Re-thinking the archaeology of Mars

I’ve been rum­ma­ging through the depths of my hard-drive and found a few things I’d for­got­ten about. Here’s one of them, from 2006 I see, a present­a­tion on the con­tem­por­ary archae­ology of Mars.

The reason I’ve pulled it up is I might want to go back and think this over again. I’m not happy with it, which is why it was left on the drive, but it might have potential.

The slide on the 1980s probes is inten­tion­ally blank, because there were hardly any probes sent in the 1980s to Mars. The reason is that the com­pet­i­tion between the major powers has moved to Earth Orbit, with the USA build­ing the Shuttle and the USSR build­ing long-term space sta­tions. Recent events have high­lighted a couple of reas­ons why it’s worth look­ing at this again. One is the regis­tra­tion of lunar her­it­age by California, which is grabbing head­lines for some­thing that Alice Gorman and Beth O’Leary have been say­ing for a while. The other is Obama’s can­cel­la­tion of the return to the Moon.

It could be a sci­entific re-prioritisation, but like the Mars gap in the 1980s, it could also be due to polit­ics. The Nobel laur­eate already has wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to man­age, and he wants to keep his options open for a war with Iran. That could turn very nasty as Iran is next door to his two other prob­lems. It’s pos­sible that there simply isn’t a threat on the Moon, but there is in the Middle East. Unless China devel­ops lunar ambi­tions, the dis­cov­ery of water on the Moon could be a sci­entific curi­os­ity rather than a step­ping stone to colonisation.

There’s a few reas­ons why I don’t like this present­a­tion as it stands. I think the biggest prob­lem is that one of the big factors for mak­ing it was that I needed a present­a­tion. It wasn’t an idea that was ready, and to some extent the prob­lem was “there’s some­thing archae­ology could say about this, but what?” Now I’m think­ing about the social, polit­ical and eco­nomic effects of Mars explor­a­tion. This time around I see archae­ology as a tool to find­ing out about these factors, rather than ‘being archae­olo­gical’ as the pur­pose of project.


When he's not tired, fixing his car or caught in train delays, Alun Salt works part-time for the Annals of Botany weblog. His PhD was in ancient science at the University of Leicester, but he doesn't know Richard III.