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Welcome to our Evening of Archaeology (introductory text by Niels Sverlow)

Dear visitors, boys and girls, parents

Archaeology speaks to the imagination. Excavations in the tropical rainforest and mummies in tombs, it is an adventurous notion. But archeology is also a science that tries to understand the past through painstaking research. What was life like during the last ice age? There are mammoths about and the first people are painting horses and bisons in caves at Lascaux and Cauvet. Yet archaeologists want to do more than just describe. Why do things change? What is the relationship between economy, culture and power? Where and why did religion originate? These are just some of the many questions archeologists ask themselves.

Archaeology is a little bit geology, chemistry, anthropology, sociology and history. It borders Humanities and Sciences. The emphasis is on material culture. What can things (ruins, stone tools and waste from a kitchen of a medieval inn) teach us? You can find swords, coins or large stone circles and you wonder 'what happened here and why? "

It is reminiscent of "Crime Scene Investigation. A cigarette butt, a shifted rug, a glass with fingerprints. The agents on this show see a story when they enter a room. Archaeologists are also detectives. What can material things tell us about our environment? Nowadays we mostly use text, newspaper articles, books. Why? Doesn't this mean we're missing out?

This project is an exercise in 'looking'. Seeing your surroundings as a source of information. What do you yourself leave behind? How does stuff influence our behaviour and ideas? You are who you are not just because of upbringing, education or religion but also because of your phone, Facebook or your bike.

Archaeology keeps changing. The first archaeologists were adventurers looking for gold and mummies. Today we try to describe the whole excavation site. People are digging with questions in mind as where, when and why did agriculture rise and why did the first states evolve. Archaeology has become a science. Yet there is a lot of discussion. Archaeologists disagree on the appropriate method. There are processual, post-processual, cognitive or experimental archaeologists. The latter totally immerse themselves into their profession. By living as cavemen or Romans, they hope to better understand the remains they find. Ethno-archaeologists visit Eskimos, aborigines and bushmen. Their colleagues disagree. They think the comparisons are dangerous, too dreamy. What do you think?

It reminds me of an incident this summer. Next to our house in Zealand lies a small sawmill, immersed in the greenery. It provides wood for the fireplace. I had not been there for a while. Trunks and branches had accumulated. I spent an afternoon, cutting and splitting fire wood. I experienced a sense of awe. This is what people must have felt in the past. The first farmers and Vikings. Finally, I saw impressive ships built in the docks of Amsterdam. I tell my students about the colonial empire of the Dutch Republic in the 17th century. It's just a story in a classroom, abstract and theoretical. Wrestling with the wood, I now realised what an immense project the construction of such a ship would have been. You need to hold it in your hands, sawing and hammering it. Only then you do realise what went on in the past. Nowadays we have central heating. It's al very snug. I'm not against progress or technology, but aren't we losing something? As you're chopping wood, you realise what a challenge it must have been to stay warm and dry in the Middle Ages.

I pick up a heavy branch from the ground and hear a loud buzzing sound. The wood moves and out come all sorts of animals: wasps and centipedes. I'm shocked. Something tells me instinctively that this is dirty and dangerous. I have no control over it. It's an old feeling. My initial fear turns into amazement. Among the decaying logs, in the dark damp earth, is a city of teeming, eating, sleeping creatures. They're slowly digesting the wood. This is what medieval people dealt with. I'm reminded of their negative view of the earth. Actually it's not that crazy. The contrast between light and dark, dry and wet. The threat it poses. This summer in the sawmill I briefly stood face to face with the medieval worldview. Nowadays everything is theoretical and virtual. We're watching television and staring at computer screens. I think it's time to make our own prehistoric spearheads and mummify cats. One thing is clear. You have to experience Archaeology.

Tonight you can explore the world of archeology. There is a lot going on. Prepare yourself for deserts, mountains and islands in the Pacific. Follow the arrows. Fifteen archaeological teams will take you to Easter Island, Stonehenge, Nazca, Antwerp, Skara Brae, Xi'an and much more. You can make your own cave paintings and prehistoric spearheads, mummify a chicken leg, worship images and visit a villa in Pompeii on the eve of the eruption of the volcano Vesuvius.

Be especially critical and ask questions. How do archaeologists examine the past? How do you know what a certain object was used for? What will remain of your own life? What will archaeologists find after 5000 years? How will our museum look like? We wish you an interesting and exciting evening.

Niels Sverlow