‘Against all odds’: The Field Museum explains the evolution of social inequality through Balkan relics

Bill Parkinson, curator of anthropology at The Field Museum and professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said the museum’s newest exhibit, “The First Kings of Europe.”

For the past eight years, he and his longtime colleague, Attila Gütza, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Georgia, have been threading needles through southeastern Europe, including Gütza’s native Hungary, to discover the region’s first I’ve explored the Iron Kingdom. Year.

This exhibition explores how egalitarian societies in the past explored the importance of hierarchy and leadership through more than 700 pieces (armor, swords, jewels, animal-shaped lamps, etc.) from 26 institutions in 11 countries. It tells how the world has changed. Appeared before or appeared together.

Parkinson described it as “totally unprecedented”. Gucha said the project was put together “against all odds” and that “no one thought it would happen.”

“It’s amazing to have it all in one place,” Parkinson said, adding that many of the pieces are museum treasures, including the first gold object forged by humans. rice field. “We ask them to give up a lot of things, but we are humbled that they trusted us to do it.”

Another set of gold jewelry is on display together for the first time since it was discovered by the Austro-Hungarian Empire and divided among the nations emerging from the crumbling kingdom.

Our goal is to “talk about our shared past in this part of the world where people in the Balkans often want to focus on division,” Parkinson said.

Together, they spent nearly three years traveling the area, visiting museums that they ended up renting. Gyucha said it was worth the effort because they found objects they didn’t know about in their research but fit the story they were trying to tell.

Gold jewelery and ornaments are on display as part of the ‘First King of Europe’. For more than three years, curators have traveled museums across southeastern Europe in search of artifacts that help tell the story of an egalitarian society evolving into a hierarchy. Some of them were exhibited in multiple museums for the first time in several years after their discovery.

Often they were offered replicas, but Gyucha politely declined, saying he requested the originals. I was lucky enough to receive it during the exhibition. The object shows what it looked like at the time.

“You can feel the atmosphere from the artifacts,” Gyucha said of the work that was selected for “The First King of Europe,” the first exhibition he curated. “You can feel the history.” It was really important to us.”

One such object was a stelae (a large stone that can be compared to today’s tombstones), which represented the lavish funeral of an important leader, including people in mourning and carrying coffins in processions.

The curator likened the funeral of President John F. Kennedy on the plaque in the work, noting the large ceremony and the many dignitaries who came to mourn the death of the former president.


A historic bronze ax (right) and a replica (left) are on display.

“What Begins in the Neolithic Age [period] Parkinson said as he cleaned up a glass case containing items that were ceremonially buried with the boy at one of the area’s first cemeteries.

The exhibit “talks about the evolution of inequality…but the evolution of leadership and the people who actually became the masters of those societies.”

The exhibit, which previously spent a year in New York, opens Friday and runs through next year when it heads to Quebec.


The stela resembles today’s tombstones. It depicts the funeral of an important leader, including mourners carrying their coffins in procession. ‘Against all odds’: The Field Museum explains the evolution of social inequality through Balkan relics

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