Archaeology and Heritage


I am in Christchurch, New Zealand, at the moment. In a city ravaged by an earthquake there is a lot of attention on what will be done with “heritage” buildings. Will they be torn down, rebuilt, strengthened to meet earthquake standards? When we use the word “heritage” in connection with buildings, it’s generally used to refer to those old buildings, which have been standing for a long time. They represent a memory of the old city that once was, the houses that stood before the current generation. Often the style of the heritage buildings is quite different from what would be built today. They reflect different values, different building practices, different ways of life. They not only look pretty, they are something given to us by a previous generation. They are inherited.

Archaeological sites normally were not given to us by previous generations. Often the habitations collapsed, were forgotten, and only later were discovered. But yet, the World Heritage Convention also calls them “cultural heritage”. One of the definitions of cultural heritage, for example, is:

works of man or the combined works of nature and man, and areas including
archaeological sites which are of outstanding universal value from the historical,
aesthetic, ethnological or anthropological point of view.

I think it is right to count archaeological sites as heritage. Maybe these buildings have not purposely been given to future generations (and can we always say that about buildings?), but they give to us past lifeways, past expressions of how we humans lived in this world. And often this past impacts us today as well. We are not just totally re-inventing us today, we are affected by people who came before us.

I think that heritage considerations make archaeology much more relevant to us today than any considerations of scientific enquiry. We want to know about past people, because they are part of who we are today. I think this is very clearly the case with the people of Ancient Israel. Their lives still affect us today. For we still read the words, which they heard first.

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