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Marketing Heritage: Archaeology and the Consumption of the Past

Marketing Heritage: Archaeology and the Consumption of the Past

Edited by Yorke Rowan and Uzi Baram. Pp. x + 315, figs. 24, maps 2. Altamira Press, Walnut Creek, Calif. 2004. $27.95. ISBN 0-7591-0342-9 (paper).

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This is a thoughtful and carefully organized book that offers a rich and varied choice of articles on a theme that is inherently relevant to anyone professionally involved in the study or presentation of archaeological remains. The 17 essays constitute a remarkably coherent collection that explores what “doing archaeology” means in the contemporary world, and how the (post)modern world presents new challenges to the discipline.

The “present tense of archaeology” is a subject that has become more prominent since 1978, when Trigger explicitly exposed the nationalist and colonialist roots of archaeology and their enduring theoretical legacy. In the wake of the substantial literature that has appeared on the nationalist use and abuse of iconography and material remains of the past, few archaeologists will now disagree with the view that archaeological research is more often than not carried out in a politicized, if not contested, context. Nationalism has so far dominated these discussions, regardless of association with existing nation-states or ethnic communities aspiring to that status or at least to cultural autonomy.

This volume proposes to add a new dimension to this ongoing debate by drawing our attention to the impact of globalization on contemporary perceptions of archaeology and the past—and to the consequences of this development for those working in the field. While nationalism has certainly not disappeared from the modern world, the editors argue—rightly, I would say—that it has also become a feature to be reckoned with. Therefore, it is the objective of this work “to open up a theoretical discussion on the intersection of material remains and access to the past in a global context” (4). More specifically, to explore how globalization intersects with popular and state-sponsored representations of the past, the contributors to this volume consider questions “regarding the relationship among multinational capital, local marketing schemes, local communities and descendant populations, and tourists” (19–20).

Preceded by the editors’ excellent and succinct introduction and closed off by a perceptive conclusion by Kohl, the 15 case studies are presented in five thematic sections. The first considers legal issues of marketing antiques and includes a useful review of relevant international legislation. The second section analyzes in detail several case studies of the ways in which the past can be commodified for tourism. The third section is concerned with how archaeological heritage is used to represent contemporary identities in a global context, which inevitably leads to contestations and conflicting claims. The fourth section approaches the same issue from the opposite perspective by focusing on existing depictions and exploring how these homogenize the past and gloss over alternative representations. The final section examines how archaeologists have tried to deal with such intricate situations and often contradictory claims and counter-claims by actively engaging in debates with the various stakeholders involved.

The articles are built around well-chosen case studies that are concisely presented and examined. While some of the “usual suspects,” such as the Elgin Marbles and Colonial Williamsburg, are not missing, most papers present unexpected and little-known cases from around the globe that underscore the volume’s claim that the issues discussed affect archaeologists working anywhere in the world. It is a measure of the editors’ careful work that all contributions present conclusions that go well beyond the specific contexts of the individual papers and add to the aims of the volume as a whole. A remarkable example of a globalized representation of the past that shows very well what is at stake for archaeology is Rowan’s discussion of the Holy Land Experience theme park in Orlando, Florida (ch. 14). As he points out, this is not only a particularly focused depiction of the Holy Land in exclusively Christian-Protestant terms but also an evidently and necessarily inauthentic one. The implications of its success are twofold. It offers yet another example of a one-sided, biased view of the past, but more important—and worrying for archaeologists—is that the evident lack of authenticity does not bother the numerous visitors, who are visibly moved by their experiences. This suggests that such themed, commercialized, one-sided representations of the past are very much a feature of (post)modern Western society, and that they are a reality that archaeology must face up to.

Kohl’s concluding paper provides a good and most welcome conclusion to the volume. He not only rounds off the discussions by outlining the main issues but also offers a far more extensive and authoritative review of the book and its individual contributions than is possible here.

Peter van Dommelen
Department of Archaeology
University of Glasgow
Glasgow G12 8QQ
United Kingdom

Book Review of Marketing Heritage: Archaeology and the Consumption of the Past, edited by Yorke Rowan and Uzi Baram

Reviewed by Peter van Dommelen

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 111, No. 1 (January 2007)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1111.vanDommelen

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