What's The Meaning of Stonehenge? Second Response

Stephanie Halmhofer
Received October 29 2021
Citation: Halmhofer, Stephanie. 2021. “What’s the Meaning of Stonehenge? Second Response”. Epoiesen. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.22215/epoiesen/2021.11

Stephanie Halmhofer is a PhD student in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Alberta (halmhofe@ualberta.ca). ORCID ID: 0000-0001-9387-4927 .

Creative Commons License

Why does the concept of archaeology only being about the past persist? Archaeological knowledge includes multiple layers of meanings; some of those layers are built from the contemporary meanings attributed to archaeological sites, features, belongings. And so for me, archaeology is just as much about the present as it is about the past. “What do people think?” is a question that’s usually at the front of my mind. Recognizing social media as a place where contemporary meanings can be constructed, altered, and engaged with, I view social media as a type of field site, as suggested by Dr. Lorna-Jane Richardson (2019, and in this comic), where I ‘excavate’ through discussions about archaeology and archaeologists to try to gain insight into what people think. Yes; this means that I read the comments.

I have been a fan of Lorna’s work for a while now, and What’s the Meaning of Stonehenge?, with Tony Pickering’s wonderful drawings bringing the research to life, is a perfect illustration of what I like about Lorna’s work: a literal illustration. What I like about so much of Lorna’s work is her thoughtful explorations of the research question that guides this comic: “what if what we think people think isn’t the case?” I like the encouragement of archaeologists to consider new field methods for exploring this question. Instead of digging through stratigraphic sediments of physical landscapes, we can dig through the stratigraphic Tweets, videos, and memes of digital landscapes.

Archaeology, and archaeologists, are largely still stuck behind gates - even if those gates are open and we are beckoning the public to come inside (a good start to fostering better public engagement, a desire that I think many archaeologists share). The archaeologists are engaged in what Lorna described in 2014 as a ‘top-down’ method of public archaeology, in which relationships with non-archaeologists continue to be “guided by archaeologists and leading the public ‘other’.” We as archaeologists try to create relationships with non-archaeologists based on what we think they are looking for. Lorna thoughtfully suggests we reconsider that approach by so simply, yet effectively asking, “what if what we think people think isn’t the case?” Instead of staying behind our archaeology gates and inviting the public to step through onto our side, what if archaeologists instead are the ones to step through those gates? What if we came outside? What might we learn then?

Some archaeologists have stepped through the gates, using in-person events as field sites for engaging with public perceptions of archaeology from the outside. In 2016 Dr. David S. Anderson (2019) visited the 130th Summer National Convention of the Theosophical Society and in 2018 Dr. Franco D. Rossi (2021) visited the Baltimore AlienCon, each listening to the perceptions of archaeology presented by non-archaeological participants. And in What’s the Meaning of Stonehenge?, Lorna has shown us how much we can learn from considering contemporary social media, of varying forms, as another type of field site. In only eight pages of warm and welcoming illustrations, the reader is guided through an entire research paper, from the research question through theory, methods, results, and into the conclusions. I wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Gabriel Moshenska’s (2021) first response to this article that it is short and playful and invites interest and curiosity from the reader. I was certainly curious to learn more by the end of it!

After reading What’s the Meaning of Stonehenge? I returned to the thoughts I shared earlier in this Response - that archaeology is just as much about the present as it is about the past. And that the contemporary public audience is just as much of a part of archaeology as contemporary archaeologists are. If we want to know what archaeology is, then sure, let’s ask an archaeologist. But, as this comic has so wonderfully demonstrated, if we want to know what archaeology means then maybe archaeologists aren’t the first ones we should ask.

References:

Anderson, David S. 2019. “Crafting a Mysterious Ancient World: The Effects of Theosophy and Esotericism on Public Perceptions of Archaeology.” Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 22(4): 13-26.

Moshenska, Gabriel. 2021. “What’s the Meaning of Stonehenge? First Response.” Epoiesen. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.22215/epoiesen/2021.8

Richardson, Lorna-Jane. 2019. “Using Social Media as a Source for Understanding Public Perceptions of Archaeology: Research Challenges and Methodological Pitfalls.” Journal of Computer Applications in Archaeology 2(1): 151-162. DOI: https://doi.org/10.5334/jcaa.39

Richardson, Lorna-Jane. 2014. “Understanding Archaeological Authority in a Digital Context.” Internet Archaeology 38. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.11141/ia.38.1

Richardson, Lorna-Jane, and Tony Pickering. 2021. “What’s the Meaning of Stonehenge?” Epoiesen. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.22215/epoiesen/2021.7

Rossi, Franco D. 2021. “Reckoning with the Popular Uptake of Alien Archaeology.” Public Archaeology 2021: 1-22. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/14655187.2021.1920795