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New Archaeology and National Self-Identification

Archaeology is the study focused on the past. The days of the past make a significant impact on the development of the present events. Moreover, the past is what shapes people’s identities. That way, the contemporary individuals mainly identify and act based on how the evidence of the past is viewed and presented to them. Renfrew and Bahn use an example of the reactions of an Australian Aborigine and a white Australian to fossil human remains found in their sites (535). This example illustrates that various cultural groups and individuals have different perceptions of the past and history. In other words, the cultural background and heritage of every group of individuals is based on their past and is tightly intertwined with their history. As a result, archeological findings may play crucially different roles for the self-identification of various nations and communities.

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New Archaeology

As pointed out by Tilley, the contemporary archaeology is different from what it used to be a hundred years ago (307). Over the last couple of decades, archaeology has shifted its priorities from history to science and started to be seen as the source of the “objective knowledge” (Tilley 307). One may notice that the new approach towards this study is rather materialistic than humanistic, and it looks like a search for some treasures instead of the connections between the past and the present. Elon emphasizes that the archaeological findings cannot and should not be viewed as objective information because all of them have to be interpreted, and the interpretation mainly depends on the individuals involved in the analysis of the unearthed evidence (35). Regardless of how objective an individual may attempt to be, they are still under multiple influences that come from their cultural and religious background, the events of their lives, education, or even gender and age.

Archaeology and its Connections to Social, Political, and Economic Aspects of Life

Elon also describes the attitude of the Jewish archaeologists and the Zionist people of Israel towards the ancient findings of their culture (36). The author shows that the things found by the archaeologists at a site became politically significant evidence and an event bringing the representatives of the Jewish culture together as a nation and making them proud of their identity. The power of archaeology regarding the formation of the identities of the new states is vital. The modern value of archaeology is far from objective or humanistic, on the contrary, it provides what is called “the technical control of the past” (Tilley 308). Moreover, Potts maintains that archaeology is an extremely complex system of knowledge and actions today that penetrates a variety of other aspects of a nation’s social, political, and economic life (194). As a concept dependent on ethics, archaeology often brings the researchers from different cultures together, which requires a great deal of tolerance and political correctness (Potts 193). Besides, the practice of archaeological investigation and research requires funding, and physical labor and that is how it penetrates the economic sphere of life of society.

The Identities of the New States

The newly developed countries have a common challenge – the search for the components of its national and state identity, something that would define and unite their people. That way, archaeology becomes a necessary tool for them to find their identities and features that make them stand out. Besides, another significant need of the new states is the need for patriotism and national pride. The countries with relatively young histories lack figures and events from the past they could use as national symbols and definitions. In such cases, archaeology is the source of national treasures. Such deliberate search for historical proofs of a culture’s definitions is clearly not objective. On the contrary, it is directed towards the location of various findings and the interpretation of their meanings and value in favor of the national identity.

When a highly culturally biased search like this is going on, the pieces evidence are pursued with determination. An unreasonable ignorance towards various facts may be demonstrated. For example, a new country looking for a definition and authenticity may be oriented towards the differentiation of itself from the surrounding cultures and the denial of any connections with them or any signs of cross-cultural impacts of the other societies. An example used by Renfrew and Bahn, describing the tragic faith of the Bambiyan Buddhas destroyed by the Taliban in 2001is a good illustration of such phenomenon (537). An evidence of a power and social impact of one culture was ruined by the representatives of another culture as a proof of the present dominance of the latter.


To sum up, archaeology is the study focused on the exploration of the past. However, in the modern world the scholars recognize a concept known as the “new archaeology” (Tilley 307). This new study has a scientific nature rather than humanistic one and targets material evidence that could be used as the source of political, cultural, social, or economic influence. The new states in the hope of becoming stronger in the world arena exploit archaeology as a tool for obtaining identities associated with power and unity.

Works Cited

Elon, Amos. “Politics and Archaeology.” The Archaeology of Israel: Constructing the Past, Interpreting the Present. Ed. Neil Asher Silberman and David B. Small. London: A&C Black, 1997. 34-47. Print.

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Potts, D. T. “The Gulf Arab states and their archaeology.” Archaeology under fire: Nationalism, politics and heritage in the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East. Ed. L. Meskell. London: Routledge, 1998. 189-199. Print.

Renfrew, Colin and Paul Bahn. Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practice. London, United Kingdom: Thames and Hudson Ltd., 2012. Print.

Tilley, Christopher. “Archaeology as Sociopolitical Action in the Present.” Critical Traditions in Contemporary Archaeology: Essays in the Philosophy, History and Socio-politics of Archaeology. Ed. Valerie Pinsky and Alison Wylie. Cambridge: CUP Archive, 1989. 305-330. Print.

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