How To Make Archaeology Look Ridiculous

Claudius, who created the Dutch part of the limes

Houten is a town in the Netherlands, south of Utrecht, immediately below ancient Fectio, one of the many Roman forts along the Lower Rhine. On several occasions, archaeologists have excavated objects from the Roman period, and it comes as no surprise that the town has decided to give a new quarter of the town, which has a remarkable rectangular shape, the name of “Castellum“. I like the idea. It is good that people realize that they are living on top of their past.

It is also a good idea to give the streets suitable names. Legion Road and Limes Lane, for example, might help indicating the military nature of this part of the Empire. Or Claudius Square, to tell the inhabitants about the man who created the Dutch part of the limes. You can also name a street after one of the units garrisoned in this section of the frontier (Thracians and Spanish), to suggest how international the Roman Empire was, many centuries before the world “globalization” was invented. In this way, the people will understand something about the past, can put their own lives into perspective, and will understand a bit of the archaeologists’ and historians’ work.

Unfortunately, a different choice has been made. The street names will be completely different. According to this list, the inhabitants will be forced to live in: Cella Asia, Cella Gallia, Cella Helvetica, Cella Syria, Fossa Iberica, Fossa Italica, Fossa Hispanica, Porta Basilica, Porta Castra, Porta Tegula, Porta Toga, Via Arena, Via Culina, Via Horta, Via Tunica.

What will the people deduce? It is easy to predict. They will think that people study Antiquity, not because it helps to put our own world into perspective, but to enable classicists, like real snobs, to quote words from a dead language. Knowledge of the past is for high-brow name-droppers, not because we may actually benefit from it. Houten has found the perfect way to make archaeology look utterly irrelevant and completely ridiculous.

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