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Few are called, even fewer are chosen
What's the first thing in your mind when you hear the word Archaeology?
The typical idea of people concerning archaeology is that it's an exciting
fast-paced, on-the-edge of your seat job, and that archaeologists are whip
cracking, Nazi foiling heroes.
The truth is that archaeology is a serious, and sometimes, mundane
profession, but there are some cases in which archaeologists may make
exciting discoveries, such as a tomb filled with treasure or the ruins of a
magnificent temple in the midst of a jungle. However, the discovery of a
few stone tools, grains, and even garbage may reveal even more about early
Archaeology is the study of the remains of past human cultures and
civilizations. Archaeologists investigate the lives of early people by
studying the objects those people left behind. Such objects include
buildings, artwork, tools, bones, and pottery.
Archaeology can be either placed under anthropology, the study of human
culture, such as in the Philippines and in the Americas, or be more related
to history, as the case is in Europe. This difference is due to the fact
that in some countries, there is a lack of written documents in which to
base history on. In these places, archaeologists are force to recreate the
past by studying the present condition of peoples and their surviving cults.
The main objective of present archaeologists has been to develop general
theories to explain the changes in human societies revealed by
archaeological findings. For example, archaeologists today look for reasons
behind the rise and fall of civilizations, and the development of trade and
commerce between ancient peoples.
A major concern in the archaeological community today involves the
preservation and proper study of archaeological sites. Many such sites are
threatened by construction projects, agricultural expansion, and illegal
artifact trade. Another major concern of archeologists from all over the
globe is repatriation. Repatriation is the returning of artifacts to where
it was originally found. On an international scale, archaeologists, in
cooperation with UNESCO, seek to stop the illegal sale of archaeological
artifacts. They urge nations to enact and enforce laws to prohibit the
import of ancient objects unless an export certificate has been obtained
from the country of origin.
The construction of the Aswan Dam in Egypt is an example of how economic
development and archaeological interest conflicts with one another. In the
1960's, Egypt, with its need for a regular supply of water, reliable
irrigation and cheap electricity, planned to build a dam that will control
the floodwaters of the Nile. With its completion it will form lake Nasser
which will occupy an area of 4,014 square kilometers and will completely
engulf the 3000 year old Temples of Abu Simbel, built by the pharaoh Ramses
II . Immediately, the world archaeological community responded by cutting
the temples from the mountain side into huge blocks and moving it to higher
ground. With the help of fifty countries and the archaeological community,
the temples were saved for posterity.
Sadly, the same cannot be said for the great losses that will come at the
completion of yet another ambitious project, the Three Gorges Dam, the
second object on earth visible from space. At its completion somewhere in
the next three to four years, the dam will stop the Yantze's destructive
floods, provide hydroelectric power for the country, and create an
artificial lake which will extend for hundreds of miles. This lake will
cover entire cities, both modern and ancient. When completed, we would have
lost a 2500 year old village, a magnificent wooden pagoda, historical
temples, various important archaeological sites, an ancient way of life, and
scenes of the three gorges that have inspired a thousand Chinese poets and
artists millennia before Christ.
The sorry state of Ankor Wat today is once again blamed on economic
problems. The country of Cambodia is one of the poorest in Southeast Asia
and its government cannot provide the funds to properly preserve let alone
restore the once grand and now dilapidated pride of the Cambodians. Due to
lack of money and government support, the ruins are left to the mercy of
illegal artifact traffickers who desecrate and steal pieces of their
countries heritage and sell them rich collectors from other countries.
Few are called, even fewer are chosen
The discipline of Archaeology in the Philippines is still in its infancy
and the practice is mostly confined to the personnel of the National Museum
of the Philippines. The National Museum is the only government agency
authorized to grant permits to individuals and institutions to conduct
archaeological expeditions and excavations. Aside from this function, it
also dispatches teams to the field to do the same. However, the office of
the Presidential Security Group (PSG) grants permits to individuals and
institutions to hunt for treasure in the country. This is in contrast with
the objective of the National Museum to preserve cultural material through
scientific excavation as opposed to indiscriminate diggings for materials
with high monetary value.
Another serious problem in the field of archaeology in the Philippines is
the lack of people who are willing and able to be archaeologists. Currently
there are only two. Due to the fact that archaeology is not very lucrative,
many are hesitant in entering the field, also, it takes up to at least six
to ten years to complete.
Despite the many setbacks, the University of the Philippines in Diliman,
in cooperation with the National Museum, has established a Archaeological
Studies Program, designed to provide the country with much needed
archaeologists. The program was established on August 24, 1995, and manages
Diploma and Master of Science/Master of Arts (MS/MA) programs in
cooperation with the different colleges of UPD. For the MS/MA degree
programs, one can either specialize in Prehistory, Historic Archaeology, or
By Lenard Stuart
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