Why does modern man place such importance on unearthing and preserving the remains of ancient structures – sacred or otherwise?
It would appear we, or more correctly archaeologists and historians, are obsessed with solving the mystery of the past peopling of the globe: but to what end and to whose benefit?
It was not always so. It is evident that early man, when they would encounter structures abandoned by prior tribes, had little interest in preserving them beyond any utilitarian needs. Indeed, they would mostly use them as a ready source of good building material – an early instance of recycling. Looting of ancient architectural sites for possible financial gain, too, has gone on since time immemorial.
Archaeology as a disciplined and scientific study has uncertain origins, but its early founder is thought to be Flavio Biondo, who created a systematic and documented guide to the ruins and topography of ancient Rome in the early 15th century.
As a consequence, vast and complex structures that housed and served past civilisations have been unearthed over the past few centuries, many evincing a highly evolved and advanced race of beings. These ‘cities’ were apparently abandoned while in perfect form, their inhabitants seeming to have mysteriously vanished. Theories abound. Notably, neighbouring indigenous tribes, while they were aware of the structures, had no interest in unearthing them fully or preserving them; its origins and that of its vanished inhabitants accepted as mysterious, but duly woven into their mythology and history.
Interestingly, in more recent ancient times successive conquerors would build upon or over a vanquished foe’s sacred site, stamping their own religion or belief-system there-upon. The intent was to destroy any vestige of the conquered foe’s culture. Quite often this would also involve subjugation and enslavement (if not the total annihilation) of that tribe and, once again, the recycling of suitable, useful building materials.
The mystery of really ancient civilisations’ structures and the inhabitants’ raison d’être remains just that – a mystery. Archaeologists, historians, scientists, theologians, ufologists and spiritualists all seem to have interesting theories for their rise and apparent fall. Believe what you will, as they are often at cross purposes.
But why do we unearth, document, restore and museum-archive stuff at all? The Ancients: Sumerians, Babylonians, Phoenicians, Egyptians, Persians, Minoans, Greeks, Romans, Francs, Celts, Assyrians, Incas, Aztecs, Olmecs, Toltecs, Mayans, Anasazi, Khmers and those of China and India all seem to have had no interest in this curious pursuit. Why is modern man now so fascinated with the past? Why do we feel the need to display and disseminate speculative ideas that spring from such research?
Why preserve and study them? Why not, as my heretical heading suggests, just pull them down (recycle). In many cases (Rome, Athens and Seville spring to mind) the ruins impinge upon central city planning and are a contributor to widespread urban sprawl. In some cases where they are too monumentally huge to bring down (the Pyramids of Giza?), we could at least stop spending resources on them and let nature again swallow them.
Whatever the reasons were for the decline and fall of these civilisations (and the jury is still out on all of them), the work of our aforementioned experts in this area over hundreds of years has not helped bring us any closer to understanding how we may live together more harmoniously on this planet. We still wage wars and kill each other in the pursuit of resources and power. While we obviously ‘know’ more of the past now, all that research has benefited us little, if at all.
Perhaps the experts are in league with Museums, looking for treasures (loot) with which to decorate their grand halls (we’ve been in many a museum stuffed to the rafters with antiquities).
Some experts will, of course, still be doggedly pursuing answers to our very existence here today; seeking some ‘truth’ as yet unfound. But perhaps, and this would fit with our current pecuniary society, the truth lies also in the value of these ancient sites as tourist draw-cards – profit-making entities cloaked in the mantle of science and history while tempered with theorists’ psycho-babble, all of which combines to whet our collective appetite. Antiquity as profitable entertainment.
Should you, the reader, have conclusive, evidence-based explanations for the abandonment and collapse of ancient civilisations (not all suffered inundation by great floods, burial by volcanic eruptions or lost their water source) please do let me know as – I have to confess – I am secretly fascinated by the study of antiquity even if it has taught us nothing . . .