It has often been noted that both the distant past and its study are particularly fascinating and have a special appeal to people—which makes also modern archaeology so popular (see e.g. Daniel 1964: chapter 8; Kirchner 1964; Fritz 1973: 74–81; Keller 1977; Steuben 1977; Marienfeld 1979; Schörken 1981: chapters 1+3; Shanks 1992: part 2; Kristiansen 1993: 4–8). Grahame Clark stated (1960: 252) without much hesitation:

"One can say, indeed, without serious fear of contradiction that archaeology—and more particularly prehistoric archaeology...—has established itself as one of the few forms of entertainment at once harmless and equally acceptable to all grades of society... Since in an age of mass leisure the problem of filling time has become a matter of grave social concern, this ability to provide innocuous entertainment must be accounted one of archaeology's chief claims on our resources."

Going far beyond the task of 'filling time', Odo Marquard argued (1986) that in the modern life-world the new interest in the past and in museums (or other sites of memory) is necessary, in order to compensate us for damages caused by modernity which has lost its bindings with tradition. Marquard concluded that, for this reason, the humanities are 'unavoidable' in the modern world: an interest in history must substitute a memory now lost. However, such compensation by history in general and prehistory in particular, as necessary as it may be, is anything but 'harmless'. Not only can it be employed to legitimate ideologies and political interests, but there is also a real danger of entertainment merely compensating for social deficiencies of the present instead of motivating people to work towards change (Keller 1977: chapter 1, p. 92; Schörken 1981: 121, 132–136, 231f.).

Nevertheless, entertainment is an important meaning of ancient monuments and can certainly motivate people to take an interest in them: archaeological monuments and many other prehistoric sites are extraordinary, and they inspire people to feel, behave and think extraordinarily too (see e.g. Michell 1982; Mohen 1989: chapter 1; Graichen 1991).

It is often in exactly such a spirit of entertainment that people visit ancient monuments, especially when they are located in the enjoyable surroundings of e.g. a landscape park like in Basedow. Megaliths stem from an 'adventurous past' (Kristiansen 1994: 4) and they are exciting curiosities in the landscape. A lot of folklore associated with such sites expresses a certain fascination about their precious contents or about strange creatures inhabiting or having built them. In the present, archaeological sites and monuments are often popular with playing children as well as with tourists looking for something exciting to look at (cf. my previous research). Entertainment and a search for excitement is to some extent also an aspect of studying ancient monuments:

"in history we are entertained by the meanings we put on the past" (Dening 1996: 47).

This may fit well into the context of a society which has been described as 'Erlebnisgesellschaft', or experience-society (Schulze 1992). But a certain degree of entertainment and sense of adventure has attracted travellers and treasure-hunters already during the last century.

There is no reason why later prehistoric people should not also have been excited by these obviously ancient mounds containing huge stones and human bones. Such fascination could also have motivated them, perhaps especially children and teenagers, to spend afternoons at megaliths, dig holes or explore animal burrows—and occasionally drop pottery during their stays. This could at least partly account for the later prehistoric finds that were discovered not only in the mounds, but also within the burial chambers of quite a few megaliths, and of course in the neighbourhood of these sites. Ancient objects found in later prehistoric contexts can similarly document contemporary curiosity and interest, perhaps even some excitement, about such unusual items. And who knows if some of the cup-marks were not in fact the products of individuals, young or old, who were looking for something entertaining but also a little adventurous to do, perhaps at night...?


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© Cornelius Holtorf