ASA09: Anthropological and archaeological imaginations: past, present and future
Bristol, UK

Monumentalising the past, archaeologies of the future
Location Wills 3.32
Date and Time 8th April, 2009 at 09:00


Felicia Hughes-Freeland (SOAS)
Penelope Dransart (University of Wales)
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

This panel explores the use of archaeological sites and materials in nationalist, ethnic and regional discourses about the past from perspectives focusing on a local or state-wide scale. How do protagonists monumentalize the past and appropriate its power for future action?

Long Abstract

We invite contributors to present original case materials from different societies to analyse how archaeological sites are used in nationalist, ethnic and regional discourses about the past. This panel will consider sites of different scales, and recognise the importance of local claims on monuments as well as grander state appropriations. Borobodur, Machu Picchu and Stonehenge loom large in national imaginations. But locally based activism enables protagonists to engage in political, legal, ethical and economic pursuits that can challenge or compete with national aspirations. The application of Dirks's (1992) analysis of culture and colonialism to the historical context in which archaeological interpretations are produced provides an opportunity to investigate the public presentation of archaeological sites and excavated finds as housed in museums. De Certeau's (1988) concept of 'the writing of history' is also relevant here, as is Taussig's (2004) undermining of monumentalizing notions. The kinds of contestation that have been provoked and the conception of heritage places as shared spaces with multiple users are at issue for this panel. Can the study of the practical conditions under which archaeological interpretations were devised help create archaeologies for the future which avoid the trap of timelines that have been narrativized as constant forward movement? Is it possible, as Errington (1998) proposed, to problematize the nationalist appropriations of 'progressivist time' (in Europe) and 'hierarchical' space (in Asia), as well as conflations of time and space (in the Andes), to devise new approaches to understand how archaeology produces localised meanings and practices?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Monuments to prehispanic and colonial pasts in the southwest of Potosí

Author: Maggie Bolton (University of Aberdeen)


Whether ruins become monumentalised or are erased, forgotten or ignored, may depend on the narratives of the past that nation-states, social movements and regional groups promote.

This paper explores the presentation of prehispanic remains in southwestern Bolivia in museums and recently established heritage sites. Such sites have been developed principally for tourists rather than local people, but the narrative they promote fits with the versions of the past adopted by Bolivia's indigenous movements and with demands of state bureaucracy that rural groups establish claims to territories on the basis of ancestral habitation.

Nevertheless, the landscape of the Lípez provinces tells a different story of occupation and habitation, being inscribed with traces of colonial silver mining that narrate a history of movements of different people (Andeans, Spaniards, African slaves), animals and materials into and out of the region. Almost no attempt has been made to monumentalise these ruins, even though tourists pass them, and some have already been destroyed by mining companies. The paper asks why these traces are ignored. Is it the result of mining being an ongoing activity for both large companies and independent lipeño miners? Does the absence of concern over colonial ruins indicate a lack of use for their history? Should we be concerned that, as Bogotá's gold museum celebrates prehispanic metallurgy but erases a later history of African labour in Colombia's gold fields (Taussig 2004), preserving the indigenous past in Lípez, while ignoring silver, likewise erases a history of colonial exploitation, migration and diversity?

Identity and the past: ancient Saguntum in the local imagination

Author: Alessandra Sulzer (University of Oxford)


The late eighteenth-century excavations of the Roman theatre and other monuments at the site of ancient Saguntum in Spain provide insight into contemporary discourse about the past. In the eighteenth century, classical material culture was part of a broader Bourbon cultural programme intended to produce a revisionist history of Spain with the aid of the Real Academia de la Historia and the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando. By facilitating the excavation, documentation, and study of classical monuments, the academies ultimately enabled them to be perceived as Spanish national heritage. This paper draws on contemporary correspondence and archaeological dissertations to examine how a fledgling concept of national heritage was reflected and refracted in the cultural and archaeological activities and political aspirations of a provincial lawyer-turned-antiquary in the eighteenth-century town of Murviedro, which had grown over the ruins of Saguntum. The interaction between locals in Murviedro and the academies in Madrid allowed the town to develop an identity based on its local Roman monuments. These eighteenth-century events illuminate the discourse about the past in the modern town of Sagunto. Tensions over the recent refurbishment of the ancient theatre for modern performances recall issues confronted in the eighteenth century and help us to understand the current meaning of the Roman monuments in the local imagination and political structure.

(Re)cycled warriors and the monumentalisation of ancient Lusitania

Author: Ana Cristina Martins (Tropical Research Institute - IICT)


Since the establishment of scientific archaeology in Portugal, stone statues of the so-called "Lusitanian warriors" were chosen to illustrate a specific agenda. The first Portuguese archaeologists published quite a few papers on this subject, as, together with iron age hill forts, those artifacts were envisioned as a representation of the Portuguese ethnogenesis, as well as a symbol of its nature, and freewill. What is more, they were frequently connected to a supposed historical union of the North of Portugal and the region of Galicia, a suggestion which could have political consequences for both Iberian countries. In addition, those statues were identified specifically as "Lusitanian", i.e., the claimed ancestors of contemporary Portuguese, legitimizing therefore its geographical and political frontiers. Unsurprisingly, these statues were collected, and exhibited in museums, where they played a central role. This was the case of the 'National Museum of Ethnology' (currently 'National Museum of Archaeology'), which logotype was, precisely, a 'Lusitanian warrior', alike the one employed by the 1st National Congress of Archaeology (Lisbon, 1958), as well as by many other organizations -public and private - up today.

A case study: the mausoleum of Atatürk (Anitkabir) in Ankara, Turkey

Author: Gwendolyn Leick


A mausoleum for a political leader provides the opportunity to monumentalise not only the last resting place into a substantial architectural or landscape object but to formulate biographical narratives that correlate with the real and imagined fate of the nation. Such memorials can become places of performative commemoration with strong emotive resonances as well as markers of national identities. Anitkabir, located in the centre of Ankara, capital city by Atatürk's decree since 1923, is built on an archaeological mound, containing several large tumuli dating from the Phrygian period (8th century BC).

The site of the ancient burial mound connects the distant past with the present Turkish Republic, here literally embodied by its founder's mortal remains. The architectural configuration of the memorial makes reference to various historical as well as ethnographic markers of identity. . Anitkabir is used by the government to mark important days associated with the Republic of Turkey for mass rallies. Foreign dignitaries are also expected to pay a visit but much more important are the personal visits of Turkish people who come alone or with families. Topographically, the Atatürk memorial, with its monumental columned hall constitutes a new 'acropolis' to complement the rocky plateau crowned by the citadel. .

Anitkabir, with its mausoleum, terraces, avenues and colonnades, set in an idealised landscape, can be seen as a monumental art work, a 'technology of enchantment' after A.Gell, which relies on symbolic representation to communicate complex and sometime contradictory messages to citizens and foreign visitors alike.

Monumentalising the past, appropriating power for future action

Author: Penelope Dransart (University of Wales)


Eighteenth-century attitudes to ruins focused on the decayed grandeur of buildings such as palaces, sumptuous monuments to the dead or other public monuments. However these decayed structures represented not just the remains of architecture. They evoked the generations of people no longer living in what Diderot (1767) called 'la poétique des ruines'. The tumbled ruins were now open to visitors who would have been denied entry when the grand house was occupied. The crumbled walls covered with vegetation, which moved in the wind, afforded the visitor sensory pleasures. They also gave scope for the melancholic consideration of the ambitions of the former occupants who, apparently, desired to raise their house, their lineage (in the sense of Lévi-Strauss's house societies) to a status immortalised in stone. Anne Laura Stoler (2008) contemplated ruins in the sense of 'imperial formations' in order to address new claims and entitlements, in order to discriminate between 'what is residual and tenacious' in reclaiming the waste of such formations. This paper examines locally based activism concerning Fetternear (Scotland). The participation of volunteers and visitors to this archaeological site provides a means for investigating how this activism presents challenges to progressivist notions of development. An important part of that challenge to such notions is provided by the reclamation of knowledge through what Pinney (2008) has termed photography's 'increasingly mobile prosthesis' as visitors to Fetternear become purveyors of knowledge which they share through the internet.

The seduction of stones: monuments as narratives of nationhood

Author: Felicia Hughes-Freeland (SOAS)


This paper explores the use of archaeological sites in the construction of nationalist narratives in postcolonial Indonesia. It will focus particularly on productions of the Ramayana at the Shaivite temple of Loro Jonggrang at Prambanan, Central Java which was first conceived in the 1950s and which continues to attract domestic and international tourists. This is one example of how dance spectacles which are presented at archaeological sites in their vicinity provide a sense of continuity in a nation which is formed as a result of colonial contingencies. The mythologisation of the past implicates dancing bodies as well as stone monuments, and generates fictitious histories of dance. In the case of the Ramayana Ballet, these manipulations are dramatised by the contrast between the eroded images of dancing bodies in the stone, and the choreographic innovations which were introduced in the Ramayana. The setting speaks of monumentally-sanctioned continuity. By contrast the dynamics of choreographic invention show that even as embodied performances feeds into the narrative of nationhood, it is evidence of the nation's qualities being thought of as emergent and immanent, present in dynamic human bodies. This has implications for understanding how archaeologically motivated themes play in narratives of nationhood, in relation to nation both as an idea, and as embodied in its citizens.

The 'agency' of monuments: revisiting the concepts of 'monument' and 'monumentality'

Author: Eleana Yalouri (Pandeion University of Social and Political Sciences, Athens)


The discussion in this paper derives from a series of questions, such as:

1. Do monuments and monumental sites constitute fixed and unchangeable markers of an objective 'History' or are they places of multiple 'histories' with malleable and negotiable content?

2. Should the concepts of 'monument' and 'monumentality' be linked to an exclusively visible, structured space? Isn't 'monumentality' after all a quality which can be attributed not only to architectural or other 'material' structures but also to other 'immaterial' aspects of culture such as music or language?

3. What are the factors and the processes contributing to define something as a monument? Are 'monuments' made to become monuments in the first place or do they become such in the process? If the latter is true, can anything potentially become a monument? How do different monumentalities succeed each other and how are they transformed in different historical and cultural contexts?

4. Is 'oldness' a necessary prerequisite for something to become a monument, and if so, what is the role of history and memory in this process?

5. Are monuments 'museal' in the sense that Theodor Adorno used the term to describe objects that are no longer in a vital relationship with the observer, but in the process of dying? Are monuments anchored and bounded on a particular site, passive objects of our gaze simply illustrating human action or can we recognize in them a different kind of dynamics in the way they participate in the social lives and actions of people?