Resource and Interpretation

By James, N. | Antiquity, March 2013 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Resource and Interpretation


James, N., Antiquity


What is archaeology? What is it for? How can archaeologists explain themselves in a country highly literate but little aware of their work; and what can be done about amateur collectors? How can a very small profession respond to the opportunities and challenges of economic development where statutory provision for archaeological mitigation often proves too blunt to explain how to proceed in particular circumstances? In Estonia, the profession's middle order, having witnessed the assertion of national independence from Russia in 1991 as youngsters, is now coming into its own with these issues.

Four exhibitions in Tallinn, the capital, have attested the vigour and radical creativity of these archaeologists and their colleagues. Distinguishing between finds as archaeological resources and our interpretations of those finds, they insist on the primacy of the former over the latter. At the same time, taken together, their exhibitions have illustrated issues about how interpretation relates to presentation.

The Estonian History Museum's new permanent exhibition in the Great Guildhall was opened in 2011. 'Watertight Sources', the temporary exhibition there from June 2011 to February 2012, was of a medieval chest and its contents. The other two were travelling exhibitions at the Museum's branch in the Maarjamae Palace last year: the first of them, 'The Beauty of Kukruse', about a late prehistoric cemetery; and the second on the cheery theme of catering and entertainment at inns.

Stories

The Great Guildhall is a fifteenth-century stone building amid Tallinn's captivating old town. Along the adjacent alley, a brass 'rime line' records dates from the end of the Pleistocene to the republic's quincentenary (2418!). The museum shows that, for Estonians, archaeology serves history, ajalugu, literally 'time story'.

The permanent exhibition opens with the motto, "spirit of survival", and remarks on "steadfastness and ... stubbornness", "one of the most unusual languages in Europe", "forests and freedom". The first gallery shows a selection of items from prehistoric to modern and has a touch screen with 27 maps. The main display then introduces eight questions ranging flora "is Estonia ... Nordic?" to "How many generations can live under the same roof?" The main cabinets are distinctive pods that catch the chamber's natural light. Two or three are devoted to each question with selections of artefacts ancient, medieval and modern, or with documents. The themes are also illustrated by touch screens offering ample sequences of images and text. The one on religion, for example, starts with ah archaeological typology of tombs, leads to churches and concludes with consumerism today ("the ... government has continued to implement a liberal economic model"). A video chronicles history from the Mesolithic to the Russian occupation; and a case beside it shows early stone implements, imported Roman brooches, medieval metalwork and skates. Since the rest of the presentation is thematic, not chronological, Neolithic axeheads, for instance, appear in more than one section; but, as though difficult to relate to the eight themes, the Mesolithic hardly features.

The hall's undercroft is given over to the history of the building itself and of Tallinn, with furniture, plate and models including specimens of traders' wares for us to handle. There is a display of medieval and modern arms. Items from the museum's founding collection of curiosities from around the world--collected by a burgher, 200 years ago, whose grand house stands by the square nearby--are presented with pithy epigrams about the primacy of 'things'. There is a booth in which visitors explore scenarios from Mesolithic to Soviet. An 'experimentarium' offers children objects to handle--one hidden so that they can only construe it by touch. "How should time be depicted?" they are asked (indeed-- Pearce 1990: 158-60). While "each historian strives for the truth when telling stories about the past", they learn, "no one can say they know the whole truth".

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Resource and Interpretation
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?