Meanings of the past and ancient monuments

The meanings of ancient monuments in later prehistoric, historic and present-day Mecklenburg–Vorpommern form part of their overall 'life-histories', and are related to different monument values. This work is, however, not an attempt to contribute to reconstructions of the later prehistoric or historic past. I am offering possibilities and quite literally, links that can enrich our understandings of both monuments and the past.

My discussion of the later prehistoric meanings of the past and ancient monuments is first and foremost a contribution to the understanding of cultural memory as a phenomenon of human societies, as well as an appreciation of the variety of meanings that ancient monuments can acquire in different contexts. I agree with Sarah Tarlow (1997: 106) that:

"Since 1987, the archaeological consideration of power has become a new orthodoxy in some archaeological circles, notably British prehistory. There is now little political risk in suggesting that the archaeological past was one in which relationships of domination and control were negotiated. The past which we have been offered over the last few years is a past of conflict and dissonance, of competing interests and strategies of representation ... . It is one in which the reduction of human relationships to relationships of power is the bottom line of archaeological explanation."

My list of meanings (below) goes beyond this new orthodoxy. The concepts behind the various terms listed below derive from my previous research, but have been adapted to this work in the light of new insights and the different material I worked with. I did not find it appropriate to reduce the complexity of meanings, and accordingly my argument, to a detailed discussion of only two or three of these meanings. Still, there are many more possible meanings that I did not pursue any further in this work, e.g. natural (and indeed super-natural) powers present at such sites.

Some key meanings:

nostalgia
admiration

identity
pride

progress

legitimation
reassurance, ideology

aura
authenticity, respect

preservation

desecration
disrespect, destruction

physical uses
shelter, stone use

entertainment
play, adventure

'denk-mal'

study

cosmology

I would like to stress that I am not claiming that these meanings were all equally important to everyone in Mecklenburg–Vorpommern at all times in later prehistory and since. On the contrary, a great variability in importance of these meanings should be assumed between different societies of different ages, as well between different social groups of people, and indeed, between different individuals (Blake 1997). This variability of meanings is also reflected in the constant necessity for readers to make meaningful choices when moving through this hypermedia document.


Literature

Blake, Emma (1997) Negotiating Nuraghi: Settlement and the Construction of Ethnicity in Roman Sardinia. In: K.Meadows, C.Lemke, and J.Heron (eds) TRAC 96. Proceedings of the Sixth Annual Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference, Sheffield 1996, pp. 113–119. Oxford: Oxbow.

Tarlow, Sarah (1997) An Archaeology of Remembering: Death, Bereavement and the First World War. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 7(1), 105–121.

© Cornelius Holtorf, last updated on 17 January 2002