This week while looking for ideas to write my essay on for my “Pirates, Traders, and Sailors in the Ancient Mediterranean” class, I became interested in researching what it would take to reconstruct not only an ancient ship, but also an ancient naval battle. An article that came of particular interest was one by N. Whatley titled “On the Possibility of Reconstructing Marathon and Other Ancient Battles” in The Journal of Hellenic Studies.
This article brings to light some of the concerns with reconstructing ancient ships and battles. In this article Whatley brings up two questions that I thought were particularly valuable to determining the ethic responsibility of those who do the reconstructing:
1. 1. How far is it really possible to reconstruct ancient battles with any finality?
2. 2. How far are the methods of attempting to reconstruct usually followed by modern writers, the soundest methods to employ?
Should the reconstruction of ancient ships be done ‘properly’ or just as something ‘cool?’
I think that if archaeologists and historians are working together with those who reconstruct the ship and the battle, there is an ethic responsibility among all of them to properly reconstruct the ship and the battle to the best of their knowledge. Of course something like re-enacting an ancient naval battle can easily be turned into more of a theatrical display and can therefore simply become something cool. The theatrical display of a naval battle would be considered more like a historical re-enactment, which is generally a hobby. The point of reconstructive (or experimental) archaeology is to generate and test hypotheses based on archaeological material, not necessarily to entertain.
Therefore, I believe that although it is possible to educate the wider public by exploiting a reconstruction’s entertainment value, it is not the true ethical purpose of reconstructive archaeology.