Saturday, March 15, 2008

From creating a national past towards sharing it

Yesterday evening I was eating out with friends from the Jordan project. After a couple of glasses of wine I launched into one of my favourite rants concerning Finnish archaeology, namely, why do we not publish our research in international journals?!

While studying in England some years ago I, for the first time, realized that although we do not have here in Finland things that would really capture the imagination of the public, like Roman villas or Egyptian pyramids, we have something that might capture the attention of other archaeologists: very well-preserved hunter-gatherer dwelling sites dating to the Mesolithic and the Neolithic and even later periods. I understand that in Central Europe and in the Mediterranean these are rare because of intense cultivation, erosion and such. Dozens if not hundreds of these sites have been excavated and documented with care in Finland. The information available from those excavations might be very interesting and useful for archaeologists interested in prehistoric hunter-gatherers worldwide. So why the hell do we not publish our research more widely?

Why are we happy to write about our research just to each other? The Finnish community of archaeologists is not big, let me tell you - even by the little I have told about myself in my blog I'd say most archaeologists in Finland who have ever met me already know who I am. If they don't, they know somebody who can tell them.

But back to the business: In my opinion (you may disagree) this disinterest towards reaching an international audience is largely due to the historical background of archaeology in Finland. Archaeology of Finland was started as a part of the nation-building program in the 19th century. It was aimed at creating a past for the Finns, and at present day it still carries that ballast. I dare argue that most Finnish archaeologists doing archaeology in Finland have the underlying idea that they are studying the past of the Finns (or, in some cases, the past of the Sami) although they might not even be conscious about having it. And that, I would claim, is why we do not see that resarch on our Mesolithic and Neolithic hunter-gatherer sites might actually have something to give to a larger, international audience, who don't give a damn about whose prehistory it is, but would dearly love to achieve a better understanding about hunter-gatherer sites. It is just a matter of viewpoint.

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