A Bridge to the Neolithic
While procrastinating from doing an essay by going on reddit, I came across this article: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2003/10/13/jumpers about suicide jumpers from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. It’s an interesting article and a good read, but one particular sentence stuck out. When discussing the repeated requests for a suicide barrier to be installed, Gladys Hansen, apparently the city’s unofficial historian, argued that it’s “A monument, a monument to death”. The reason this piqued my interest so is because it’s eerily similar to what my essay’s on – Neolithic burial monuments. In the Neolithic period, people had very different ideas about how the dead should be treated, where they should be placed to rest etc. In that time the most important aspect was post-death. Whether they were concerned with grave goods – what the departed would need in the afterlife, what would most effectively portray them in material possessions etc. – or whether they were worried more about how they would be placed in the grave, or how they would dispose of the body, all the key decisions were about what would happen after they’d joined the choir invisible. In modern times however, a ‘monument to death’ isn’t a long barrow where the person rests indefinitely, but rather it’s from where they chose to end their life.
The Golden Gate Bridge in this context is applicable only to the heartbreakingly common suicides that it enables. Suicide as a death is an equaliser. Tragic in all cases, regardless of the wealth and social status of the person concerned. Perhaps this is why the ‘monument’ is about the death, and not the aftermath. The monuments built to the dead in the Neolithic had no such focus. They were grand structures, used for other purposes (does a bridge have a secondary use?) where their ancestors could be laid and celebrated. There’s a morbid fascination with the suicides from the Golden Gate Bridge, even stretching to a twisted celebration. What can we take from our interest, and how have our attitudes towards death changed from those in the Neolithic, spending 18 million hours on magnificent structures to commemorate?