SITE PRESENTATION \ 234
1: G. Buccellati, April 2008
IntroductionThe site of Tell Mozan appeals to a great variety of interests, and my goal is to anticipate them on the one hand, and to direct them on the other. (For a similar range of "audiences" for the website itself see the Preface.) There is, as in any educational effort, a circularity - we must be responsive to the concerns that bring somebody to the site, but at the same time we cannot abdicate our own responsibility in presenting our understanding. In my experience, the best "non-colonialist" approach is in the honesty with which one points out one's point of view and scale of values, and not in pretending to be what we are not, not in being more "local" than the locals.
What is certain is that we have, as archaeologists and as intellectuals, a wonderful opportunity to engage in a dialog that brings out the full relevance of what we are doing. In the case of Mozan, a particularly favorable circumstance is that we actually have, at the moment, very few visitors. The reason why this is favorable is that we can prepare the site without the rush of having to cater all at once to an onrush of tourists. But there is no question that the situation will change in the next few years, as the general infrastructure develops in the region and as the archaeological richness of the region (not just Tell Mozan) becomes better known.
That the dialog should be indeed be such, a two-way encounter, is another gratifying dimension of our work. But most importantly, I strongly believe that proper concern for site presentation helps in making us better archaeologists. It is, therefore, not just an additional and post hoc activity that we may indulge in almost as a hobby, but rather an integral part of our scholarly commitment.
Back to top
StakeholdersThe term "stakeholders" has come into common use to refer, precisely, to those who have a "stake" in the site. Specifically, it refers to those who share the same territory today, and whose guests we are. The Syrian hospitality has been unwavering in the more than four decades I have had the privilege to work there, regardless of how unpropitious the wider political scene may have been. "My home is your home" is the standard greeting with which we are welcomed. And I often remark that, even more importantly if possible, that translates into an equivalent "my history is your history." As a result, the concept of "stakeholder" refers nowhere else perhaps as much as in Syria to anyone who comes to the site – as well to those who come virtually, today, to the website.
But obviously the primary stakeholders are those who inhabit the same territory - the local villages, the town of Amuda, the city of Qamishli, the province of Hassaka, the Jezirah region, and of course Syria as a country. There are also many ethnic and religious traditions represented in the area. One of these groups, the Kurds, have traditionally regarded Mozan as a locality tied in a special way to their past. While there are no objective reasons of any sort to assume a continuity between Urkesh and the Kurds, there is a positive aspect in the attachment to the great monumental markers of the past history of the territory. What is at "stake" is the heritage of both the built and the natural environment.
Back to top
Community archaeologyThe active involvement of the local constituency is a central focus of attention is some archaeological projects (e.g., Quseir in Egypt)
broken traditions vs. continuous traditions (Moser - conclusions)
Back to top
Centrality of the territoryIn line with this, I have endeavored to foster a sense of identity with the broader dimension of the territory and its history. In this respect, the past may serve as a mirror in which the modern inhabitants can see themselves in a new light, as if through the mirror of the past. The multiplicity of traditions made this ancient history very rich, so much so that it is still erupting from the ground – a volcano of multi-layered accomplishments echoing the volcanoes that played such a central role in the mythology of the Hurrians.
In the measure in which it helps us moderns to appropriate the life of the ancients, archaeology can become a powerful instrument for social consciousness. We do not appropriate it as exclusive ownership. Rather, we appropriate it as a broad human experience that had been altogether forgotten, but the ground has preserved for us. Technically, we as archaeologists are called to shape the contours of credibility, what it is that we actually attribute to the ancients, as opposed to imaginary reconstructions. Humanly, all of us respond with our own sensitivities to these new cultural contours. This includes, first of all, the local guardians of the territory, who are the guarantors of the integrity of the documents we extricate from the soil on which they live.
It is an enlightened policy of the Syrian Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums to affirm this concept of a centrality of the territory by establishing regional museums in all provincial capitals. The building of "our" museum in Hassaka has already been completed, and we expect it to open in the near future.
Back to top
Excavations, presentation, conservationSite presentation should therefore be a cornerstone of all archaeological endeavors. We must present the way in which attribution of meaning emerges reasonably and objectively from the toil of excavation. And we must do it precisely qua archaeologists, because the realization of how attribution of meaning impacts the life of others makes us better archaeologists. This commitment, far from indulging in a patronizing acquiescence to the inevitable influx of tourists, helps us to take a firmer stance vis-à-vis the incalculable number of documents we unearth, and to turn them from sterile fragments into a meaningful whole.
Thus it is that site presentation becomes the best tool for conservation. The local stakeholders' stake will be more and more one of consciously protecting the documents of their past, those especial that are not yet enshrined in a well presented site or a well appointed museum. They come to understand how the laborious process of excavation is not an end in itself, little more than a game in which inexplicably some cultural aliens (the foreign archaeologists) see it fit to spend time and money. Even more significantly, they come to understand that the ground is not hiding treasures to be looted, but is rather the repository of their territorial consciousness, ultimately of their social selfhood, which can only be properly recovered through the methods and techniques which we are using.
Back to top
Scholars and interested adultsEven after having read and studied an excavation report, a scholar visiting many a Syro-Mesopotamian site is faced with a view that is often quite opaque at best. It is difficult to recognize a vast hole in the ground as the location of an excavation unit, difficult to match crumbling walls with photos one remembers well from the publications, well nigh impossible to decipher the coherence of the ancient built environment. At Mozan, the site presentation effort I make is directed to the colleagues as much as to the casual visitor. Besides offering the obvious explicit correlation between what is visible in the ground and what has been published, there are especially two ways in which I aim to serve the interest of visiting scholars.
First, I want site presentation to help focus on the perception of the built environment within the wider perspective of the landscape. This linkage can truly only happen in situ, for no picture or video can render the wide scope and the other subtle sensory impressions one derives from a "face to face" confrontation.
Second, I call attention to details that supplement the published documentation. In this way, site presentation becomes a powerful and alternative form of publication, much as the visit to a museum does for the objects that are stored there.
Back to top
StudentsWe plan to encourage student visits that are organized and planned ahead of time, with the cooperation of local teachers and school boards. At this point, this can only happen during our season of excavation, with the attendant difficulty that schools are not in session. We are planning an experiment with some school groups that are active during the summer, and in future years we will seek to organize tours in the fall season, with the assistance of graduate students who are members of our staff and are local resident.
Back to top
Special interest groupsThe first and foremost interest group consists of our own workmen. We provide regular "lectures," which typically are articulated as follows. An initial introduction to the overall goals of the season, given to all the workmen assembled together in the field (totals average between 60 and 150). During the course of the excavations, smaller sessions take place almost every week, at the level of each individual unit: these sessions take place in the open air, at the site of each specific unit. Finally, a more formal lecture is given in the Expedition House, with projection of photos and graphics, that cover in some detail the broader archaeological faced during the excavations and draw the wider historical conclusions that our work has made possible. The response is enthusiastic, as we can gauge from the attention given, the questions posed, and the subsequent eagerness at reading new panels as soon as they are posted.
In addition to lectures at the local cultural centers, we also invite, at the end of the season, the local authorities and other interested individuals, introducing them to the new panels that have been posted during the season itself.
Finally, we welcome groups coming from other cities in Syria, e.g., the Archaeological Society of Aleppo or the Association of Architects in Hassakah.
Back to top
Occasional visitorsThere are relatively few visitors who come to the site unannounced. Their number is bound to increase as tourism develops in our area, and it is especially with them in mind that the signage system is being developed. While excavations are in session, many of the posters and panels are "under construction," but then we have a member of our staff take the visitors on a tour. In either case (with a live guide during excavations, or through the posted panels in our absence) we have planned an itinerary that is meant to explain and to elicit interest at the same time. The fully positive response we have from the visitors is gratifying: we have often witnessed a change of attitude from at best a mild and generic interest in archaeology to a new appreciation of what the discovery of the past has in store for all of us.
Back to top
ChildrenChildren are the most receptive audience, but a very delicate one. We have active plans for the development of ways and means to make a site visit a rewarding intellectual experience, using the incomparable attraction of the physical confrontation with the "ruins" and the landscape. This will be integrated with a section of the website that will both present the results of the excavations and, at the same time, help prepare for a more meaningful visit. I plan two experiments in particular.
The first is, very simply, to have reading stands that are especial designed for young children. This entails two aspects. One, obviously, will be the content. It has to be designed in such a way as to be understandable and appealing. The other is the format. The stands will be especially designed for them, at a lower height and with a special logo that will make them immediately recognizable as one walks along.
The second will be a close correlation between a virtual walk-through on a computer (where the reconstructed vision is presented) and the physical walk-through at the site as it is now (ruined and only partly excavated). This will provide a strong impetus to develop the powers of imagination on the one hand, and to identify with the task of the excavator on the other. Concretely, we will experiment (at first only while the excavation is in session) with a computer at the location of the Palace Panorama: this will simulate the walk-through that a child can in fact do between Palace and Temple Terrace. Matching the computer simulation with the view in front of them, children are then primed to follow the same itinerary on the ground.
Back to top