Tag Archives: archaeology

Hypothetical Archaeology: Knowledge Production in the Era of Alternative Facts

In the summer of 2015, in collaboration with a diverse collective of artists and ecologists known as Chance Ecologies, I was invited to help perform an excavation of a street in Hunters Point, Queens. The peculiar aspect of this excavation was not that its existence was dubious, plenty of archaeological excavations fail to uncover the artifacts they pursue. Rather, the uniqueness of this project was that we knew the artifact we sought did not exist, and this is precisely why it was chosen as the subject of our investigation. The intention was explicitly to destabilize the notion of ‘existence’ – is it bound to material realization, or does simply conceptualizing something activate its existence? (See Nick Land’s portmanteau, hyperstition, at your own risk.)

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More thoughts from the Archaeology Division of the AAA- Publications, Blogging, and Making Conversations Count

This post is the latest in the November guest blog series by the Archaeology Division of the AAA. This post is by Lynne Goldstein. Lynne Goldstein is a Professor of Anthropology and the Director of the Campus Archaeology Program at Michigan State University. She is the outgoing Publications Director for the Archaeology Division of the AAA.

In this blogging miniseries, some of the officers of the AAA’s Archaeology Division (AD) have been outlining what makes the AD unique and important, as well as some future plans to increase our reach, as well as our member numbers. As noted earlier by both Jane Baxter and Patricia McAnany, the AD may not be the primary organization for most archaeologists, but it is the place where we can best bridge archaeology and other parts of anthropology.

Since 2013, my focus within the Archaeology Division has been on publications. But, as of the AAA meeting last week, I have come to the end of my tenure as Publications Director of the Archaeology Division of the American Anthropological Association. We are back on track, healthy, and publishing some great articles. Our publication – AP3A – is different than most AAA journals: it comes out only once a year, and the articles are submitted as a group with a guest editor. The volume is peer reviewed at several levels, and we don’t accept individually submitted articles. This has been the structure of the journal since its beginnings almost 30 years ago, and because each issue has a specific focus or theme, many scholars use the volumes for both research and teaching. Indeed, articles from AP3A are often also included in other anthropological collections focused on related topics. The journal has relatively small circulation numbers, but it is available in most libraries, and faculty often assign articles in their classes. Now that AnthroSource has been improved and the journal is digital only, anyone with full access to AnthroSource has access to the journal.

Are there ways that the AD can increase the influence and discussion that AP3A volumes produce? If the journal really focuses on broad theoretical and topical issues, shouldn’t more AAA members be interested in its content? If the impact can be increased, it would be to the benefit of the authors, the journal, and the members. Can we leap the divide and encourage other types of anthropologists to read AP3A? Certainly, with AnthroSource, accessibility is easy, but most people are busy and look only at those things they know. How do we get folks to take advantage of their easy accessibility to AP3A, and move us toward better integration of anthropology?

Blogging is one obvious way that we could increase interest in the journal, and we think that it might be a way to keep the issues of the AP3A active and relevant. If we regularly blog about the topics in the issue, more people would become engaged in the discussion, and more people would link back to the original articles.

Although I may be sounding crass, this strategy is not really about numbers – it is a discussion that the AD is having in an attempt to try and make its content more accessible, relevant, and part of larger anthropology conversations.

Many of us are rethinking publications and what they mean. If you work at a university, you are likely being evaluated and measured based on your Google Scholar scores or other such measures. The number of citations you have is seen as a measure of your influence in the profession, and while there are many, many problems with the calculation of such measures and what is included, it is also clear that these so-called “objective” measures will not go away. Universities like to use what they see as objective numbers that someone else calculates, and pushes by faculty to change their use will likely succeed only at the margins.

But I am talking about something else here. We have the technology and capacity to change the way we use and apply publications in our research and teaching. Once something is published, it should not be considered “done.” Why not regularly and actively focus a discussion on the published piece or pieces in a blog related to the publication? Discuss the article(s) and implications for current and/or future research. Highlight things that might be significant or interesting to a broader range of scholars, or to the general public. And, in addition to blogging, promote the discussion in other forms of social media. This is the kind of approach that the AD is discussing to make its work more visible, more accessible, and more relevant to a much broader range of people, whether they ever become members or not. We can have threads that focus on each issue, yet overlap and make broader points, develop arguments for and against specifics, and represent a real discussion of the topics.

What do you think? Would you participate in such discussions? Would it make you rethink your current or former opinion of the AD? Let us know. Of course, we are always open to other ideas too!

 

Bridging the Divide: Bringing Archaeology and Anthropology Closer through the AAA

This is the third in a series of guest blogs this November from the AAA Archaeology Division Executive Board detailing ideas generated at retreat at the Amerind Foundation this past June. This post is by outgoing AD Secretary, Jane Eva Baxter.

As thousands of anthropologists make their way to Minneapolis to take part in the AAA Annual Meetings, it is worth thinking about the potential ways this organization might help to foster a more robust and inclusive anthropology that actively embraces all of the subfields in intellectual and not just structural ways. When the Executive Board of the Archaeology Division (AD) of the AAA met at Amerind in June, one of the major areas of discussion was how to leverage the resources available through the AAA to create a unique intellectual space among all the professional organizations available to archaeologists.

The Archaeology Division is Welcomed to the Amerind Foundation in June 2016.
The Archaeology Division is Welcomed to the Amerind Foundation in June 2016.

It’s important to provide a bit of context for this discussion. Most archaeologists do not seethe AAA as their primary intellectual or professional home, but rather are more actively involved in the Society for American Archaeology, the Society for Historical Archaeology, the Archaeological Institute of America and/or the American Cultural Resources Association. The AAA is a secondary or tertiary membership for most current AAA AD members. The AAA is also the most expensive professional organization among these to join, and as Patricia McAnany noted in last week’s post the intellectual ties between archaeology and anthropology were disrupted significantly in the 1990s. These factors have resulted in a substantial reduction in AAA membership by archaeologists. Most of us who have retained our AAA membership have done so because of an enduring belief in the anthropological nature of archaeological inquiry and practice, and because we still find engaging with anthropology outside of our own subfield to be an enriching and nourishing intellectual experience. Continue reading

The AD at Amerind: Building the Next Generation of Anthropological Archaeology

This  post is an introduction to the November Guest Blogging Effort by Members of the American Anthropological Association Archaeology Division Executive Board. We are looking forward to having engaged dialog with Savage Minds readers on how the relationship between archaeology and anthropology can be rebuilt in the 21st Century! Jane Eva Baxter is coordinating this guest blogging effort and is the outgoing Secretary of the AAA Archaeology Division Executive Board.

American archaeology has long found its home both structurally and intellectually within the four fields of anthropology. The relationship between archaeology and socio-cultural anthropology has deep historical roots based in large part on shared interests in societies considered “pre-modern” or “traditional,” and early scholarship in both subfields mutually informed and enriched one another. The postmodern turn in the 1980s and 1990s created a rift between these sub-fields and this fissure has permeated both disciplinary structures and intellectual inquiry. The historical commonalities between these two areas of inquiry has been strained, and this tension is reflected in a notable decrease in professional and scholarly engagement between practitioners of these subfields Continue reading

Foundations of an Anarchist Archaeology: A Community Manifesto

This entry is part 18 of 19 in the Decolonizing Anthropology series.

By The Black Trowel Collective

An anarchist archaeology embraces considerations of social inequity as a critique of authoritarian forms of power and as a rubric for enabling egalitarian and equitable relationships.

The term anarchism derives from an– (without) + arkhos (ruler), but a better and more active translation of it is perhaps ‘against domination.’ An anarchist archaeology insists on an archaeology that is committed to dismantling single hierarchical models of the past, and in that sense, its core incorporates tenets of a decolonized, indigenous, and feminist archaeology, contesting hegemonic narratives of the past. It is a theory explicitly about human relationships operating without recourse to coercive forms like authoritarianism, hierarchy, or exploitation of other humans. Some anarchists extend this argument further to non-human relationships with objects, other species, and the environment.

In keeping with these principles, there is no orthodox, overarching, uniform version of anarchism. There are multiple approaches to anarchist theory and practice tied together by common threads, and it is these commonalities that inform our anarchist archaeology. Here we outline principles for an anarchist archaeology that can be applied towards studies of the past, toward archaeologically informed examinations of contemporary societies, and to archaeological practices, including professional ethics. We offer this as both a manifesto and as a living document open to constant contextual review and revision.

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Thinking about Resonant Materials: Critical heritage meets contemporary art and design in the UAE

What makes something culturally relevant in a local context?

Recently, I have been thinking a lot about the relationship between form, aesthetics, and belonging. In my own archaeological practice (Rizvi 2015), I have enmeshed the notion of resonance with new materialism, empathy as linked to aesthetics, and belonging. As I have argued, resonance emerges as an intangible affect that the material thing has beyond its formal boundaries within larger planes of perception creating dynamic relationships among humans/nonhumans and illustrating cultural decisions of material as vibrant matter (c.f. Bennett 2010). In so far as the material has vibrancy and frequency, it has then the capacity to evoke an emotional and affective response to a similarity of material, style and/or form. Such response can be coded as a sensory aesthetic empathy that links to constituting subjective belonging. This argument had been posited with the ancient world in mind, but I have recently been applying archaeological theory to the contemporary, particularly within art and design.

As my anthropological concerns have found themselves situated within the United Arab Emirates (UAE), I have found myself working through contemporary things and assemblages in order to understand the past within this political geography. More often than not, working through such questions falls within the ways we understand critical heritage discourse – an intersection of perceived distance or lack there of, between the time of now and that of the past. As such, and not surprisingly, I have found contemporary art and design in the UAE deeply engaged with and within the constructions/discourses of heritage. Right now, my social media feed is full of reporting on Dubai Design Week. As a part of the thematic, there is a strong focus on using local materials that have local resonance, local meaning, local heritage, and local technique. Even the design of the space is being lauded as keeping a local environmental sensibility in mind. There is a sense that what we are experiencing is some negotiation and an authorizing of what constitutes Emirati vernacular design as Rahel Aima might argue (see her piece in Frame – summer issue), or as Laura Egerton reports in Vision, Dubai Design Week becomes a space within which forgotten crafts have the potential to change the future. It is easy to see the relationship  between contemporary design, uses of heritage to be future-oriented (and arguably, on fleek in that hipster way), and the ways in which a local aesthetic has been co-opted for contemporary design so it can speak to a local market and sensibility. The form taken by the local aesthetic significantly lends itself to an empathetic sense of belonging, which is integral to these conversations. Interestingly, however, the contest of heritage in the contemporary is less about what is authorized, but rather, what form can account for commitments of time, place, and access to these conversations.

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Journey between Two Languages

This entry is part 12 of 19 in the Decolonizing Anthropology series.

By Asmeret Ghebreigziabiher Mehari

As a non-native learner and speaker of Amharic, English, and Swahili, I have taken several journeys between these languages and my mother tongue, Tigrinya. Considering geopolitical domination and subordination, the passages between Amharic and Tigrinya or Swahili and Tigrinya are fewer than between English and Tigrinya. However, all crossings have similar purposes: to improve my comprehension, speaking, reading, and writing skills of these languages. In writing this post, I have taken a journey that merges Tigrinya and English in the service of two critical questions: 1) what role would a journey between two languages play in the process of thinking and writing about decolonizing archaeology?  2) What would the traveler feel and experience?

This journey took a few days to begin answering these two questions, but the first two days make the foundation of this and any future journeys.

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Material/Digital Authenticity: thoughts on digital 3D models and their material counterparts

Post by Stuart Jeffrey and Siân Jones

Colintraive and Glendaruel Community Woodland Trust recording cup-marked stones using photogrammetry and RTI
Colintraive and Glendaruel Community Woodland Trust recording cup-marked stones using photogrammetry and RTI

Media forms are constantly calling into question each other’s ability to represent the authentic, and these remediations raise the possibility of the decay of aura, the loss of authenticity of experience. (Bolter et al. 2006: 34)

Over the last decade, we’ve both been thinking about the fundamental problem of how the authenticity of historic objects and monuments is produced, experienced and negotiated. In particular, this has coalesced in our recent work on digital 3D models, where we have engaged directly with the questions raised by Bolter and his colleagues. To what extent does the use of new 3D digital media in the heritage sector result in the loss of authenticity? What do digital 3D models of historic objects do to their physical counterparts and visa versa? How do their biographies intersect? How does participation in their production inform the experience and negotiation of their authenticity?

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Analogue to Digital and Back Again, Part II

By Kathryn Killackey (Killackey Illustration and Design)

This post is part of this month’s analog/digital series and the second post­ discussing my work as an archaeological illustrator in relation to analogue and digital media. In the previous post I outlined my mostly analogue workflow with some digital skeuomorphs and explored the differences between illustration and 3D modeling. Here I’d like to share some ways I’ve recently expanded my use of the digital in my workflow and explored a constructive interplay between the digital and analogue.

I am the site illustrator for Çatalhöyük, a Neolithic archaeological site in Turkey. I started working there in 1999 as an archaeobotanist, and since 2007 I’ve been the project’s illustrator. Every summer I spend about two months drawing artifacts and recording on-site features. Over the years I’ve seen the project transition from entirely analogue recording to a mix of digital and analogue, until it has become almost entirely digital in some trenches. At this point the project employs tablets, laser scanners, and even drones. Dr. Maurizio Forte’s team from Duke University and Dr. Nicoló Dell’Unto from Lund University have spent the last several years testing these digital technologies on site. Until recently my work has mostly been unaffected by this transition to digital, I’ve carried on with my analogue workflow on a parallel track (see my earlier post for some advantages to analogue media in illustration). ­But over the last couple years several situations have arisen where I have had to re-evaluate my approach and consider integrating some of these new digital methods.

For example, this past summer I was tasked with illustrating a large, fragile lump of molded plaster in the shape of a head with painted ochre designs. I sat in front of the head with all my drawing tools laid out, picked up my pencil, and stopped. The plaster feature had already been 3D modeled by Dr. Dell’Unto and photographed by site photographer Jason Quinlan from every angle. What was my analogue pencil and paper drawing going to record that these other digital methods hadn’t already? Why illustrate?

3D Model of the plastered Head (Unit 21666) by Dr. Nicoló Dell’Unto. The model was generated using Agisoft Photoscan pro version 1.1.
3D Model of the plastered Head (Unit 21666) by Dr. Nicoló Dell’Unto. The model was generated using Agisoft Photoscan pro version 1.1.

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Analog to Digital and Back Again, Part I

By Kathryn Killackey (Killackey Illustration and Design)

Analogue in action.
Analogue in action.

I am an archaeological illustrator and in this post, as part of this month’s analog/digital series, I’d like to discuss my work in relation to analogue and digital media. My job includes recording on-site features, drawing artifacts, and creating reconstruction illustrations of architecture, people, and activities. I also help researchers think through their data and raise new questions during the illustration process. Until recently I would have considered my illustration practice wholly analogue. I feel most comfortable working with pencil, paint, and paper. When I first started producing archaeological illustrations (about 10 years ago), the only digital part of my workflow was at the end, scanning my hand drawn images and cleaning them up in Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator for eventual publication. The image below is an example of this process.

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Reconstruction of red deer antler decorated with wheat from Çatalhöyük by Kathryn Killackey, drawn in graphite and touched up digitally.)

Since then, there has been a gradual creep of the digital into my workflow. I now continually switch back forth between analogue and digital methods when making an illustration. After an initial sketch by hand, I scan the image, then play with the composition digitally, perhaps print it out again and draw on top of my print, scan it again, etc. I continue this back-and-forth until I have a preliminary drawing that I am happy with and that incorporates any comments or corrections from my clients. I’ll then complete the final art in an analogue medium with digital details and final flourishes. This combination of analogue and digital production is fairly straightforward, a skeuomorph of strictly analogue processes.

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Mixed Exhibits: The best of both worlds?

Post by Laia Pujol-Tost:

Archaeology is mostly about materiality. Its epistemological foundation is based on the relationship between humans and the material culture. Some of this objects, will later be displayed in museums to convey interpretations of the past. Yet, as Yannis Hamilakis and other authors have argued, Archaeology is a modern “science”. As such, it is mostly about the eye, and little about the body. On site, it mostly records and analyses visual, spatial, geometrical features. At the museum, this has meant a universal rule of not touching, and objects are isolated in showcases, for the sake of… mutual protection.

Then came Information and Communication Technologies (before they were called Digital Media), which under the promise of increased accessibility, interaction and engagement, reduced archaeological heritage even more to image and visualization: it had been digitalized; that is, de-materialized and even “de-musealized”. A series of evaluations conducted in museums since the 90s evidenced a conflict between the exhibition and the new media. The main reason being, as Christian Heath and Dirk vom Lehn pointed out, that exhibitions and computers belonged to different communication paradigms.

post2-imatge1

Around that time, several studies conducted in different European museums led me to the conclusion that the best way to integrate digital technologies was to stop just placing computers in exhibitions, and instead re-design the interfaces purposefully for such environments. Yet, what happened was the advent of mobile devices.

Meanwhile, some researchers working in the highly interdisciplinary field of Human-Computer Interaction started advocating for more natural ways to interact with computers. As a result, a new field called Tangible or Embodied Interaction arose around the 1990s. In this context, the concept of “Tangible User Interface” was developed. In TUIs, the interface is not anymore a PC but an (everyday) object. This takes advantage of the human capacity to manipulate objects, and allows a better integration with the context of use. Since the 2000s, labs used occasionally the cultural field as test bed; until 2013, when the first EU-funded project specifically devoted to tangible interactive experiences in Cultural Heritage settings was set up.

Now 3D printing has become the hype. As it happened with computers in the previous century, this technology is not new: it has been used in the engineering field for rapid-prototyping since the 1980s. But only recently it has become accessible to markets. Its applications are manifold: engineering, clothing, food, housing, health… But more than that, its implications regarding traditional product design, production and distribution chains are so enormous, that some people already talk about additive manufacturing being the next industrial revolution. The Cultural Heritage field has not been indifferent to this development. For example, the Smithsonian has started the X3D project, aimed at digitalizing and allowing the 3D printing of its collections. In the academic domain, some sessions at the EAA conference dealt with the implications of 3D printed replicas for Archaeology. Finally, the first mixed exhibits have appeared in European museums the last years, used either as mediators, smart replicas, top tables for shared exploration and gaming, or as full-body interactive environments.

post2-imatge2

I am so excited about it! Does this mean that we may finally close the circle and, after such a long history of “voyeurism”, fully acknowledge materiality and tangibility in the cultural heritage field? It is interesting to note that, as it happened before with interaction or storytelling, we needed the pressure of the digital revolution to (re)discover or finally accept elements that already existed in the museums field. Still, I believe there is a big potential in this area, more than with digital media, and this is exactly what I am starting to investigate now. On the one hand, the specific advantages of smart replicas or tangible exhibits for Cultural Heritage settings. I have adapted Eva Hornecker’s overview of Tangible Interaction to list the following features:

  1. Appreciation of the materiality of the real object.
  2. Direct manipulation instead of just visualization.
  3. Performative action instead of passive gaze.
  4. Natural interaction without added symbolism.
  5. Natural integration in the exhibition environment.
  6. Non-fragmented visibility.
  7. Suitability for exploration in group.
  8. Personalization (especially suitable for children).

On the other hand, I am concerned about the strategies and threats for their adoption in museums. The experience shows that, as costs decrease, the availability and penetration of technologies increase. Still, the problem is designing and maintaining high-tech exhibits. Most museums tend to outsource digital media projects; but this has more often than not proven to be a bittersweet experience in terms of budget, sustainability, end-product, workflow, etc. Institutions are currently implementing different solutions. For example, EU-funded projects emphasize the creation of do-it-yourself authoring tools. Also, the big museums in the USA and Europe give strong support to the creation of their own digital media departments, so that such experiences can be fully developed in-house.

Yet, as we witness again a concern similar to supposed threat posed by the virtual to the brick-and-mortar museum, we first need to complete the unfinished debate around the concept of authenticity in cultural heritage. In my opinion, the problem to be solved is not with smart replicas (which, following Bernard Deloche’s taxonomy, only act as analogical or analytical substitutes), but with the role of originals in the age of information, commodification, and globalization. However, this is a discussion for another time and place.

(Part of this month’s Analog/Digital series, thanks to Savage Minds for hosting!)

A Tempest in a Digital Teapot

teapot

It was hot, but that was not unusual. We woke up at the first call to prayer to be on site at sunrise. I would trudge through the dimly-lit streets of the village, up to the ancient tell, and sit next to my trench until I had enough light to see my paperwork. The cut limestone went from dull gray, to a rosy pink, then that brief and magical moment called the golden hour, when the archaeology would become clear and beautifully lit and I would rush around trying to take the important photos of the day. Then the light would become hard, white-hot, and often over 100F. By lunchtime all of the crisp angles of the limestone would disappear into a smeary haze, hardly worth bothering with a camera. Photographs of people were impossible too—everyone was dusty, hot, irritable, half in shadow under hats, scarves.

I picked up my camera and climbed out of the Mamluk building I was excavating, on my way down the ancient tell of Dhiban and back up the neighboring tell of the modern town of Dhiban. As I walked between the Byzantine, Roman, Nabatean and Islamic piles of cut stone, a faint trace of smoke made me hesitate, then come off the winding goat path. Two of the Bani Hamida bedouin who worked with us on site were stoking a small fire on the tell. While making fires on the archaeology was certainly not encouraged, the local community had been using the tell to socialize for a long time. I greeted the men and they invited me to sit and have qahwa, a strong, hot, sweet, green coffee served in many of the local hospitality rituals and customs. I refused once, then twice, then looked over my shoulder at the vanishing backs of my fellow archaeologists, on their way to breakfast. Then I accepted a cup. But first, I pulled out my camera and snapped a photo.

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Pixel vs Pigment. The goal of Virtual Reality in Archaeology

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Colleen Morgan.

Post by Laia Pujol-Tost.

Archaeology has a long tradition of using visual representations to depict the past. For most of its history, images were done by hand and based on artistic skills and conventions. But the last fifteen years, we have witnessed 3D models take over archaeological visualization. It is interesting to note that while hand-drawn depictions tend to show human figures and seem to be associated with scenes of “daily life”, virtual reconstructions mostly show architectural remains and public spaces, usually devoid of people and objects. Yet, authors state that their intention is to represent the past.

grec-1

My field of research is what we now call Virtual Archaeology, but I started investigating when we still talked about “VR applications in Archaeology”. I have seen it become mainstream and evolve; and I wonder why after almost twenty years of technological improvements and theoretical debate, virtual reconstructions are still empty. Especially in comparison with drawings. Do the virtual and the physical have implicitly different goals? Are they subject to different perceptions or expectations by researchers and/or audiences? Have they received different historical influences? Maybe technological capacities still play a role?

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Mobile apps and the material world

[Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Sara Perry.]

Ҫatalhӧyük, 2015
Testing of mobile app prototype with users at the archaeological site of Ҫatalhӧyük, Turkey. Photo by Sara Perry, 2015.

This is the first in a series of posts, coordinated with Colleen Morgan, on the relations between analog and digital cultures. Over the next month, through the contributions of a variety of archaeologists, we will explore the concept of materiality in an age where the nature of ‘the material’ is rapidly shifting. How do physical materials and digital materials shape one another? How does experimentation with the digital rethink the dimensions of the analog, and vice versa? How, if at all, do we distinguish between one and the other – and is this even necessary (or possible) today? How have our understandings of ‘the real’ – of ‘things’ and ‘facts’ – of presence and the body – of aura and authenticity – been shifted by interactions between physical and digital materials?

As the premiere scholars of materiality, archaeologists are well-versed in the continuities between, and changes to, artifacts. Here, we probe their boundaries through discussion of our engagements at the intersections of the analog and the digital. I begin with some critical comments on mobile apps: oft enrolled in visitor experiences at archaeology and heritage sites, are these digital tools actually valuable?

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Writing with Community

[Savage Minds is pleased to publish this essay by guest author Sara Gonzalez as part of our Writers’ Workshop seriesSara is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Washington, Seattle. She works at the intersection of tribal historic preservation, colonial studies and public history, examining how archaeology can contribute to the capacity of tribal communities to study, manage, and represent their heritage. Her most recent project involves the creation of a community-based field school and training program in tribal historic preservation with the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde Community of Oregon’s Tribal Historic Preservation Department. Her recent publications include a co-edited a special issue of the SAA Record, NAGPRA and the Next Generation of Collaboration,” as well as articles in American Antiquity and in Anthropocene.]

 

Writing is a responsibility in the academy. Through our writings we enter into dialogues with one another. From undergraduate thesis to dissertation, scholarly articles and monographs, our writing marks the trajectory of our careers. It forms the basis on which our peers and colleagues evaluate the contributions we make to discipline. But writing is more than a job responsibility of an academic. In writing anthropology, and in my case archaeology, there is an added responsibility to scrutinize how the histories we produce are connected to the lives and futures of the communities we study.

The formation of anthropology as a discipline in North America occurred at the same time as European and American governments dispossessed indigenous nations of their homelands. Coinciding with the closing of the Indian Wars in the late 19th century, the Bureau of Ethnology, later renamed the Bureau of American Ethnology, sponsored ethnographic and linguistic research on Native American communities. These “salvage ethnographies” documented the cultural traditions and lifeways of Native American tribes under the presumption that the combination of assimilationist policies and exposure to American lifeways would cause them to vanish entirely. Archaeologists followed suit, recording ancestral sites and collecting artifacts, as well as human remains in their attempt to document the cultural history of tribes. The objects and ancestors uncovered by archaeologists and others—often through dubious means—became specimens of national history; representations of a past that ceased to exist following the arrival of Europeans and their colonization of the continent. Given this colonial history, how can the work of these disciplines be used to disrupt colonial relations in the present? Continue reading