31.03.2020 in Analysis
Archaeology and National Identities

The modern globalized world is a unipolar human civilization in which several economic and political blocs exist. Therefore, nation states will become an integral part of the modern democratic human society, which dictates major standards and norms of political and economic co-existence. In this connection, the English language has proved to be the major language of the international communications and democratic virtues become more and more apparent, sidelining national identities, cultural diversities and even national treatments of historical events of the past, native traditions and customs. At the same time, modern Archaeology has enhanced its significance in the world’s society as the major modern scientific method in searching for evidence of historical truth for understanding the past and present of the human civilization. Archaeology is a political, ideological and national element of each modern nation because no nation lives without the past. If any nation does not cherish Archaeology, it transfers from the science into business. This nation sells the past losing its future. At the same time, Archaeology helps people define their national identity, create foreign and domestic policies and enhance social, political and cultural climate in the country.

The modern Archaeology closely links with the state, in which it develops. The contemporary life has brought many changes for improving the further development of the major methods and scientific principles of the modern Archaeology, but its purposes remain the same. The major goal of Archaeology is the discovery of historical evidence in the shape of various artefacts and documents for the further analyses of events, which took place in the certain country and the whole historical epoch. It is impossible to image any modern country without historical museums, which exhibits are the heritage of the whole nation. It gives citizens and guests of the country a splendid opportunity for studying and understanding some interesting and even unknown facts from the past. Therefore, visits to museums become real travel through the time, in which a human being turns into a witness or observer of historical events happened several hundreds or thousands of years ago. Of course, it would be impossible without the Archaeological science, which discovers, researches and demonstrate historical artefacts and other masterpieces of the human mind and labour. Each modern country is interested in the further development of the archaeological science because otherwise, shysters will turn it into their profit business.


As Christopher Tilley states, the Archaeological science plays a crucial in the modern world “because it entertains, educates or stimulates ‘us,’ it allows ‘us’ to understand the achievements of humanity or the symbolic unity of the earth’s population in terms of its common roots”. Therefore, humanity researches the past to learn from it making scientific and political decisions and cherishing the past for the sake of the future. Of course, the human civilization should keep in mind and cherish the past for educating the future generations. In this connection, the past of any nation becomes the world heritage. Therefore, numerous ancient monuments including the Coliseum of Rome, Egyptian pyramids and Machu Picchu are examples of such an approach of the world community to preserving them for the future generations. At the same time, many other wonderful masterpieces of the mind and labour of the human civilization can easily become victims of the human ignorance, political or religious fanaticism, and elementary inadvertency while conducting agricultural, construction or other works and looting the sites.

As Colin Renfrew and Paul Bahn state, “In China Chairman Mao used to urge that the past should serve the present”. Although the Chinese made numerous excavations all over the country, the Cultural Revolution liquidated a great many very valued historical artefacts because of their belonging to the rich, who oppressed the working class. The similar barbarian attitudes emerged in Afghanistan when in 2001, the Taliban had liquidated “two giant Buddhas, carved into the sandstone cliffs at Bamiyan in the Hindu Kush perhaps in the 3rd century AD” and India when in 1992, the Hindu fundamentalists had destroyed the Babri Masjid Mosque. Therefore, the modern Archaeology is the social, political and ideological phenomenon, which closely ties with the people of the country and reflects all historical and political events emerging there. Thus, the abovementioned liquidations of the historical monuments could take place because the ruling parties or religious leaders did not consider them as any valued historical subjects. In the result, the world lost many ancient Chinese literary works, the highest Buddha’s statues and the wonderful Babri Masjid Mosque.

Imperialist colonialism was the next major reason for the emergence of many shameful facts how conquerors robbed their African, Asian and European colonies. As Renfrew and Bahn state, in the nineteenth century, a British, Lord Elgin visited Greece, which was a Turkish colony at that time. He “removed many of the marble sculptures that adorned the Parthenon, the great 5th-century BC temple that crowns the Acropolis in Athens”. The Turkish colonial administration did not value those ancient Greece sculptures because both Greece culture and European virtues were alien to Islam. Lord Elgin sold them to the British Museum. Nowadays, Greece demands the United Kingdom to return its national heritage. The similar event happened in Egypt when it had been a French colony, and the French moved away from it numerous sculptures, documents, artefacts and other values historical exhibits. As Renfrew and Bahn state, “The Berlin Museum… holds the famous bust of the Egyptian queen Nefertiti, which was shipped out of Egypt illegally”. The British Empire made excavations in almost all its colonies to move the most valued artefacts away, and so did Moscow in the former Soviet republics excavating burial mounds or even taking away exhibits from local museums. It is the essence of the imperialist policy in Archaeology.

Different individuals have different attitudes to their past. It follows that such a major human community as a nation unites human beings by traditions, culture, religion, language, moral duties and the common past. Since an individual cannot live without his or her past, then the past can define the personal identity of the certain individual within the country. As Renfrew and Bahn state, the modern Archaeological science plays “a role in the definition of national identity where the past is used to legitimize the present by reinforcing a sense of national greatness”. When the past belongs to foreigners or any alien civilization, any state will not cherish this past and nor conduct any excavation for studying it. Some people could make the looting of sites for selling artefacts to foreigners. In this case, when Archaeology ceased to be the extension of the state policy or ideology, it will become a profitable business despite the whole damage it could bring for the further researches. In the best case scenario, the governance can issue a payable permit to make excavations within the certain limited area of the country. It can prevent some damages of sites, and many artefacts will be available for researching. At the same time, the state can control the whole excavation for obtaining precious things, which could be found out.

In his Chapter, “The Gulf Arab States and Their Archaeology,” Daniel T. Potts narrates briefly historical events in the Gulf Arab for better understanding the development archaeology in those countries. According to him, representatives of many ethnicities and nations have settled there since the prehistoric times, and nowadays, “the Gulf Arab states were not really touched by the forces of archaeological inquiry until the discovery of oil brought an influx of skilled foreign labourers”. Therefore, the lack of the sufficient education retards the further development of Archaeology in any particular country. To make things worse, neither the United Kingdom nor France, which had some colonies in the Middle East and North Africa, had any antiquities department in the Gulf Arab state. Therefore, foreign labours became first people who saw many interesting things in the region, and it allowed T. G. Bibby and a Danish archaeological expedition to conduct archaeological researches of the Arab Gulf states. In 1968, Bibby asked a governor of Bahrain for some material help for archaeological needs and got a positive response. As Potts claims, “By supporting scholarly, scientific investigations into local history, Gulf State governments are inevitably seen to be enlightened”. In the result of such archaeological expeditions, the Western scholars discovered “that the original, pre-Arab population of the area was ‘Hindi’” . Finally, it formed a public opinion that no matter who had lived there before the first Arabs emerged in this region of the world, contemporary inhabitants visits museums with the feelings of pride for the past. Thus Archaeology forms the national identities if the state policy takes part in research and is interested in the further peaceful life all multinational and multiethnic people.

In his Chapter “Politics and Archaeology,” Amos Elon draws attentions of his audience to the fact how Archaeology impacts on the further political, cultural, social and economic development of a nation. The author depicts events, which took place in Israeli in 1928 when some immigrants from the Soviet Union went there to work and live. There were many various political viewpoints among Jews, who arrived there from almost all countries of the world. The first thing, which the Jewish people made, was the revival of the Hebrew language. The first Jewish leaders were great collectors of historical exhibits and artefacts, which were there in a great amount. They formed a cult of artefacts, which began to determine the further development of their national culture. Thus the Archaeological science became an integral part of the social, cultural and even political scope of life in Israeli. According to Elon, “the apparent obsession with ancient Jewish sites and artefacts grew out of the feverish search for identity – a secular identity”. At that time, Archaeology was the most desired subject to unite the whole Israeli nation, and when the huge inflation had taken place, under the influence of national archaeological achievements, Prime Minister, Menachem Begin implemented a new national currency, shekel as the image of ancient Israeli money. It was one of a few decision unanimously maintained by the whole nation.

The Archaeological science always had and still has a very significant meaning for the further development of any human society. First of all, it defines the national identities of some individuals or ethnic groups and the whole particular nation, as well. Of course, the state policy has a great impact on Archaeology, but the certain norm should exist lest the national state become the real enemy for the rest of the world like Nazi Germany of the 1930th. Each modern state should develop Archaeology for educating, understanding the past and finding correct decisions in the future. At the same time, nobody should turn Archaeology into any cult or instrument for gaining some domestic or external political goals. Moreover, when somebody can use Archaeology for rewriting national history by manipulating with historical facts for creating myths about super humans, and then it would cause real wars, disasters, famines and even the disintegration of that country.

Related essays