Before World War I in Great Britain many men joined the military to perform their patriotic duty to save their country from an invasion by the “German hordes.” When, on 1 August 1914, the United Kingdom and Ireland declared war on German after their invasion of Belgium and France, most UK residents feared they would soon be subjected to an invasion by Germany. Despite the hysteria, some of Great Britain’s men did not wish to serve for a variety of reasons including a desire to see a diplomatic peace instead of war.
A newspaper, the Guardian, pushed for women to join the Order of the White Feather, founded on 30 August 1914 by Admiral Charles Fitzgerald, which encouraged women to give out white feathers to young men who had not joined the British army. Admiral Fitzgerald gave out white feathers to 30 women, giving instructions to hand them out to men who had cowardly not enlisted in the army. The idea of the white feather as a symbol for cowardice and disapproval comes from a popular novel written by the British author A.E.W. Mason in 1902, during the Boer War. In the story the main character decides to not follow his troop as they go to fight in Sudan, with reasonable justification. He receives three white feathers from fellow soldiers, and a fourth from his fiancé, who breaks up with him.
Can you imagine, a young man in civilian clothes going about his daily routine and duties being handed a white feather by a well-dressed young woman simply because he was not in uniform? This happened all over Britain, often causing crowds to gather to ridicule the man, throw rotten vegetables at him, or even to beat him up. Other such conscientious objectors were arrested and thrown in jail where they were beaten by guards. Some of these men were as young as 15 or 16 years of age! Many men joined simply to avoid the public humiliation.
I think I’ll start with a tidbit of ancient archaeology - not too ancient - and not real archaeology.
You see, in the 18th and 19th centuries, many archaeologists greatly resembled Indiana Jones—that is to say they were treasure hunters! Working on behalf of museums, wealthy collectors, and even governments, they excavated/studied ancient civilizations with the idea of finding valuable “artifacts” to bring home and sell. Few had any formal education or training.
Museums in the civilized world, mainly Europe, supported these treasure hunters. These “archaeologists” would search out old, buried sites, hire diggers who simply excavated for valuable finds and were paid little, and left with anything they deemed worthy of their attention. Many seldom got their hands dirty and lived in luxury with servants to do their every chore. They cared nothing for the thousands upon thousands of broken pottery sherds or even bits and pieces of mummies. Former circus strongman, Giovanni Batista Belzoni supplied the demands of many European museums by “hacking, fighting and blasting his way into ancient tombs.” He even wrote in his memoirs.
“I sought a resting place, found one and contrived to sit; but when my weight bore on the body of an Egyptian, it crushed like a band-box . . . I sunk altogether among the broken mummies, with a crash of bones, rags and wooden cases. . . every step I took I crushed a mummy in some part or other.”
Today’s archaeologists carefully excavate using scientific methods, uncovering and recording each and every find with precision. They believe it is unethical to sell anything they recover. Most are paid by private funding, universities, or the government. They have a minimum of an undergraduate degree in archaeology or anthropology, and many hold masters and doctorates in various related specialties. They write detailed reports about their findings, documenting all their work for others to read and use for comparisons.
So next time you go to a museum and see artifacts from an ancient civilization. Ask how these artifacts came to be in a museum. Who excavated the site? When was it excavated? If the site was excavated before 1900, you can now wonder what did they leave behind? What might we have learned about these ancient peoples using modern methods and technology?
Just a Thought: Read about the Rosetta Stone. Who excavated it? When? How did it end up in the British Museum?
Source: The Atlas of Archaeology by K. Branigan
Title Image: 1851 sketch of Layard's expedition removing a Lamassu (bull)
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