Piecing Together a Past
Piecing Together a Past
Piecing Together the Past was one of the last books by Gordon Childe. It was published in 1955 and drew on a series of lectures he had given over the previous decade. Every chapter asked a question. The most difﬁcult was: ‘What happened in prehistory?’ There might be disagreements over particular answers, but they would be based on a single method of analysis, for it seemed as if there was only one past to study. The authors of the present volume take a different view, for, no matter which monuments they consider, they ﬁnd evidence of many separate pasts. Some of those histories were invoked at different times, and others were advocated simultaneously but by different groups of people. There was far more diversity than Childe allowed. It may have happened because his account was concerned exclusively with prehistory and with its signiﬁcance for twentieth-century thought. What took place in between was overlooked, for in 1955 few scholars envisaged a past within the past. Those who did so were more concerned with the development of archaeology as a discipline. Childe’s procedure was like that of ﬁeld projects which disregard later structures to focus on a single period. Childe was concerned with artefacts as well as monuments, but the present account considers the evidence of buildings and related structures. It is a vital distinction. Small objects might have been discovered by chance or could have circulated for a long time as heirlooms. Monuments, however, were impossible to overlook. They might be ignored as unacceptable beliefs were rejected, they might even be destroyed, but in every case their presence demanded some response. It is conventional to associate monuments with memory, as that invokes the Latin verb monere, to remind. This equation is problematical. It is implausible that a single version of the past would remain unaltered for long and more likely that it was revised as circumstances changed. At the same time, forgetting is an important cultural process (Forty and Küchler 1999) and ideas could lose their force surprisingly quickly.
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