Archaeology and Memory

Archaeology, considered as an academic discipline, is engaged in the study of human activity in the past, through the analysis of artifacts, ecofacts, architecture, landscape, and any other evidences of human activity in the world over the centuries. Nowadays some researchers depart from the above mentioned definition of archaeology and emphasise the study of material culture (i.a. biography of things), regardless of the time of their creation.

By the glossary of psychological terms, Memory is the ability to encode, store and retrieve information, associations, emotions, sensory sensations, based on the mental processes of learning, retention, recall, and recognition and maintained over periods of time. We know that there is a memory in humans, to some extent in some animals and in a form of data storage in computers. This is all what is scientifically defined, for now.

Why despite the large weight of the human brain (approximately 1400 grams) and its great computational power, estimated by the German psychiatrist and psychologist Manfred Spitzer approx. 750 million bits per second (Spitzer 2007), we do not store in brain all kinds of information, memories, emotions, sensations? We transfer them to paper, we record, grab and save moments, situations, sensations, emotions, views, figures, objects, sounds, music, in various forms on various memory mediums. We do this constantly, reflexively and instinctively, deliberately and aimlessly, creating millions subsequent artifacts every day.

Perhaps artifacts, ecofacts, architecture and landscapes are our reaction to being in the world and its habitation? According to Marzena Żylińska, a Polish researcher dealing with neuropedagogy, our way of thinking, understanding phenomena and processing of information depend on how the life story carves our brain. The structure of the neural network may have a big impact on the way we perceive the world and react to it (Żylińska 2013).

In addition to the brain, the human body itself is a memory medium. On the body, as in the diary or chronicle, a history of a person’s life experiences, his/her subsequent social roles, initiations and rituals, another phases of life and illness can be saved, until the death and the stage of fossilization.

And what about the other non-human beings? Biological and physical properties of the trees (see Maximilian Frąckowiak, Kornelia Kajda, Dawid Kobiałka 2014) and rocks (see Andrzej Rozwadowski 2009), such as their longevity, durability, resistance to various external factors, texture, shape, plasticity, availability and place in the landscape, have been noticed and were creatively used by man. Nowadays also these forms of human activity can be treated as memory mediums, hence the new directions of studies on Memory of Things, Memory of Landscape and the like.

It is hard to imagine that one day humanity was able to cope so well without most of the modern items. A piece of rock, leather, wood or bone, and a few other natural ingredients, was enough to give vent to the emotions and create a beautiful cave paintings or a simple instrument. Perhaps in the darkness of the damp cave or in spontaneous dance in the light of the fire, people truly experienced their fragile existence on this unique and beautiful planet, if only for a while…


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