This past week had two moments that have led me to wonder about what markings and measures make a civilized society. The first was an article about Afghans digging up a horde of ancient treasures they had buried to protect them from the government. The men who buried them risked their lives and the lives of their families to protect art. Only now did they feel it was safe to bring them from their hiding place. The article went on to say they were going to move the artifacts out of the country to which they belonged to protect them. Was this act of courage as sign of the quality of that civilization as much or more than the artifacts themselves? Or was the willingness to destroy such treasure by the government (regardless of the reason) the true measure?
I just returned from a trip to Mesa Verde, CO. I overlooked the amazing cliff dwellings, and thought of the civilization that created it, lived there, then left; and even surrounded by tourists from around the world I felt the sacredness of the site.
As I sit here I weigh the protection of the Mesa Verde site, the protection of those Afghan treasures, and the meaning of each. I think the measure of a civilization is the value the individuals within places on its art and history. When art no longer has value to a culture that culture is lost. When its own history is deemed dangerous, or worthless, that culture teeters on the brink of destruction.