Thursday, November 25, 2021

Bronze Age Weirdness, Again

The interviewer was asking what new insight DNA had brought us about a particular find, in which a man's thighbone had been made into a flute. The archaeologist nodded "We could tell from the other burials that this man was the grandfather of the group, and further examination suggests that they had kept his disarticulated bones and carried them about. There seems to be another bit of him twenty miles away. They made the flute out of them nearly sixty years later."

"Fascinating! That really tells us quite a bit about the sort of society this was then, doesn't it!"

There was an uncomfortable pause before the archaeologist burst out into laughter. "It tells us that these people were nothing like us and we haven't the faintest idea what they were thinking."

"But we can imagine a way in which a people were attempting to show respect for an ancestor and carried his bones around...perhaps he had a special love for music and played the flute himself..."

"No, no, you're going at it all backward.  Once we have the data then we can start to make a story out of anything.  It's automatic for human beings to try and explain the world by making up some little story. You can make one, he can make one.  I can come up with a few immediately, because things like this happen all the time to us.  But it's all bosh. No one alive today out of the eight billion of us thinks of making grandfather into a flute. It's only in retrospect that we can create these tales. And if there's once thing we've learned in archaeology over the last two hundred years, it's that all those stories are going to be mostly wrong."

4 comments:

james said...

Sort of like that "spit in the goat's mouth three times before you cut its throat" ritual I heard about. We'll probably never reconstruct where _that_ came from.

GraniteDad said...

I’ll run this one by the girls to see if they’re interested in the flute idea.

Deevs said...

It usually seems like the archaeologists are the people spinning the stories for the rest of us. So, either this guy is a welcome exception to the rule or my perception of that is way off. I have seen more than a few articles where a woman buried with a sword is portrayed as rock solid evidence for women being warriors as much as men. Though I may be blaming archaeologists where I should be blaming science journalists.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I think largely the latter. But not entirely. And archaeologists until quite recently, say thirty years ago, were worse offenders.