A fascinating piece in yesterday's Australian, Hanson's Stonehenge gran is no laughing matter, by Catherine J. Frieman, lecturer in European archaeology at the Australian National University's school of archaeology and anthropology:
"Of all the strange section 44 news, by far the most surreal was Pauline Hanson's claim that her grandmother was born at Stonehenge. Stonehenge... is a 4000 to 5000-year-old stone circle in the middle of a dield by the side of the A303 in Wiltshire, in the south of England. No one lives there... Wags and internet commenters (rightfully) got a bit of a laugh out of this news, and I'll admit that my first reaction was also to snigger. But, as an archaeologist who studies European pre-history, I also know that claims about personal connections to Europe's past may be more insidious than simple historical misunderstanding. As recent events have demonstrated, European icons now hold sway as status markers of white supremacy.
"In August, neo-Nazis and white nationalists rallied in Charlottesville, Virginia. Many of them carried signs and paraphernalia decorated with medieval and Viking designs. At the same time, in Britain a white supremacist, neo-pagan group known as Odinists demanded that the Church of England hand over a number of churches that were, they claimed, built on Norse holy sites. Also around that time, renowned ancient historian Mary Beard spent weeks fighting with right-wing commentators and Twitter trolls over her (entirely correct) claim that Roman Britain was diverse and multicultural.
"Ideas about who our ancestors were, where they lived and what they believed are powerful. In Australia, this power has been harnessed in a strong and positive way by indigenous communities asserting their rights to their country and to their status as Australia's first people. But there is a dangerous power in the past as well. Nazi Germany funded considerable prehistoric archaeological research because Adolf Hitler believed he could draw lines of descent between Nazi Aryans and people in the Bronze and Iron ages from 3000-4000 years ago.
"Today's neo-Nazis are continuing Hitler's project when they brandish shields painted with Viking runes and symbols, or shout at marches about Vinland - a Viking settlement in northeast North America. This is, they imagine, a noble period of white European dominance. They claim (cultural, if not always genetic) descent from these imagined Vikings and so they argue that they, not First Nations people and Native Americans, are the true indigenous people in the continent. The idea here is that there was no civilisation of value in North America before Europeans arrived - a version of terra nullius that replaces the English convicts with Viking fishermen.
"In fact, we know that during the Viking period - and the medieval and Roman periods, and earlier in prehistory - Europe was ethnically diverse and people with different genealogies and skin tones lived alongside each other. Recent skeletal and DNA research demonstrates that some of Roman York's wealthiest inhabitants were African and Middle Eastern. Other DNA evidence tells us the first farmers in western Europe were genetically closer to today's Turkish population than to contemporary Europeans.
"When we talk about the ultra-right and how it creates these imagined white pasts, we almost never mention Stonehenge. Despite Hitler's love of the Bronze Age, the modern alt-right tends to stick, at least publicly, to the Vikings. But Stonehenge is not without controversy. It is probably the most famous prehistoric monument in England, if not Europe... It is also a site of spiritual significance for neo-pagans who claim they have a religious and cultural connection to Iron Age Druids... So I doubt that Hanson was engaging in nefarious acts when she listed her grandmother's place of birth as a 5000-year-old stone circle. But I also can't just laugh and move on because I know the past is powerful and no site is more English than Stonehenge.
"The settler ideology of European dominance in Australia relies on a belief that European culture, values and traditions are superior to anyone else's. European white have (Western) civilisation, the rest of the world just has identities. Call me alarmist, but when the leader of a right-wing party with explicit planks against multiculturalism, Muslim religious practices and indigenous sovereignty publicly asserts she has a blood tie to a European prehistoric site, I think it's time to start worrying."
Like I said, a fascinating piece, but notice how the the biggest reinvention of the past, that of political Zionism, has gone completely unreferenced.
OK, so Hitler "believed he could draw lines of descent between Nazi Aryans and people in the Bronze and Iron ages from 3000-4000 years ago," but what about Binyamin Netanyahu's immediate "line of descent": Nathan Mileikowsky (grandfather), Benzion Mileikowsky/Netanyahu (father)? What's that change of names all about?
Nathan Mileikowsky, bitten by the Zionist bug, imagined himself a direct descendant of the ancient 'Israelites,' and passed this incredible delusion on to his son, whom he named Benzion Mileikowsky. Benzion Mileikovsky then dropped the Polish 'Mileikowsky' for the Hebrew 'Netanyahu', and the rest, as they say, is history:
"In my office in Jerusalem," said PM Netanyahu in his 2011 UNGA speech, "there's an ancient seal. It's a signet ring of a Jewish official from the time of King Hezekiah. Now, there's a name of the Jewish official inscribed on the ring in Hebrew. His name was Netanyahu. That's my last name. My first, Benjamin, dates back a thousand years earlier to Benjamin - Binyamin - the son of Jacob, who was also known as Israel. Jacob and his 12 sons roamed these same hills of Judea and Samaria 4,000 years ago, and there's been a continuous Jewish presence in the land ever since."