Lausanne exhibition takes future look at the past

Archaeologists in 4002 could claim this 2002 "relic" proves men once resembled garden gnomes swissinfo.ch

If you believe people in 2,000 years' time will have any idea about how we live today, think again. Nearly everything is destined to be either misinterpreted or forgotten.

This content was published on February 18, 2003 - 11:56

This is the somewhat depressing picture depicted by an exhibition set in 4002 at the Roman museum at Vidy in Lausanne.

From a 4002 viewpoint, it predicts that Europeans might have looked like garden gnomes and referred to the Earth as Planet Hollywood.

Our contemporary art and culture will have left no mark whatsoever, and as for our great strides in scientific and technological knowledge, they will receive no mention in future historical accounts.

In fact no one will have even heard of the Internet.

"Future Past" is a fascinating and witty exhibition which foresees that the work of archaeologists in 4002 will be far more difficult than it is today.

Their conclusions about our way of life, based on the few objects still surviving, will invariably be very wrong.

Short memories

But they may well have a reasonable knowledge of Roman times.

Curator Laurent Flutsch says that many visitors to his museum's archaeological exhibitions ask: "What about us? How will we be remembered 2,000 years from now?"

So it was decided to answer the question. The museum arranged for about 150 everyday objects to be made to look 2,000 years older - a task ironically carried out by the conservation and restoration laboratory of Lausanne's archaeological museum.

As can now be seen, the objects have "aged" badly. Those "21st century archaeological treasures" made of metal are severely discoloured and misshapen, while written documents are far less decipherable than the Dead Sea Scrolls because of the chemical content in modern-day paper.

"Many believe our civilisation will leave behind a great deal of words and images on paper or electronic or magnetic support," Flutsch told swissinfo. "But these will not survive."

Fading evidence

The exhibition shows how buildings will offer few clues to future archaeologists because - unlike the stone constructions of the Romans - they are less robust and more frequently replaced. Most will have vanished.

However advanced the technology at their disposal in 4002, archaeologists are likely to be wide of the mark in their interpretation of those objects which have survived 2,000 years.

For example the explanation for a garden gnome, found buried in the soil, says that this was what men once looked like, their long beards, red caps and clothes being an indication of men's fashion at the time.

The remains of a glass engraved with the words "Planet Hollywood" means that this is how people referred to the Earth in 2002. A dustpan is labelled as a cooking utensil, and a rusty, mangled watering can is a ceremonial vase.

A slab of concrete, defaced by graffiti, is part of "a fresco which probably adorned the house of someone well-to-do or important".

Metal studs from denim jeans "were" coins used throughout the world - the currency was called the Levi Strauss.

Witty and a bit early

Apparently "Future Past" is making visitors see the museum's permanent exhibition in a new light. They ask themselves if present day archaeologists were correct in their interpretations of objects from 2,000 years ago.

"One very positive aspect of this exhibition is that it presumes that in 4002 there will still be people on Earth, including archaeologists," said Flutsch.

The exhibition ends on April 21, not as the posters say in 4003, but in 2003.

swissinfo, Richard Dawson

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