Research is responsible for our cultural heritage
(13 April 2009)
In 1993, American archaeologists discovered carbonised papyri in Petra, Jordan. Professor Jaakko Frösén of the University of Helsinki was the only researcher in the world who possessed the expertise to open them. Together with other researchers, he began to work out the meaning of the Greek text written on them.
The scrolls had been nearly ruined and they were well worth saving, because they turned out to be official documents from the 6th century AD. Their contents showed that Petra was not destroyed in an earthquake in 363 AD, as had previously been believed.
“Through research, we perform one of the key functions of basic research within the humanities: to preserve the cultural heritage, to analyse it and work on it, and to apply it critically in society. All this is part of the responsibilities of researchers who work on Ancient Greece and Rome,” says Frösén, Director of the Centre of Excellence in Ancient Greek Written Sources.
New discoveries of important sources often lead to debate and new interpretations of history. This time was no exception: not only did the papyri bring new knowledge about Petra, they gave an impetus for re-evaluating the history of the entire Middle-East.
“Anyone who publishes new and significant sources and information shoulders a great responsibility. There are enormous demands for an objective approach and honesty in this. Faulty judgements and inaccurate emphasis can often lead to unfounded sensations, sometimes even deliberately.”
What is worth preserving?
In addition to responsibility for producing new knowledge, researchers also carry the responsibility for the conservation, storage and digitisation of material that is already known, and for developing methods in these areas. They must also make sure there is access to the material.
Any objects that are found are carefully preserved, but the overall situation will only be recorded in photographs and notes. The appearance of the finds when found also rely on these, since conservation changes the appearance. Stories meet with the same fate.
“However carefully we try to document our finds, we always end up making choices: we are forced to define what is important and worth preserving, and what is not,” Professor Frösén says, outlining the responsibility of researchers.
The excavations on Mt. Aaron, near Petra, began in 1997 and still continue.
|In addition to responsibility for producing new knowledge, researchers also carry the responsibility for the conservation, storage and digitisation of material that is already known, and for developing methods in these areas. They must also make sure there is access to the material.|
The Centre of Excellence in Ancient Greek Written Sources
The Academy of Finland’s Centre of Excellence in Ancient Greek Written Sources (2000–2005, 2006–2011) focuses on research concerned with ancient and medieval Greek writings that have received only little attention in earlier research. The CoE’s five research projects are: 1) Papyri research; 2) Excavations at the Monastery of St. Aaron; 3) Library of the Greek-Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria; 4) Stone-inscribed Greek poetry; and 5) Substandard Greek and Latin.
2008 Annual Report takes responsibility as its theme
The Academy of Finland’s Annual Report for 2008 takes responsibility as its theme. The Chairs of the Academy’s four Research Councils give their views on responsibility as pertaining to their own Research Council (pages 12,17,18 and 21 in the Annual Report). Professor Frösen’s views reflect the responsibility associated with Centres of Excellence (for more on CoEs, please see pages 13 and 14 of the Annual Report).
Text: Paula Böhling
- Frösén, Jaakko: Centre of Excellence in Ancient Greek Written Sources
- The CoE’s own website
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