By Alejandra Pulido-Guzman - Lethbridge Herald on December 1, 2023.
The Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs invited to their Thursday session University of Lethbridge Archeology professor Kevin McGeough to talk about the treatment of cultural heritage and how this can be used as a barometer for social issues.
“I want to go through and explore some different case studies of how the treatment of cultural heritage has actually predicted other kinds of social and political events in wide variety of ways,” said McGeough.
He said the treatment of cultural heritage helped him realize who was involved in the incident that shook the United States in September 2001.
“We had a sense in the late 1990s with the Taliban emerging that there were some practices that were problematic, the treatment of women were problematic and the treatment of cultural heritage were problematic. I think those should have been early signs that something was deeply wrong in Afghanistan,” said McGeough.
He said in 2000 the Taliban destroyed some cultural heritage and archeologists continued to become even more troubled to the point that when 9/11 happened those in the field of archeology were able to identify them as being involved with the destruction of the twin towers in New York.
“Those of us that watched Colin Powell talk to United Nations about Iraq’s involvement in 9/11 we knew that this was a lie, we knew that this was not the case, we know that there’s no possible way that Iraq or Saddam Hussain could be involved in any way,” said McGeough.
Â He said the Taliban and Saddam Hussein’s regime had radically different ideologies, they were not friendly, they were arch enemies, they were oppositional forces.
McGeough also spoke about how archeology and the treatment of antiquities prefigured different social movements.
He said in the late 1960s early 1970s people started to get notions being described that aliens coming down visiting ancient people and taught them how to do things or interbred with them and all kind of different ideas that led to a multitude of conspiracy theories.
“In the 1970s it became apparent that this stuff sells, that people really like theorizing, and some really like the idea that archaeologists have some larger conspiracy that we’re trying to cover up and trust me if I found ancient aliens at head smashed in you will be the first ones to know. I wouldn’t be trying to hide that,” said McGeough.
He said when conspiracy theories are taken to the extreme, idealistic groups appear like the QAnon movement, with some of its members taking part of the Jan. 6 uprising of the Capitol building in United States.
“I’ll end now by saying that I do think archaeology is the canary in the coal mine and we should be paying attention to how people are using the ancient world, how they’re treating antiquities, and how they’re making sense of contemporary times through reference the past,” said McGeough.
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