I read an article last week about a wall. Archaeologists discovered the earliest known stonewall built in Poland, constructed between 1750 and 1690 BCE on Zyndram Hill. Built by new settlers to the area, the wall and the complex it protected were an architectural feat more similar to that of the Bronze Age Mediterranean rather than Central or Western Europe. A 3m high wall made of sandstone blocks with a trench, and narrow passages for entry was not built for curb appeal.
I could not help but be reminded of the well-known Robert Frost Poem Mending Wall. ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’ We have literally been building walls for centuries, and archaeologists have been excavating them for decades. Some famous, walls include Hadrian’s Wall, the Antonine Wall, the walls of Troy, the Berlin Wall, the Wailing Wall, and the Great Wall of China. Archaeologists theorize what they mean- were they built to keep people out, to keep people in, to indicate power or status, or to attract new people?
Taken out of the context of an archaeological excavation, have the meanings behind the existence of walls really changed? Donald Trump wants to build a wall to keep illegal immigrants from Mexico out of America. My neighbors across the street fight about how high the wall bordering their shared property line is. Schools build bigger campus walls to keep students inside and hidden from view.
Digging just a bit deeper (metaphorically, not archaeologically!) we are being asked all the time to tear down walls related to culture, race, gender, age, and privilege. At the same time, I do not think there has ever been a time where we have been less familiar with our own work colleagues and neighbors. Now that I think about it, have we traded in our sandstone walls for mental walls? I do not think that good fences make good neighbors at all, and I really do not think that we should be building walls just because that is ‘what we do’. Are we really safe behind these walls, or are we just becoming too involved with ourselves? Do we really want to be teaching our children how to continue the construction of these walls?
Okay, this is a tall and idealistic order. But can archaeologists, and museums help to dismantle these walls? Can they become teachers and places where our history and present can be discussed? Can we look at these walls differently? When I saw the
Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition last month, they had a piece of the Wailing Wall from Jerusalem there, and people were lining up to write prayers to wedge into the piece to be taken back to Jerusalem. Visitors were touching the block and feeling it. I could see the looks of wonder, inspiration, and hope on the faces exiting the exhibition. Impactful.
Something about the way that we live with and teach each other has to change drastically. It makes sense to say that we need to start knocking down our walls and looking at them differently, because odds are that the people on the other side are not Huns, Celts, thieves, or war parties.
Peace and long life.