Archaeologists wreck archaeological landscapes and ancient silk road cities

Better not to name it, for fear of attracting more tourists, but this is a silk road city in Central Asia. It was opened up by archaeologists and then left in this condition. The excavators will have published a learned report on their findings. Then they left it like this – as a tourist attraction which the government can put into guidbooks, hoping to create jobs and attract hard currency which can be spent on weapons. Now the rain falls on the mud walls, the sun cracks them, the wind blows the dust away. Far better if the archaeologists had done something useful with their lives, instead of running university courses to teach other archaeologists to support the tourist industry.

11 thoughts on “Archaeologists wreck archaeological landscapes and ancient silk road cities

  1. Stephen Harmer

    We need to learn from the past, but yes, not if this is the cost. There must be more protection of heritage sites like this for future generations. This does not fall far short of vandalism. The goal, achieved by the archaeologists but without a care it seems for the end result.

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    1. Tom Turner Post author

      They should employ more horticulturalists on archaeological sites to (1) study the ancient vegetation (2) re-create the anceint vegetation, where appropriate (3) use vegetation to protect sites from damage etc

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  2. Jerry

    This made me think of a Chinese proverb:以己之矛,攻己之盾. This means that everything is “Contradictory unity of opposites”. If the archaeologists can not do the work very well, why not to work with a landscaoe architect together?! I also think that urban designer should world with landscoae architects, and urban planning should work with landscape planner, architects should work with landscaoe architects!!!!!! becasue 1+1>2!

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    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Jerry, thank you for the Chinese proverb. I have heard of landscape architects working with archaeologists but it is usually on the ‘presentation’ of the archaeological site (ie on making it into a ‘visitor attraction’). Given the harm which tourists do to archaeological sites, it would be better if they worked on making the sites unattrative to visitors! Thinking about examples from China: (1) it troubles me that in the Imperial Garden in the Forbidden City thousands of tourists, every day, are wearing out the wonderful pebble mosaics – I think a way should be found of protecting them from further erosion (2) I think landscape architects could have done a very much better job of re-creating the Huaqing Palace Garden than whoever did it (I hope they were not landscape architects!)

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  3. Christine

    Tom you are right. It is disastrous to think that history and development are being traded off in such a manner. [ http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/september-2011/article/mes-aynak-recent-excavations-along-the-silk-road ]

    It would be useful to understand 1) whether all artefacts can be recovered from the site before the area is mined, 2) whether there is a management framework in place for the archaeology once construction and mining begins, 3) if there is any archaeology which should remain insitu and if so how it might be protected.

    Surely the project could be staged so that less sensitive areas are mined first?

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    1. Tom Turner Post author

      The destruction of archaeological sites by miners, road builders, reservoir builders is sad and also the bigger problem. But I feel even more strongly about the ‘mining’ of archaeological sites to create tourist attractions. Maybe I am unreasonable about this but, thinking about a recent post, it is as though a landscape architect cut down an ancient tree to make room for a design and then used the wood to make a fancy bench ( ie instead of changing the design to respect the ancient tree).

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  4. Christine

    Tom, it makes me ask the question ‘which came first the cart or the horse?’. Mining archaeological sites to create tourist attractions seems to be the wrong approach. However, an archaeological site may become a tourist attraction because of its importance.

    Yes, it would be a great shame to see a fancy bench instead of an ancient tree.

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    1. Tom Turner Post author

      I have often looked at the faces of tourists on archaeological sites. They have read in the guidebook that somewhere-or-other is fantastically important and so they go there – and find that it is a fantastically dull place. Take the Palace of the Emperors on the Palatine Hill in Rome. It sounds fabulous – but unless you know what you are looking at, it lacks the visual appeal of a disused Victorian power station. This is partly because the archaeologists removed all the statues etc to put in the museums. Of course they have to be preserved, but if they insist on having tourists crawl over the site they should either put photographs of the objects where they were found or, better, make casts of the objects and place them where they were found.

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  5. christine

    I agree, knowledge of what you are looking at enhances an experience of an otherwise obstruse site. The Grand Tour (which is possibly one of the origins of tourism) was always more than merely a visitation experience. True, casts of statutes might make sites more accessible to less knowledgeable tourists as anthropomorphism does seem to assist with the process of identification.

    Guided tours can be beneficial particularly if they are themed so that groups are learning about a particular topic say ‘European sculptural traditions’.

    Ongoing study of sites is a very important aspect, so yes horticultural research has a large contribution to make in the ways you suggest.

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    1. Tom Turner Post author

      To put it mildly, I cannot stand guided tours! Audio guides are much better but they are still a distraction from the important jobs of careful observation and respectable photography. An additional merit of audio guides is that they keep visitors quiet. If taking a video, I rarely welcome the comments of other tourists on the soundtrack.

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  6. Christine

    Not a fan of audio either.

    I wasn’t thinking of the usual guided tour, but rather the sort of tour I might go on if I was in the UK and you said you were planning to visit Welsh gardens and would be happy if I came along too. (Or more like the university study trip experience).

    Should I have said, guided tour = touring with a knowledgeable person who is happy to share their superior knowledge and experience with the small group of accompanying travellers who are more like a group of friends or colleagues?

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