Modern appropriation of past material culture: fostering ‘soft’ nationalisms in Mediterranean Europe through meaning, memory, and identity
Reflection on the depiction of a Neolithic figurine on the Cypriot one-euro coin raises this paper’s question: what is the purpose of past material culture appropriation as national and regional images in the 21st century and how could archaeology raise awareness of this phenomenon? In order to understand this phenomenon within Mediterranean Europe, it is compared to 20th-century nationalisms. This establishes common characteristics in the construction of meaning, collective memory and a united identity in present-day communities, and a contrast in terms of how such appropriations can be used as extreme propaganda. From this perspective, a closer examination of the Cypriot two-euro coin presents it as an example of ´soft´ nationalism. It fosters a collective belonging and pride but not enough to promote superiority or separatism. Similar examples are drawn from the depiction of an Athenian tetradrachma on the Greek one-euro coin and from the appropriation of prehistoric rock art in the Andalusian Indalo. Finally, the implications of this situation for archaeology are analysed at a public and academic level. It is suggested that archaeology has the potential to make a change in the public consciousness if it starts acknowledging the relationship between past material culture and nationalism. Thus, it calls for an acknowledgement and a reciprocal relationship between the discipline of archaeology and the appropriation of past material culture serving 'soft' nationalisms.