Marketing Heritage: Archaeology and the Consumption of the Past

By Johnston, Susan | Anthropological Quarterly, Winter 2005 | Go to article overview

Marketing Heritage: Archaeology and the Consumption of the Past


Johnston, Susan, Anthropological Quarterly


Yorke Rowan and Uzi Baram (eds.), Marketing Heritage: Archaeology and the Consumption of the Past. Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press, 2004, 315 pp.

Archaeologists came relatively late to the post-modern scene (indeed, some are still en route), but when we did arrive, we discovered to our surprise that the interpretation of the past did have a real impact on life in the here-and-now. This idea was not exactly new; Bettina Arnold, just to name one example, documented how the Nazis used archaeology in support of their goals in the 1940s, showing the awareness of this connection at least that early (Arnold 1991). More recently, Christopher Chippendale (1990) published Who Owns Stonehenge?, a discussion of the uses of the monument which included archaeologists, druids, earth magicians, and other interested parties.

Despite these early forays, it has only been fairly recently that this has become a major topic of archaeological analysis. It is in this spirit that this book, Marketing Heritage: Archaeology and the Consumption of the Past, is offered. It is perhaps not as cutting edge as the authors seem to think, but it is nevertheless an interesting collection of analyses of the various ways in which archaeological sites and knowledge become "heritage." There is a reasonable breadth of world coverage, with articles on Guatemala, the US, and Cambodia as well as Europe and the Near East. The unifying theme concerns how the interpretation of sites for the public reflects concerns of the dominant cultures, governments, and archaeologists, with most articles being presented as case studies. In these cases, the aim is to demonstrate that some aspects of information about the past are foregrounded, while others are hidden in various ways. Yet each study does this through a different medium of analysis, and all have interesting contributions to make.

To my mind, two of the most interesting are the discussions of souvenir shops at Stonehenge and Avebury, and the analysis of heritage road signs in Jordan. Gazin-Schwartz discusses how the objects sold at Stonehenge show the monument as isolated in the past, but representing a wide range of tastes, academic content, and cost. By contrast, the Avebury souvenirs presented a particular, narrow vision of Britain's past as a pastoral paradise of happy peasants and benevolent landowners, with the monument as a part of that cultural landscape. This puts the two sites in entirely different lights in terms of how they connect the past with the present. In Jordan, Addison shows how far more attention is drawn to Christian sites than Muslim ones, a troubling observation in a country that is ninety-eight percent Muslim. These sites are highlighted not only in tourist literature, but also by road signs (their prevalence, placement, and language) and the quality of their access roads. This struck me as a particularly nifty way to go about exploring the privileging of certain aspects of a nation's archaeological heritage.

As someone who does archaeology in Ireland, I was drawn to Costa's study of the sites of Newgrange, Tara, and Navan Fort. It seemed promising given the significance of tourism in Ireland, but I was somewhat disappointed and rather confused by the article. While this is fertile ground for analysis (the controversy over the Navan Fort interpretive center alone is worthy of detailed analysis) the article contains a good deal of internal contradiction. …

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