Last week I traveled to the Culloden interpretation center (Battle of Culloden) with my relatives. It was well done and a fantastic use of technology to aid in the understanding of archaeological results specifically battlefields in this case. Walking near checkpoints would trigger hand-held GPS units and additional information could be accessed after the narration, which combined facts with personal accounts, was completed. My personal favorite part of the center was the computer animated “aerial view” of the battle that was tasteful, educational and very easily to understand. The panoramic re-enactment of the battle was also quite good, however, sometimes I found myself disoriented. My boss was given an honorary place in the film for undertaking the archaeology and he plays the role of “scared jacobite”. The film certainly removed any romantic notions about war and battle and left only the realization that war is indeed a sickness not a game.
When I was discussing my opinion of the center with an archaeologist who was present at the original excavations at Culloden (as supposed to the later excavations to “clear” a space of the new center) she mentioned that she could personally identify many of the objects on display. The more I thought about what she said the more I realized that this connection between an archaeologist and an artefact/find is part of the reason why I became an archaeologist.
The connection between artefact and archaeologist can be felt at different stages. First, you feel humbled and goose bumpy realizing that you are likely the first human hands to touch this object for a long time (clearly depending on the artefact). Second, if you are included in the post excavation process (such as cleaning, analysis and report writing) you become further connected to the object by realizing its unique features. As you play nurse and bestow some tender loving cleaning, the archaeology version of TLC, you become a witness to the interactions between the last owner/s and the object. This interaction could be pocket-polish (arrowheads and other objects can become brightly polished by rolling around a pocket or material lined container) on a beautiful Snyder point. On the other hand, the interaction between humans and an object could manifest themselves on a musket ball as powder burns, which speak of the start of a journey, and impact marks that could speak of the end of a life.
The third stage of connection that an archaeologist can feel for an artefact is recognition. My friend and co-worker felt it at the interpretation center. With the right eyes and the right amount of personal effort invested, you see artefacts like old friends who do not feel the need to swap small talk. This relationship and respect for the object, and there for the people linked with this object, is another aspect that separates archaeologists from looters.
As of yet we cannot go back in time to re-experience history and perhaps that’s for the best. To find yourself interacting with objects from the past, on a deeply personal level, is about as close as you can get. Sure, we can never have the same kind of relationship with an artefact as its original owner/s, but, given the amount of fired musket balls, grape shot and other tools of death and destruction present at the Culloden interpretation center, perhaps it’s for the best.