Wednesday 1 February 2012

World Digger's Day

LGBT History Month in the UK begins today. Today is also World Diggers Day. It is a day when we think about all those archaeologists and students out there in the freezing cold, scraping away with their little trowels, uncovering the world’s long-lost heritage. World Diggers Day was started by British archaeologist Lawrence Shaw as a Facebook event on 1st Feb. 2011.

Archaeology has always intrigued people, whether it is King Tut’s tomb, the lost cities of the Aztecs, or Stonehenge. In recent years the subject has been “sexed up” with books and films about relic hunting and the whip-cracking antics of Indiana Jones and Lara Croft.

Several lgbt archaeologists have made significant discoveries. Perhaps the one who reminds people of Indiana Jones being pitted against the Nazis in the search for sacred relics is Otto Rahn (1904-1939).

Otto Rahn scrambled through caves in France in search of clues to the location of the Holy Grail. His books on the subject aroused the interest of Heinrich Himmler who invited him to join the SS and the Nazi relic-hunting department. Otto was homosexual, and after rumours of this got to Himmler’s ears Otto found himself doing guard duty in Auschwitz for 3 months. The following year Otto resigned from the SS and he committed suicide shortly afterwards.

Some people have said that Otto Rahn inspired the Indiana
Jones character, but in reality it is just a remarkable similarity of events.

A British contemporary of Otto Rahn was Francis Turville-Petre (1901-1941). His major discovery as in 1925 when he found part of a skull, now named Galilee Man, which was the first evidence that Neanderthals lived outside Europe. At the age of 27 he moved to Berlin and joined Magnus Hirschfeld’s Institute of Sexual Research, one of the earliest gay campaign groups in the world. Whilst in Berlin he persuaded his friends Christopher Isherwood and W. H. Auden to sample the “delights” of the Berlin nightlife. The visit inspired Isherwood to write “Goodbye to Berlin”, which was turned into the musical “Cabaret”. Francis died at the young age of 40. (His nephew and namesake lives just a couple of miles away from me).

Ironically, perhaps the greatest lgbt archaeologist died only a month before Francis Turville-Petre. He was Sir Arthur Evans (1851-1941). Sir Arthur’s sexuality was suppressed for most of his life. He married his cousin and had no children. After his wife’s death from tuberculosis in 1893 he always wrote on black edged paper. In 1924, at the age of 73, Sir Arthur was arrested in Hyde Park with George Cook and both were charged with committing public indecency.

Sir Arthur was a pioneer of Aegean archaeology and is most famous for excavating the Minoan civilisation on Crete. His work there began in 1900 and he unearthed what he claimed was King Minos’s palace. Using techniques more akin to Disney World than archaeology he restored and rebuilt parts of the ruined palace which upset other archaeologists. The many wall paintings and objects depicting bulls, along with the labyrinthine corridors of the palace, led Arthur to believe he had uncovered the origins of the Minotaur legend. Even though some of his techniques would be questionable if used today, Sir Arthur’s reputation is among the highest.

The Minoan civilisation has a few lgbt elements connected to it. King Minos was believed at one time to have been the founder of pederastic love – the man-boy sex that became common in Ancient Greece.

And according to Sir Arthur Evans the mythological labyrinth itself gets its name from the labrys, a heavy double-edged axe that had some sacred and ceremonial associations with the Minoans. The labrys was associated with Minoan priestesses and ancient matriarchal societies. Greek mythology says that the original labrys was owned by Queen Hippolyta of the Amazons, those female warriors who killed or exiled all male-born children. Hercules stole the labrys from Hippolyta and gave it to Queen Omphale of Lydia, to whom he spent 3 years as a slave dressed as a woman. From this association the feminist and lesbian communities of the 1970s in the USA adopted the labrys as their symbol. It enjoyed some popularity for quite a while but has since been superseded by other symbols.

No comments:

Post a Comment