Monday, April 05, 2021

Interpreting Archaeological Finds

David Macauley's Motel of the Mysteries was a hoot when it came out, sending up the overinterpretations that archaeologists placed on the objects they found in 4022 when excavating an American motel from our era. I look around my house and sometimes wonder what interpretation people could put on my objects.  He have Romanian Easter Eggs, similar to the Psyanky of Ukraine*, which we picked up in the late 90s. They have traditionally had deep religious meaning, as each egg was decorated by hand with a specific recipient in mind, and the symbols represented prayers that were being said as the egg was produced. Very little of this is left, as tourists love the stuff and it is a cottage industry out in the villages to produce eggs year-round to make some cash money. That might not be apparent to a researcher.

Even less apparent might be why there are a bowl full of them in a house in NH. Is this a Romanian family?  Are these trade goods? Status items? Do they have any religious significance?

They have a little religious significance to us.  We use them more often as Christmas ornaments, and as they are older, I will briefly reflect every year when I see them that any of them might have been made with original purpose, for an individual. If so, they were shorted a few prayers so I throw up a few vague ones on their behalf.  It couldn't hurt. But such are the problems anthropologists have, trying to figure out What was this for and what does it mean? Was this weapon ever used, or did the culture just perpetuate the wearing of axes to honor the ancestors and look tough themselves?  

Update: The Hutsuls of Ukraine and Romania "believe that the fate of the world depends upon the pysanka. As long as the egg writing custom continues, the world will exist. If, for any reason, this custom is abandoned, evil––in the shape of a horrible serpent who is forever chained to a cliff–– will overrun the world." I have never met any Hutsuls, but they are still there. Elie Wiesel mentions them in Night.

1 comment:

Sam L. said...

I remember reading "Motel of the Mysteries", or parts of it, it being so looooong ago and my memory isn't what it never was...