Ancient wonders in store as archaeology lecture season begins

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Two grand tours, one ancient, one modern.

The “archaeology season” at Walla Walla is starting up again this month, I’m happy to report.

Walla Walla houses one of the longest-standing chapters of the American Institute of Archaeology west of the Mississippi.

The national organization, which sponsors seminars, conferences, and excavations and lobbies to protect sites at risk, sends us two speakers every year.

In the accompanying Time Capsule you will see that we do better than that by bringing in regional talent to fill out a full series of six events, five of them evening lectures.

Today I’ll discuss the first two, both of which have to do with “grand tours” of sorts.

To begin with, we go back to the beginnings of globalism, with Alexander the Great’s conquest of the ancient Persian Empire in the 4th century B.C.

The civilization encompassed by that empire is the most ancient in the world, dating back to before 8,000 B.C.

Thus it was four times as old to Alexander as Alexander is to us today.

Alexander and his men spoke a dialect of Greek and originated in Macedonia, just to the north of Greece proper, and the impact of Greek civilization in Macedonia was significant and had already taken place.

Thus, although snooty Greeks in places like Athens looked down on Alexander as a kind of hick, by the time he got going they had to take serious notice. That’s because he conquered them all in just a couple of years. Alexander the Great commanded respect.

The Persian Empire was roughly the size of the continental United States, so Alexander’s conquest, which took three decisive battles, spread Greek culture over a vast, exotic and ancient area, from Egypt to India.

Like globalism in our own time, this altered the home culture as well, and the Hellenistic culture of the time witnessed one of the world’s great flowerings of human curiosity and intelligence.

Foremost among the accomplishments at the time was the formation of the Library of Alexandria — in Egypt, named by guess who? — which was more like a research university than simply a collection of books, though it was that, too.

It was here that the subject of geography was created, with systematic efforts to understand longitude and latitude, create maps of the known world. Scholars even deduced, through clever observation, that the world is a sphere about 25,000 miles around.

Wow.

Our first speaker is Jennifer Tobin, Ph.D., of the University of Illinois in Chicago.

Her Sept. 21 Rodney S. Young Memorial Lecture, “The Creation of the List of the Seven Wonders of the World: the Uses of Thaumata” will focus on this intriguing early cosmopolitanism.

Part of the geographical effort involved “world” travel, and travel books became popular.

As a way of bringing travel knowledge into one package, which a single tourist might visit, various lists of “wonders” (thaumata) were drawn up, then codified into the definitive list of the Seven Wonders of the World.

This is a terminology we still hold onto, though for the life of me I can’t recite for you the seven wonders of the modern world. Email me a list if you like.

On Oct. 14, our own “grand tour” will be a walking tour of Frenchtown west of Walla Walla, led by Sam Pambrun of Adams.

He is a former president of both the Umatilla County Historical Society and the Frenchtown Historic Foundation, and a descendant of settlers who came to Walla Walla in 1831.

We will meet at 9 a.m. in the First Congregational Church parking lot, 73 S. Palouse St., and carpool to Frenchtown, where Sam will lead a tour to include walking the trails, visiting the cemetery and the restored Prince’s cabin, with views of the Larocque cabin, the St. Rose of Lima Mission Catholic Church, the Gagnon Saloon and the Raymond Donation land claim.

If you plan to go, bring good walking shoes or hikers, water, a spotting scope or powerful binoculars if you have them. Cost is $10 for AIA members, $15 nonmembers. This tour is Walla Walla’s contribution to the celebration of International Archaeology Day on Oct. 21.

John Jamison of Walla Walla writes about cultural affairs for the Union-Bulletin. He holds a master’s degree in ancient history from the University of Washington and taught history for many years in Seattle.

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