The pillar of metropolitan greatness : the long making of an archaeological object (1711-2000)
Title: The pillar of metropolitan greatness : the long making of an archaeological object (1711-2000)
Author: VAN DAMME, Stéphane
Citation: History of science, 2017, Vol. 55, No. 3, pp. 302-335
ISSN: 0073-2753; 1753-8564
Over three centuries after the 1711 discovery in the choir of Notre-Dame in Paris of a square-section stone bas-relief (the Pillar of the Boatmen) with depictions of several deities, both Gaulish and Roman, the blocks comprising it were analyzed as a symbol of Parisian power, if not autonomy, vis-à-vis the Roman Empire. Variously considered as local, national, or imperial representations, the blocks were a constant object of admiration, interrogation, and speculation among antiquarians of the Republic of Letters. They were also boundary objects – products of the emergence of a Parisian archeology dated from 1711. If this science reflected the tensions and ambiguities of a local regime of knowledge situated in a national context, it also helped to coordinate archeological work between different institutions and actors. This paper would like to assess the specific role played by the Pillar of the Boatmen as a fetish object in this process. To what extent could an archeological artifact influence this reshaping of urban representation, this change of scales? By following the three-century career of the pillar’s blocks as composite objects, which some have identified as merely stones or a column, it is possible to understand the multiple dimensions that defined the object as archeological – as an artifact that contributed to the relocating of the historical city center – and the multiple approaches that transform existing remains into knowledgeable objects.
First Published April 11, 2017
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