has made great progress, but it is unclear whether or not it can be protected forever (Web 4). 

While the threat of the Sphinx disappearing completely is of great concern to historians and archaeologists, there are other groups of people who have created new ways to monitor eroding patters, while others managed to preserve the essence of this great architecture by other means.  In his book titled The Future of the Past, Alexander Stille reports on both of these instances:

“Sitting at a computer terminal in Santa Monica, California, I watched the Great Sphinx of Giza take shape before my eyes as a wire-frame model, then grew a “skin” that showed not the half ruined statue that now lies in the sands of Egypt but the Sphinx as it may have looked at the time of its creation forty-five hundred years ago… Just a few miles away at the Getty Conservation Institute in Marina Del Rey, technicians have compiled data from a fully automated, solar powered monitoring station placed behind the Sphinx, measuring wind direction and velocity and relative humidity in order to study erosion patterns…” (Stille: pp. 3). 

            Stille reports soon after this that these people have also created a virtual reality for the tomb of Queen Nefertari, which was slowly falling apart into ruin due to human interaction.  While this virtual reality does not allow people to touch the walls or burial pots, it does allow them to walk through the queen’s tomb as if they were actually there.

Museums; taking steps to preserve history

                Virtual realities are just one of the ways that historians and archaeologists have managed to provide an experience for the tourist without presenting any harm to the site.  I spoke to a friend of mine about the issue of ‘experience’ versus preservation and he brought up a very good point when I asked him his opinion of tourists interacting with original artifacts or sites.

“Risking pieces of history, depends... risking it for students who are pursuing the field of study, MAYBE--given that special care is taken to keep the artifact safe. Tourist... I would, personally, try to avoid giving them the pieces, unless it’s a replica…” (J. Rodriguez, Personal Communication, May 1,2013). 

            One of the best places that I have been to that demonstrate the separation between student and tourist, but still offer the full experience of interaction, are the Smithsonian Institutions.  I have been to all of the Smithsonian museums in Washington D.C., Virginia and noticed some areas that were blocked off to tourists but looked as if some kind of class was being held.  I contacted the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History’s archaeology department and learned that they have an internship program.  The museums also have many replicas of different artifacts that are available to interact with, and plenty of videos and display cases with a great deal of information.  The display cases themselves are not roped off and you can normally get as close to the glass as you like; close enough to see a great amount of detail, but not close enough to cause any harm to the artifact. 

Is there an Ultimate Solution?

Figure 6: An interactive display at the Pacific Science Center.

            While the Smithsonian Museums have done an incredible job at protecting their artifacts while still giving tourists the full experience, there is one idea that I believe with the proper funding would provide the ultimate experience; having an archaeological museum with a set up similar to Seattle, Washington’s Pacific Science Center.  I have been to the Science Center only twice, but it is one of the greatest learning experiences I have ever had.  Not only is the museum filled with various displays in many of the different fields of Science, but there is an incredible amount of interactive displays.  How would having an interactive display keep artifacts safe?  The answer to this is one of the few reasons that such a project would need a great deal of funding; replicas.  Of course anything interactive would have artifacts replaced with replicas so that nothing is damaged.  An archaeological museum like this can be separated into various different sections that have a theme based on certain parts of the world.  For example, an area based on medieval times can have an entrance that looks like you are entering a stone castle and, while it is not made of real stone, the walls still feel like the real thing.  There would be many display cases with various artifacts in them, and one area dedicated to reenactment (much like a renaissance fair).  Another room can be based on Ancient Egypt, with virtual tombs such as the ones mentioned by Alexander Stille earlier on. 

            A museum like this can be a very difficult thing to accomplish due to the difficulties in funding that it would likely produce, but the learning experience and opportunity it would provide would be one of a kind.  I agree that the preservation of artifacts and sites is more important than the amusement of the tourist.  However, this does not mean that people cannot experience and interact with pieces of history; it means that we (archaeologists, historians, scientists) have to think ‘out of the box’.  The best ways to learn about history are to ‘see’ it firsthand.  Archaeological excavations and site preservation has to be funded one way or another; whether it is from people who actually care about the site/artifacts history or have ulterior motives.  My hopes, with a great museum such as this, are that we will make a difference to someone; it will inspire them to ‘care’ about history.  Maybe one day these people will be a part of the expedition to find the next King Tut.  Even though there is no way of knowing whether it would make a great difference or not, it is worth trying. 






Books or published works (3/3)

Jacobson, Esther., Meacham, James E., Tepfer, Gary.  (2010) Archaeology and Landscape in the Mongolian Altai: An Atlas. Chapter X: Cultural Significance of Mongolian Altai; Preservation of Cultural Landscape.

            ESRI Press, 380 New York Street,  Redlands, California 92373-8100 (pp. 138-137)


Padgett, Tim. (1989) C. Regulatory Protection of Private Sites: 1. Land owners and the Archaeologist as “Guest”.  Walking on Ancestral Gods Newsweek, October 9,1989.  Copyright 1989, Newsweek Inc.

In: Cunningham, Richard B. (1999) Archaeology, Relics, and the Law. Carolina Academic Press. 700 Kent Street, Durhan, North Carolina 27701. (pp. 298-312)


Stille, Alexander. (2002) The Future of the Past.

            Farrar, Strause and Giroux. 19 Union Square West, New York 10003. First Ed. (pp. 3-5)



J. Rodriguez, Personal Communication, May 1, 2013

Thoughts Inc. Survey (Posted April 28, 2013): http://thoughtsinc.net/forum/the-lounge-1/archaeology-paper-research-opinions/

Viking Village survey (Posted May 5,2013): http://vikingvillage.wwu.edu/topic/tourist-what-would-you-do


Online Sources:

Web 1: What type of rock is Stonehenge made from?


                Accessed May 30, 2013

Web 2. A Brief History of Conservation at Stonehenge.

            http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/education/resources/stonehenge/cons.....servation/ .  Accessed May 30, 2013.

Web 3 : http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20090512024443AAlj953  Accessed May 30, 2013

Web 4: The Sphinx .

            http://egyptsites.wordpress.com/2009/02/25/the-sphinx/ .  Accessed May 31, 2013

Video Sources:

Glassman, G. (2010) Riddles of the Sphinx [Film]. NOVA studios.

Pictures, graphs, charts:

Figure 1; Charles Towne Landing: http://www.panoramio.com/photo_explorer#view=photo&position=1564&with_photo_id=4165153&order=date_desc&user=808088

Figure 2: my photo.

Figure 3: Bird makes a home in one of the eroded holes in Stonehenge: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stonehenge_birds_nesting_in_megalith_cavity_April_2005.jpg

Figure 4: The Sphinx :  http://www.guardians.net/egypt/sphinx/images/sphinx-southeast-2001.jpg

Figure 5: Mummy in Smithsonian Natural History Museum: http://sisterhoodofthemuse.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/img_0657.jpg

Figure 6: Interactive display in the Pacific Science Center: http://www.schooltutoring.com/blog/wp-content/themes/parallelus-unite-blog/includes/timthumb.php?src=/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/science-centers.jpg&w=556&h=333&zc=1



Smithsonian Natural History Museums Web site:  Forensic Anthropology- http://anthropology.si.edu/writteninbone/becoming_forensic_anthropologist.html


"He who does not know can know from learning"
June 8, 2013
1:34 pm

Points: 12046
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Congrats! Gotta love those 100%s!

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Wine is bottled poetry. ~ Robert Louis Stevenson
June 8, 2013
3:09 pm

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tlhopkinson said
Congrats! Gotta love those 100%s!

oh yeah!:)

"He who does not know can know from learning"
June 8, 2013
5:51 pm

Points: 8478
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Your skills at Essay writing are tops. I hope you realize just how important those skill will be in your future. Your story telling from your childhood was interesting and written like a pro. From this paper I would guess that you will ace your class. The only thing that can stop you now is your motivation.

Good for you kiddo. You should be very proud.

P.S. Show-off!


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I am a man with one distinguishing manner. I view life as a nonstop roll by circus. Whatever my senses signal to my brain, it is received as humor.

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