Volunteering on my cousin’s archaeological dig in Tulsk, Ireland, I was struck by the strange duality of archaeology. On the one hand, you use sophisticated laser scanning to figure out which 10×15 foot section of miles of pastureland to excavate and you conduct elaborate analyses of soil to determine dates, charting out finds in space and time. On the other hand, it’s a total crap shoot. You dig through pounds of dirt hoping to run across something, anything, that will tell you what you’re looking at. And when you write up your results, you put in all the laser scans and soil analyses, but you add a bit of fairy tale.
I passed by some stecci (medieval tombstones) in Srebrenica/Potocari the other day. The Srebrenica area has about 800 stecci.
Fairy tales are pre-urban memories– villages and castles, places where the cities would grow up. Pre-Mostar Mostar was “Duo Castelli al ponte de Neretua”, two castles by the bridge on the Neretva. (After the nationalist myth comes fairytale urbanism…)
Fairy tale urbanism leaves behind the stories of “this window where the snipers looked out” and “this floor where the refugees slept” — to find a once upon a time which has a happily ever after. An urbanism of the future as well as the past.
The stecci are fairy tales because they belong to everyone and to no one, as no one is exactly 100% sure who made them or what their politics were.
They are a shared memory.