Archaeology has long had a prominent, if often inaccurate, public image. It has also been put to a large variety of public purposes. This topic will track some of the perceptions, uses and abuses of archaeology and of interpretations of our cultural past. These range from stereotypes in film, through Victorian concepts of 'progress' and later political propaganda, to claims for Phoenician or Egyptian cities in Australia and America and space aliens as the source of all 'sophisticated' technology. On what basis do we make claims about our past? How much do, or can, we as archaeologists know? Why do many people often prefer interpretations that fly in the face of scientific evidence? This topic is intended to explore the various processes by which accounts of the past are created - whether by archaeologists, novelists, the general public or the lunatic fringe. While the topic will principally be concerned about how archaeologists know things, it will also explore how archaeological interpretations are used (or misused) for a variety of political purposes in the present.
This topic aims to: