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Last week I was in Italy on a business trip, and whilst there, I stayed in a castle that dated from the 8th or 9th century.  It was pretty spectacular, situated on a hilltop near Turin.  On my way home, I began to ponder why some things last longer than others.  Now clearly, the Castello de Pavona has had some work done on it in the past thousand years, but none-the-less, it is still there and will continue to outlast all the trendy and posh hotels that are constructed today.  It is an artefact of a different time.

I can remember when I lived in America, where, if you wanted to see old buildings, you would go to Williamsburg or Boston.  Those buildings seemed so old compared to the ones in the city I was born in.  But when you past the shores of America, it is quite evident that the entire country is filled with relatively new construction.  I have lived in London (a city long before the pilgrims had a desire for clam chowder in Boston); stood in front of the Acropolis (a seriously old place) in Athens; marvelled at the remnants of mosaic floors in Crete; and climbed to the top of one of the pyramids in Oaxaca Mexico that date from 500 B.C.  These places have lasted, probably far longer than anyone could have expected, and not just because they had good mortar.  And yet, whilst it can be quite inspiring to be at these past wonders, they are only places we have the chance to visit.  For some, visit means to experience them vicariously through photos. 

I think we all have important artefacts that are closer to home.  They may not be some magnificent architectural remains that Tony Robinson has dug up on Time Team, but they are instead, artefacts of our lives.  According to Wikipedia (don’t you just love the fact that you can, through a couple of clicks, find out about anything?), “an artifact or artefact is any object made or modified by a human culture, and often one later recovered by some archaeological endeavour.” 

When I moved to La Antigua, one of the things I decided to do was change the garden areas of the courtyard, and in the process of digging up one area next to the house, I discovered several well-polished black stones.  Then I found some more.  And then still more.  I was a bit perplexed how they all managed to find their way into the garden bed.  I may not be the smartest person on this planet, but I have studied history and didn’t remember reading anything about a glacier zooming through Mallorca, not to mention a glacier that deposited smoothly polished shiny black stones along the way. 

One of the workmen that were there with me saw what I was discovering and began to rabbit on that it was a sign of good luck.  It seems that years ago, you would bury shiny black stones near your house to ensure good luck for the owner.  Clearly this (in my mind) falls into the category of an artefact and I even brought them with me to Sol y Mar.

I am not sure Wikipedia has it completly right.  Whilst most of the traditional artefacts we have experienced are tangible old stuff, I tend to think that some of the best artefacts that we have ever experienced are those things in our lives that are indelibly etched into our minds. 

Quite often, there are people, places, or things that come into our lives that make a difference.  We remember them, even if they are gone, because they are special.  They change us; they change the way we look at life; they leave an impression that is lasting.  I couldn't list the people in my life that have made a difference even if I tried, but their very presence in my life, even if only for a relatively short time, has been very special.

Discovering stuff from long-lost civilisations is pretty great, but remembering those things in our lives that have really made an impact on us is even better.  These are the real artefacts of our lives.

 

Castello de Pavona

Oaxaca

the magical good luck artefacts from La Antigua

 

Jean-Pierre, a silly puppy who was part of my life

 

JBR, contemplating artefacts 50 years ago

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copyright 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, James B. Rieley

jbrieley@rieley.com