We tend to look at the past and think, “People back then didn’t know that much. We’re so much smarter now.” We look at the past with a sort of superiority complex, acting like we’re somehow more capable, smarter, and better than “them.”
A lot of archaeology, history, and anthropology uses this same tone. Many reports imply that the people they study are somehow less – less developed, less evolved, less intelligent, less human.
Not all reports are like this, but so many of them are. And it’s not just the academic fields; visitors make similar comments as I take them through the museum. “People couldn’t figure out X, so that’s why they did Y.”
This is still such a big misconception, and that is why I do archaeology.
It’s no easy thing to invent steel, harness electricity, or move enormous stones hundreds of miles and then stand them on end. The enormous monuments that dot the ancient world are no small feat of human ingenuity, and neither were the everyday objects used in the past.
Humans as a species have always been smart. People have been capable of the same intelligence we are today ever since people have been people.
I never want my research to have any sort of tone that implies that I am somehow superior to those I am studying – that I am somehow more intelligent or more advanced or more anything. Anything more than a fellow human being who is trying to understand the many ways there are to be human.
I don’t do archaeology to marvel at ‘how far we’ve come’. That suggests we’ve developed further than other people could have, so we are somehow ‘better’. It denies the interconnectivity of humanity across time and space, the influence the past has on our current society and the influence we will have on future generations.
I do archaeology to uncover our common humanity and to share that common humanity with others.
I do anthropology to uncover our common humanity and to share that common humanity with others.
I live to uncover our common humanity and to share that common humanity with others.
And my hope is that by doing so, we gain respect for people in the past and the present, and we realize how intelligent and interconnected we are and have always been.