People will often ask why it’s important to study the past. “Why is it important to collect and study all those rocks and stuff? Don’t we have enough?” Maybe it would seem more important if our “rocks and stuff” were actually coins, statues, jade masks or terracotta soldiers. But, in reality, the smallest remnant of cultural activity can speak volumes of knowledge, especially when the data is amalgamated and studied as a larger set. If we stumbled across the second pyramid, for example, and thought, “Well, this is just like that first one. Meh…” – what would we have learned? We wouldn’t have gotten to that fifth, tenth, or hundredth pyramid and learned that people travelled in a certain pattern, that people adopted new technologies along the way, and how people learned to live off of the land. Eventually, it’s those patterns of development that brought us to where we are today… and we wouldn’t be where we are today without the developments of the past.
This TED talk by Deb Roy is what inspired this post (which I found on swissmiss). While not relating to archaeology at all, it shows how the tiniest piece of information can contribute to a large examination of modern culture… and further shows the importance of each piece of data, regardless of how significant it seems at the time.
Like Steve Jobs said in his commencement address to the Stanford graduating class of 2005,
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.”
With that, check out the awe-inspiring TED talk by Deb Roy on The Birth of a Word. (Thanks to MG for sharing swissmiss, and to swissmiss for sharing this talk, among a LOT of other cool things.)