Gettysburg College students travel to Britain to study ancient artifacts

What if Stonehenge were relocated to a museum and replica stones were erected at the original site? Would the site still feel sacred? Would the fake stones be sacred? And how about the original stones in their new location?

Stonehenge isn't in danger, but other ancient British artifacts have been moved indoors to ensure their preservation, and replicas — some excellent, others awful — have been installed on sacred sites.

This past summer, two Gettysburg College students travelled to Scotland, Ireland, and Wales to study the interplay of artifact, landscape, and sacredness. Gwendolyn Williams is double-majoring in history and art history. Katherina Santangelo is an anthropology and classics double major. Their complementary majors enabled them to examine neolithic standing stones and medieval high crosses from multiple perspectives.

They encountered both the sublime and the ridiculous during their two-week expedition, which was among numerous research opportunities funded for Gettysburg College students by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Other summer projects ranged from archaeology to cinema.

The students' photos allow you to compare originals and replicas.

They found the sublime at a monastery north of Dublin. "Clomacnoise wins the prize, in our opinion, for both preservation and presentation of their high crosses," they wrote in their blog. "The museum at the site houses the real crosses, and they are displayed each with their own exhibit and in the correct lighting. True to life - even down to the wear and tear - replicas are placed where the originals were found. Even the color and texture of the replicas matches the originals. In this way visitors can see the crosses as they were meant to be seen as well as know that the originals are being preserved and cared for."

The ridiculous cropped up at too many locations, including incorrectly sited concrete "replicas" that looked nothing like the originals. The Scottish island of Iona, with few residents and few resources, was a notably mixed experience.

Actually seeing Iona's original 11-foot-high, eighth-century St. Martin's Cross, still in its original site was a thrill. "I was shocked how big it is. I never got the sense of size in the pictures we studied, " Williams said. "To be able to stand next to it was amazing."

On the other hand, the pair wrote in their blog, "the island is full of Christian pilgrims, yet we seemed to be the only ones interested in the crosses, and the museum was a mess," the pair wrote. "Everything was just lined up against the wall on the floor, and only a few things had tags on them. The rest were just sitting there. Some were even backwards or upside down."

Yet, sacredness remained at site after site. Christians lit candles at the bases of replica crosses. Britain's sizeable pagan community left offerings of flowers on chunks of modern concrete. And Williams and Santangelo found that they themselves were not immune, especially among the prehistoric standing stones and burial mounds on the Welsh island of Anglesey. "It's a place of power," Williams said.

"Spaces are sacred," Santangelo said, "but it doesn't have to be the same sacredness that people felt in the past. It morphs, as the community of humanity has morphed."

It's no surprise that Santangelo and Williams worked together on what will be their senior capstone projects. The two Class of 2010 members met as first-year roommates and have lived together since then, frequently exploring the intersection of art and anthropology, including a visit to the Irish Brigade monument on the Gettysburg battlefield — which is in the shape of an ancient high cross.

"Sacredness is something I'm going to take with me for as long as I study anthropology," said Santangelo.

Williams agreed: "Whenever I look at art now, I'll be thinking about who made it and where it was placed."

Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences. With a student body of approximately 2,500, it is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania. The college was founded in 1832.

Contact: Jim Hale, online content editor

Posted: Fri, 30 Oct 2009

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