Saturday, April 18

Lost To Archeology

You know when you see those "artist reconstructions" of ancient cities how they know so much about street scenes? Someone gave me a book with pictures of Egyptian and Roman ruins. And there are plastic overlay pages that show "how it looked" before time rubble-zed the things.

The last time I was in Italy I noticed how the hills and mountains were bare, little growth beyond some bushes and grassy weeds. So I asked someone whether trees would not grow in the volcanic soil. "Well actually Ted, that sort of soil's usually quite rich for agriculture. The trees though, have been gone for millennia, harvested by the early Romans for fire and building."

So, if so  much of the various structures was actually wood, how now do the artists know what the majority of buildings looked like? Even the excavations in Pompeii fail to reveal much wood since the heated ashes burnt most away.

The thing is that archeologists don't really have much idea what wooden structures and decorations, much less their painted colors, looked like. Example, take this Moravian church in Lancaster County about six or seven miles into the country beyond my home. It's maybe a century or two old at the most. Already time's sanded away a lot of the detail and without significant restoration, this spire's days are numbered. How will anyone a couple thousand years from now guess at this wooden decoration? The glass oculus? Oh sure, this image will survive so they'll not have to guess, right?

What is the reasonable life expectancy of this picture? Given Moore's Law, does anyone expect that there will be reading devices that could reconstruct these pixels even a quarter century from now? Once, perhaps in Roman or Greek times, artists might have left low tech drawings and paintings behind on media which might have let some ideas hold on. Today, not so much, right?

How much of what you can see when you go out of your door into the wild... How much of that will be imaginable to anyone a couple centuries from now? A couple of millennia? Even when the archeologists dig up its ruins, how much will they puzzle back together... And how much, like this wooden spire, will be wiped from all memory?

OTH, what's it matter?

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