ASA09: Anthropological and archaeological imaginations: past, present and future
Date and Time 9th April, 2009 at 11:30
Chair: John Gledhill
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
Archaeology, anthropology and material things
Traditionally, it has been held that archaeology studies the past through the medium of material things, while anthropology studies social relations through testimony and observation. But in recent years the development of material culture studies in anthropology and a social archaeology have compromised this distinction. In this contribution I will question aspects of the characterisation of ‘material culture’, while emphasising the point that archaeologists actually address absent presences whose existence is implied by the configuration of the tangible world. On this basis I will make some suggestions concerning the future relationship between archaeology and anthropology.
Archaeological ethnography: materiality, heritage and hybrid methodologies
British and American archaeologies reflect different histories of connection with anthropology. Shared literatures and shared concerns between the two disciplines have resulted in compelling theoretical and ethical engagements, so it is timely that scholars also craft a methodological meeting ground. Recently, new hybrid modes of research have developed and have critically re-shaped American archaeological practice. The generative nature of debates involving Native American materials, histories, collaborations, has situated North American archaeology differently to its British counterpart.
Throughout my South African fieldwork I have described one possibility for the convergence between disciplines as an archaeological ethnography — a traversing of two distinct, but necessarily enmeshed fields. Archaeological ethnography might encompass a mosaic of traditional forms including archaeological practice, museum or representational analysis, as well as long-term involvement, participant observation, interviewing, as well as archival work. Yet where this work diverges from mainstream ethnography is with the foregrounding of the past’s materiality, specifically those traces of the past that have residual afterlives in living communities, are often considered spiritually significant, and that invite governmental monitoring and control that many indigenous communities and archaeologists increasingly find problematic. Archaeological ethnography often entails collaborating with, rather than studying, the people with whom we work in the heritage sphere. It similarly intercalates with broader cosmopolitan concerns to empower connected communities and affect change at higher levels of power structuring. Ultimately this is an outgrowth of an ethical archaeology, one that takes as its project the contemporary relevance of archaeological heritage.
Science and a bridge between Archaeology and Anthopology
The traditional view that the division between Anthropology and Archaeology can be characterized as the study of the living vs the dead, or of social relations vs material culture is being challenged in a number of ways. One such way is afforded by recent developments in scientific archaeology. I will discuss how biomolecular and isotopic methods can now being used on archaeological human remains to reconstruct past life histories and the genetic and social relationships of past societies. These methods may be the first small steps towards a change from bone as an artefact category to bones as informants.