Beauty in all things

I just read an interesting blog post by Professor Stephanie Moser at the University of Southampton, commenting on the recent Guardian art blog by Jonathan Jones, where he suggest that archaeologists should emphasise the 'thrilling' and 'beautiful' attributes of the subject to popularise their research. Professor Moser's discusses the important issue of balancing scientific rigour with providing cultural enlightenment. I wholeheartedly agree that we should promote our research beyond academia, but as Moser also concludes, I am not sure about focusing on the intrinsic beauty of objects to do so. Objects certainly can be beautiful, and I appreciate them as much as anyone, but without context that's all they are, beautiful, but pointless. It is the analysis and interpretation of objects (conducted with scientific rigour) that gives them meaning. Even if that is just to marvel at the technological skill that went into creating the object - even the most simple of stone tools are a marvel if you understand their place in the grand scheme of things, and the limited resources available to the individuals who created them. Surely that is just as enlightening as art?

I disagree with Jones' comment that art is the passport to archaeology. The art world can be equally as mystifying to the public if it isn't presented in the right way! I think the real challenge is to be able to show people the hidden beauty and the bigger picture that can be revealed in all sorts of material culture and ecofacts, right down to the lowly coprolite. I've always found the every day, utilitarian objects to be just as fascinating as the fancy stuff. I guess my own specialism may influence my opinion here. As a geoarchaeologist, I have a particular challenge convincing people of the beauty of soils and sediments, and even the invisible chemical residues. But it is there - micromorphology reveals a hidden world of beauty under the microscope! I've tried to promote this idea in the article I wrote for Current World Archaeology a while ago, and the panel I wrote on coprolite chemistry for the Investigate Coppergate exhibiton at the Jorvik Viking Centre, hopefully with success! I was also going to say something about how beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but that saying always reminds me of this guy:

Behold! (From Wizards of the Coast)


  1. Hail the lowly coprolite!

    I took my family to the Jorvik Centre a while ago and they found your board and the idea of solid poo fascinating - from age 9 to over 60! They asked me lots of questions about invisible archaeology, how organic residue analysis works and whether it could be applied to materials other than pottery.

    They may have been a biased audience, to some extent, but I'm sure many more people would be as excited as they were if more opportunities were available for the public to witness this side of archaeology.


Post a Comment