What Will Archaeologists of the Future Think of Garden Gnomes?

"World's largest concrete gnome", located in the Reiman Gardens at Iowa State University

“World’s largest concrete gnome”, located in the Reiman Gardens at Iowa State University

Sometimes I wonder what future archaeologists would think of our society’s current belongings.  What would they discover and what would they think?
Everyday when I enter the front door to my home I notice my neighbors cute little garden gnomes resting in the green grass.  If you think about it, garden gnomes are everywhere!  This made me question what would  future archaeologists think of these recurring ceramic figurines?
My neighbor's garden gnome

My neighbor’s garden gnomes

Perhaps archaeologists would conduct a pollen analysis and discover that often the findings are located in environments that were once full of lush flora.  Perhaps they would discover more context by comparing locations of the funny little art pieces and find that often they were placed in front of or behind rectangular structures we call home.  They would most certainly conclude that a majority of the statues were decorated with paint and shaped to have a pointed top and full beard.
While contemplating this rather silly idea I realized I didn’t know much about garden gnomes, their history, or what they symbolize.  After searching the internet it seems who actually created the garden gnome is not fully agreed upon, but often sources point to 19th century German artist Philipp Griebel.  Many claimed that Mr. Griebel’s design was influenced by local miners.  In 1874, Griebel founded a terra-cotta factory which is still ran by fourth generation Griebels today.  The Philipp Griebel factory is home to the  Garden Gnome Museum were visitors can learn about their history and production. 
One of the many gnomes I found during my trip to Germany in 2011

One of the many gnomes I spotted during my trip to Germany in 2011

For symbolism I found that currently garden gnomes are generally used as decoration and often their range of activities reflect the owner’s hobbies.  Garden gnomes are tied to  European folklore, myths, and  fairy-tales. Traditionally they were placed in gardens for protection, good luck, or due to superstitions.

Gnomes have been around for hundreds of years and have inspired movies, books, and artwork.  They are found worldwide and live in millions of people’s backyards.  Now that you know a little more about gnomes, what do you think future archaeologists would think of our cherished garden friends?

Cover of the book Gnomes by Wil Huygen, art by Rien Poortvliet

Cover of the book Gnomes by Wil Huygen, art by Rien Poortvliet

14 thoughts on “What Will Archaeologists of the Future Think of Garden Gnomes?

  1. Yes, so true! It is crazy how we categorize archaeological periods and cultures on the basis of absurd little facts. I study archaeology as well and was wondering if we would be classified as the “tupperware-culture” one day. Here, in Europe, ceramics are commonly used as an indicator for culture or ethnicity, which is obviously wrong. The future archaeologists would probably argue that garden gnome owners are followers of one specific cult. Or part of an ethnic minority.

    • We also look at ceramics to help identify cultures and it does help quit a bit. Often different cultural groups did have different material items (and still do). Comparing potsherds along with radiocarbon dating can be beneficial. 🙂 I totally agree with “Tupperware Culture”, either that or the “Disposable Culture”. Perhaps here in America it might be called the “Walmart Culture”. That’s a scary thought. :/

  2. Funny article, and a nice reading. This reminded me of what would future archeologist think about silicone implants at women: “this two little bags found in some coffins are a sign of fertility for the buried woman”.

  3. I agree with the idea of future archaeologists/anthropologists seeing the Gnome as a cult or possibly a religious object. It would make a great study to see how many gnomes there are in comparison to christian or other religious artifacts.

  4. Oh no. I have a garden gnome who is definitely not the cheery sort. He has spent the last 10 years or so lying slumped on my front steps with a serious chest wound. What on earth will those archaeologists will make of that? Maybe I should get him a more traditional friend to balance it out.

    This is a great post, I had never looked at them that way before 🙂

  5. What ever they think they will like them. I have one as a gift but I keep him by the fireplace because I don’t want him to get yucky in the garden. Besides he cheers me up!

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