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Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Emotions and Archaeology Part 3

My Own History of Archaeology and Emotion
In my experience, finding that you may have developed some kind of emotional attachment to subjects of archaeological study can be surprising but is nonetheless a very human thing to do. When you spend so much time researching different cultures deeply, you develop not only knowledge on a topic, but a degree of understanding about that culture. Sometimes you inadvertently come to have a closer attachment to some ancient sites, cultures or classes of objects over others because you “know them better” almost like an old friend that you have not crossed paths with for a long time. Archaeologists also frequently return to work on the same site in a foreign land year after year and so I also wonder to what extent do we emotionally connect our experiences of travel with a modern community in a distant land, with their predecessors and in relation to ourselves. Other countries and their customs can be strangely familiar and yet alien at the same time. Working with the ancient past can intensify those emotions all the more if you find yourself well acquainted with the distant past, and yet realise that ultimately it is after all but a reconstruction of the past. The reality is, that every step in an archaeological process from excavating and recording a site to writing about ancient things, even those rediscovered and excavated long ago involves the emotions of the archaeologist too, not merely the analysis of emotion in the ancient world. Emotion affects our thirst for knowledge. It affects our drive to explore the past. Our past emotional experiences put us on a path of discovery and they continue to affect how we relate to our own research.

I can even note the history of emotion apparent in my own research. My PhD thesis is on investigating the spread of chariots and chariot related technology throughout the ancient Near East; and beyond into adjacent regions from the Middle Bronze Age to the Early Iron Age. Clearly my own interests both emotional and intellectually have lead me to want to investigate this topic and write extensively on it. Certainly growing up on acreage on the urban-rural fringe of Melbourne where there are horse trails and people often have a horse or two must have contributed to a familiarity and emotional connection between myself and horses and horsemanship. Likewise, if not for my studies, mentors and emotional experiences in my studies than I would not be undertaking this research at this institution. In my final undergraduate year I took considerable care to draft some preliminary Honours thesis topics and email several of my lecturers for feedback. The feedback was invaluable but I realised all of my proposed topics involved cultures that placed a great emphasis on chariots and/or horses. So I decided to write on the origins of chariot warfare in the ancient Near East. This in turn inspired the next natural chapter in this narrative to continue my research. Although my current research is not centred around emotions per se, I can see how the culmination of a history of emotions and experiences has lead to me researching my thesis topic at this point. A history of emotions, a personal affective cartography, has inspired and driven my archaeological research.

Having turned the wheel full circle in a reflection on the study of emotions and archaeology, we now end where we began. Emotions are both an affect and effect of human experiences. They have implications across our society today, whether it be an instant of emotion in a moment for an individual to influencing a vast array of factors that influence our lives and our world. It must surely be true that emotion must have profound and far reaching implications on actions and decisions throughout history, and even beyond into prehistory. Therefore the study of emotions should be a useful discourse for those who research the past: whether historians, classicists, art historians, archaeologists or others further still. Unfortunately, emotion and rational intellectual discourse have long been considered antithetical to each other, if not mutually exclusive. More recent research, especially interdisciplinary study of the history of emotions is leading to more open dialogue about the importance and role of emotions in different human societies and the different disciplines which study these societies. This appears to offer archaeology as a discipline a new way for better understanding the ancient past and yet archaeology has been cautious to engage much with this emerging paradigm of writing emotion into our archaeological heritage. Why exactly this has been the case is difficult to say. In part the general academic aversion must be a factor. In archaeology this is exacerbated by the nature of a descriptive and analytical discipline focused around finds, in context, of material remnants of the past. The difficulties in defining emotion consistently, in ascertaining what would constitute archaeological evidence of emotion are also contributing factors. I think navigating the intricacies of emotions from ancient cultures vastly removed from our own in time and space presents a serious challenge of studying emotions for which we may not understand or have a parallel for today, something which is significantly more complex than studying an object or early technological process of which we no longer have an equivalent of today. The final challenge is for archaeologists to be able to identify and claim their own emotional interactions with their research and better understand the role of emotions not only in the lives of those that lived long ago, but in their own lives as well.



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Matt, Susan.
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Robinson, Emily.
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Stearns, Peter.
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Tarlow, Sarah.
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