A myth is a traditional story that talks about supernatural beings or heroes and which often attempts to give an explanation of natural phenomena as well as human behavior. Unlike myths, legends are stories which are presented in form of history though they are unlikely to be true. Myths and legends are the heritage of the people in any society passed from generation to another. Through myths and legends, world view of the people is shaped tremendously. Myths and legends served a significant purpose especially in the interpretation of archaeological records. As a scientific discipline, Archaeology required innumerable specializations where any person as long as he or she would possess a modicum of experience as well as sufficient interest in mythology, can claim to be or pronounced to be a specialist. Relevant examples of archaeologist who were self-proclaimed were prevalent among the Greek. The would often claim to have made discovery of the wheels of a chariot at the seabed of the Red Sea, alongside the long-lost Solomon’s treasures in a certain cave hidden beneath the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, as others would claim to have discovered the real location of Mount Sinai. All these claims were not just incredible but impossible to authenticate as well as they were often associated with dubious proof and evidence that would have merely been doctored. This situation of self-imposed archaeologists using too much hyperbolic imaginations is what augmented misuse of myths and legends. To proof this questionable usage of imaginations, this essay describes different ways in which legends and myths have been misused in the pursuit and interpretation of the archaeological record. Using relevant examples, the essay also depicts a positive way in which legend and myth can be incorporated in the interpretations.
How Legend and Myth Have Been Misused in the Pursuit And Interpretation Of The Archaeological Record
The location hypotheses of Atlantis were the best examples of myths and legends which raises a number of questions. They were a number of proposed settings of the real-world for the legendary island of Atlantis; which Plato described in his dialogues as a lost civilization. In the dialogues, Critias who was one of the characters claims that Atlantis Island had been swallowed by the sea long before then. He claims still through his dialogue that this story was handed to him by his progenitor, Dropides who had also gotten it from a famous lawmaker of Athenia, Solon. He is reported to have received the tale from a nameless sanctuary in Egypt. The Platonian dialogue on the other hand attempted to locate Atlantis Island in front of the pillars of Hercules in the Atlantic Pelagos also known as Atlantic Sea. It was facing a district known as modern Gades or Gadiron. This location is said to have been associate with modern Gibraltar; the artwork of Olof Rudbeck which is said to have dissected the world and revealed the secret setting of Atlantis; which Critias believed it had been hidden in Sweden. Critias belief is also seconded by other renowned figures of antiquity like Aristotle, Plato and Homer.
Another archeological expedition implicated Angeos Galanopaulos who suggested that Thera or Santorini was the rightful site meant to be for the capital of Atlantis. After the discovery of the Minoan civilization at Knossos on Crete which was the brain child of Arthur Evans, numerous theories linking the destruction of Atlantis with the vanishing of this advanced empire had been proposed by Frost and approved by Balch. This very theory would later on be revised by Spyridon Marinatos; also a self-proclaimed archaeologist. The recent archeological, vulcanological and seismological evidences have caused enormous expansion of the connection of Crete that has since been asserted alongside Minoan civilization and the island of Santorini in the description of Atlantis. Attempting to advance this idea, the Minoan palace buildings which were discovered at the digs at the Knossos on Crete and at Akrotiri in the Thera island disclosed that people of Minoan had prominent knowledge in engineering; which to them was instrumental in construction of sky scrapers that were fitted with sophisticated systems such as water piping, wood and masonry walls that are earthquake-resistant as well as advanced air-flow management. It is believed that this highly regarded level of technology was far ahead of the one found on mainland of Greece at that moment, though it is something that has hitherto defeated even the contemporary archaeologists to substantiate.
Similarly, through mythology, the Greeks allude that Santorini is the site comprising a massive caldera with an island at the center. Vulcanologists of today have endeavored to determine that this very island was engulfed by the Thera volcanic eruption around 1600 BC; in the event that was widely known as the Minoan eruption. Other most powerful eruptions that occurred in the civilization history are said to have ejected approximately 60 km³ of lava and debris, thus leaving a thick layer of pumice and in diverse directions. It had widespread impact across the eastern part of the Mediterranean region. Volcanic actions of this magnitude were known to be highly responsible for generating tsunamis. In fact the archaeological evidence suggested that such tsunamis may have been behind the devastation of Minoan settlements on the coast of Crete. Though the description of a volcanic eruption was never made by Plato, the kind of events that he pronounced as having been sunk by an earthquake and only a flood, could to some extent be interpreted as having been consistent with such eruptions as well as the resultant tsunami.
Moreover, he described quarries about the Atlantis where stones existed in various colors; one type of stone was black, another red, and a third one white. As he put it in his description, the stones were excavated from the island and later used in assorted construction projects by the then prominent architects and engineers.
In a similar confusion, Troy; an American film on epic war written by David Beniof is narrowly based on Homer’s Iliad that narrates the folktale of the Trojan war which lasted a decade. Archilles led his Myrmmidons alongside the Greek army to invade the historical city of Troy. However the end of the film is based on the death, funeral and burial of Hector other than being taken from the Iliad’s sacking of Troy.
In the story of the Troy, Philip Coppens; another self proclaimed archaeologist makes a claim about the rediscovery of Atlantis as being somehow equivalent to Troy in its historicity. However his discovery just like other self-proclaimed archaeologists fails to prove what many alternative auther thought it does. First, Schliemann never learnt the location of Troy from Homer, whereas the Iliad and Odyssey failed to give him a map towards the ruins of the city. This means that it is a myth which was the choreography of Schliemann himself and hence is difficult to serve the rightful purpose as intended in mythology.
Following these illustrations, and many others that are unquoted, it is apparent that legend and myth has been greatly misused in pursuit and interpretation of archaeological record. With the contemporary world where science and technology has widely been embraced in making verifications about all the mythology oriented explanation, no part of these archaeological record has been proven. It is in fact fallacious to believe these myths since the sophisticated phenomena that they claim existed especially in the sea ages ago could not have been possible give that by the time there was scanty or no knowledge and skill in architecture to enable people craft magnificent structure such as storied buildings that were widely mentioned. Besides, the widespread discrepancies among the interpretation of different archaeologists poses great suspicion that perhaps these claims are mere illusions because if they were indeed true then there would be some credible similarities.
I believe that legend and myth could have been utilized positively especially in reinforcing the moral standard of the society as well as tracing the origin of the various societies together with their progenitors. This would instill in people the sense of belonging and foster responsiveness through teaching the roles of the people in the society as were founded through myth and legendary stories.
Myth and legends can be quite significant or misleading depending on how the progenies receive and perceive their teachings. For instance the Jewish myth on creation has played a very crucial role in strengthening religious believes in the world for all societies have accepted the contents about the Garden of Eden and the first people; Adam and Eve. This way one can attest that mythology has had a positive impact on the society by being the source of religion as well as building of the religious curriculum. Conversely, the self-proclaimed archeologists have compromised the relevance of mythology in the society for making unsubstantiated claims that are typically questionable even by very naïve and innocent people. Their claims left large room for further scientific experimentations to proof them facts given, though no one has till now showed any interest in accomplishing that.