The Lost City of the Monkey God
By Douglas Preston
I learned of The Lost City of the Money God by Douglas Preston from my collegiate alumni book club. I enjoy books an archeology, and thought this might be a good one to read to my son. It was. But I listened to it on audio, and made The Best Hubs Ever read it to our son so we could all talk about it.
I remember reading about the use of lidar for archeology a number of years ago and being excited for all the things we could learn. All the “lost” places we could find, forgotten peoples. But as archeologists outside of this expedition pointed out, this place was maybe not lost and its people not forgotten. The natives of Honduras have an oral history of the people being cursed and leaving the land. Europeans and now Americans took that story as a myth and therefore challenge. But it begs the question: How are we approaching our exploration of (new to us) places and histories?
Whose history is it?
Archeology from the late 1800s was rife with European male entitlement, patriarchy, and bias. And that is the basis from which much archeology is conducted now. It is still taught in schools, like the canon of dead white guys is in English classes. But, every few years there are reports of mistakes. Burials thought to be filled with men because they appear to be leaders or powerful people and/or warriors that turn out to be women. This happens a lot with viking archeology. Most recently it was an elaborate tomb in Spain. The bias is a hierarchy or class system based on sexism because that is what European and American systems are based on. So the point is made regarding Ciudad Blanca that the natives knew it was there and had some amount of the history. But the American’s came in knowing nothing about it determined to uncover it for themselves.
The expedition, run by Steve Elkins, was not wholly ignorant. They had conducted a lit review of existing archeological work and coordinated with experts to survive the jungle. But they did not spend time with the natives, or seemingly learn what other cultural experts knew before they entered. Their goal was simply to find it.
All history is global history. But like the art stollen from Jews in WWII, what right do outsiders have to be the ones to “find” it, share it, or take it? This is not a new thought or conversation. Museums from all over the world are grappling with their Smaug like hoarding tendencies. While it all falls into human history, do the people who live in an area have the right to destroy the artifacts of the people who came before them? (I’m thinking about the Parathion Sculptures that a British man stole to preserve them when the greeks were going to destroy them.) Do they have the right to protect evidence of the past from over use that would destroy it, as in the case of Colorado’s iconic Crystal Mill?
Perhaps these are legal questions. The Honduran government allowed the Elkins expedition, permitted the lidar exploration, and have lead the archeological uncovering of the area. But they are also ethical and philosophical questions that lead to real life actions and mind-sets of even us average joes.
Do we all have the right to all land?
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