Monday, January 21, 2013

The World Archaeology Map

I read archeology news every day at Archaeologica and decided to go back through the past year (I made it back to November) and see how many of the stories were about America. It turns out that more than 90% of the world's archeology budget is devoted to three peninsulas, an island, and a couple of places in the Bible. Namely: Greece, Italy, Mexico, England, Isreal/Middle East, and Eygpt. Here is a map tallying where each reported story was written about. Circles and stars represent "select" sites, chosen by some magazine or other.
Of the 13 places mentioned in the eastern US, more than half were historic. This tends to bear out the cynical view that the US has no archeology. We share this distinction with South America and Africa, believe it or not. Also Spain seems to lag far behind other European countries. Also Saudi Arabia and northern Asia do not get a lot of archeology reported. I would guess, except for Spain, that the reason for the lack of archeology is, on the one hand, a lack of interest in "primitive" people and, on the other hand, a readiness to judge some ethnicities as primitive. 
Update: So what is it? Why is Central America popular but South America is not? My guess is that "archeology" has always been mostly about digging up "gold and jewels". Since the Spaniards took away the gold from Peru, there is no more incentive to dig it up and report on it. Could that have anything to do with the lack of archeology today in Spain?
To be fair, looking into your ancestors is an important reason to do archeology, and it helps explain the large volume of stories about England, Italy, and Greece and Biblical areas.


Chris Pittman said...

Archaeologists in the Northeast seem to have done a poor job of raising awareness of the people who once lived here. It seems to me that many professionals wish that nobody took any interest in their activities. I encounter people while out looking for arrowheads, they are almost invariably shocked that anything like that could be found in New England. For most people, New England Indians were a handful of people who roamed widely through uninhabited wilderness and were here to greet the Pilgrims. The epic story of the cultures who lived here for thousands of years goes mostly untold. I found some arrowheads in a place and showed them to an old guy who lived right nearby. "Yeah, I heard the Indians used to run in there," he said. Well, it wasn't that they "ran" in there, they lived there, in that spot, for thousands of years, and they raised their kids and had families and built homes and died there, and the traces of their lives can still be seen on the ground there today. Historical markers tell us where there was a jail in 1680 but few signs mark the places that were important to people for generations, long ago. And every year more sites are bulldozed into oblivion.

Norman said...

The idea that Indians built massive stone constructions that required the cooperation of many others, implying that they spent considerable time at one place, is still denied by many archaeologists, who continue to believe that these stoneworks are the work of colonial settlers. There are chinks in this boilerplate narrative, however, and I know of a couple of serious researchers in Vermont (one a trained archaeologist and the other a respected science journalist) who just possibly might be able to convince their peers of the truth. Still, it is an uphill battle.

Tim MacSweeney said...

It's almost like "nothing happened on this side of the planet until 1492.'