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

Ruins: perception, reception and reality
Location Arch & Anth M1
Date and Time 7th April, 2009 at 14:30


Stuart Prior (University of Bristol)
David Shankland (Royal Anthropological Institute)
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

This panel will explore the meaning of ruins & continuous engagement with remains of the past. It will examine how ruins are perceived, how interaction with monuments impacts upon the present, why ruins still hold meaning & significance, and the reality behind conservation/preservation issues.

Long Abstract

This panel will explore the meaning of ruins and the continuous engagement or negotiation with the remains of the past. The panel intends to examine how ruins are perceived by those who come into contact with them, how interaction with these monuments and structures impacts upon the present, why they still hold considerable meaning and significance, and additionally the reality behind their conservation and preservation, and the reasoning and rationale behind the desire to preserve the past for the benefit of future generations. From Prehistoric megalithic structures, through Medieval castles and World War remains, to the abandoned workshops and offices of Silicon Valley, the scope of this panel is intended to be very broad, but ultimately the aim of the panel is to explore why, even in the 21st Century, ruins still hold a special fascination and a place in our imagination.

Chair: Stuart Prior & David Shankland
Discussant: Giovanni Salmeri

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


How long ago is 'the past'? Local perceptions of prehistoric monuments in Mallorca

Author: Jacqueline Waldren (Oxford University)


Archaeological excavations have uncovered numerous megalithic monuments and settlements on Mallorca. An anthropological study of social dynamics and local responses to these monuments will reveal diverse perspectives of the past. The implications of these interpretations provide insights into intercultural encounters and conceptions of time and space. Through the efforts of foreign archaeologists, the past is being made present and adding new dimensions to concepts of identity on the island.

Representations of 'Aphrodite' in the margins of Europe: mapping the ancient Goddess on the cultural map of Cyprus

Author: Nicoletta Paphitou (Bristol University)


The authorities in Cyprus desire to promote Cyprus as a cultural destination, even though the tourists who visit the island seem to be more interested in sun and sea. For this purpose they promote Cyprus' classical antiquity, superimposing the myth of the ancient Goddess on the contemporary Cypriot landscape. My paper examines this phenomenon. I pay special attention to the ideologies and practices involved in the promotion of cultural tourism in Cyprus, and in particular, to the use of the culture and symbolism associated with Goddess Aphrodite, who, according to the Cypriot narrative is presented as having been born in Cyprus.

I will discuss whether the recent focus on Aphrodite as a particularly 'Cypriot' Goddess, as opposed to the previous emphasis on Aphrodite as a 'Greek' Goddess, is related to the construction of the island's identity and its ambiguities. Does the Cypriot identity of Aphrodite override the uninterrupted continuity with the Greek Past? Or Aphrodite's Cypriot-ness is merely a selling point in advertisement campaigns? I will address the above questions ethnographically, based on long-term fieldwork among tourists and tourism professionals in Cyprus, paying special attention on the use of the past, and its remains, in the construction of a new model of cultural heritage.

Knowledge production and local communities: socio-politics and alternative accounts of the past

Author: Tera Pruitt (University of Cambridge)


The production of knowledge is a particularly contested space when local community needs mix with standards of archaeological practice. This paper looks at the production of archaeological knowledge in relation to alternative archaeological communities as well as local 'on-site' communities. Alternative claims to the past are complex social processes which originate from intricate social interactions and contexts, on local and global scales. This paper focuses on a study of the Bosnian pyramids, a case where one man's alternative archaeological vision of the past has become a preferred account of history for many people in Bosnia. Most professional archaeologists have been quick to dismiss the claims of man-made pyramids in the small town of Visoko, Bosnia. However, this account thrives because it serves different symbolic, socio-political and economic purposes in local and worldwide communities, and it is intimately attached to, and working within, larger conditions of politics and performance in post-war Bosnia. The questions that emerge from this scenario are difficult. Who has the right to Bosnia's past? To use Bosnia's past? Distressingly, this scenario forces us to confront the possibility that a contested and perhaps imagined site like the Bosnian pyramids might be worth more than real archaeology. This site is an economic and social asset to different communities, with different values for different reasons. For many people, the question is not whether or not the pyramids are real, but rather if people will come to see it, spend money in the tourist shops and use it as a cultural and economic artefact. For others, the site's very existence questions and challenges fundamental ideas about government, control and academic authority. This case also raises important concerns and issues about professional archaeological practise---both in our own excavation and publicity practises, as well as how we engage with local communities and alternative communities.

The Body as a place of remembering and re-envisioning the past under Estado Novo dictatorship (Portugal)

Author: Sergio Gomes (CEAUCP-CAM, University of Porto)


At the end of 1920's in Portugal, a dictatorial regime of a traditionalistic right wing - *Estado Novo* - rose to power, using a historicist nationalism as the main source of its rhetoric. During the following decades, António Oliveira Salazar, the dictator of the regime, argued that Portugal needed a *reaportuguesamento* - an action that would remember the eternal values of God, Homeland and Family, and would bring the Portuguese to a new Golden Age. Within the *reaportuguesamento* of the nation, the Past was used as one of the main elements in the construction of a National Identity adequate for the political projects of the regime. This relationship conditioned the monuments restoration projects because its management sought to fulfil the requisites demanded by the strategy of creating a juxtaposition between the political agenda and historical commemorations. In addition to this, the body was also used as a place in which people could see the emergence of the new/ancient Portuguese. In fact, within this use of the body, as a place of Past - as a place of memory, the XXth century Nation-Sate was linked with an Iron Age People named *Lusitanos* based on the idea of race. In this paper, I aim to discuss this last aspect of Salazar´s reaportuguesamento, analysing the role of archaeological and anthropological studies in the creation of the National Identity.

Desert oases and deserted villages: changing perceptions of ruins in the Libyan Fazzan

Authors: Stefania Merlo (University of Botswana)
Susanne Hakenbeck


The oasis in the desert has long had a place in the European imagination. Landscape, people and architecture converge into a timeless image that has attracted European travellers since the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, both in the past and in the present, when the romanticized gaze becomes a closer encounter, where the traveller engages with the material remains of a recent abandonment, the feeling of fascination often transforms into one of desolation and rejection. Within this, the notion of a ruined, sand-swept settlement takes on particular significance, contrasting the 'lost civilization' of the past with its contemporary population. A conflicting relationship with the ruins also characterizes the engagement of the local communities who have memories attached to these settlements but are also negotiating their perceived image of past poverty in contrast with modernized (and often imposed) new settlement patterns. This paper presents considerations emerged during fieldwork on abandoned historic settlements in the Fazzan region of southern Libya.

Summer in ruins: An archaeological journey, May 2004

Author: John Schofield (University of York)


People visit Malta for many reasons. I first went there to discuss its Second World War heritage, before returning in 2004 to study an alleyway - Strait Street or 'The Gut' - that runs through the World Heritage city of Valletta. Valletta, like Malta, is a place of contradictions and surprises, and Strait Street has these contradictions in abundance, writ large in every building that lines this 'sleazy, wreaking ditch'. In this presentation I will give an example of what archaeologists do with ruins, why we are interested in them and how an archaeological gaze contributes to their understanding. It is a journey that will recall the British naval presence in Malta, up until c.1970, and the places frequented by sailors on shore leave - bars, music halls and brothels, and what happened to these places when the navies finally left. It is a surprising story, and I believe an uplifting and an important one. It is about people that have left Malta behind, but it is also about people still living in Strait Street, in abject poverty, that Malta has left behind. Strait Street was once described as the 'street that shames hero island'. The shame now is the condition in which people live in Strait Street, people who have pride in the lives they lived here before, when Strait Street was a lively, bustling, rough and dirty place. Strait Street is a fascinating place, with fascinating people. This is their story, told through the fabric and the material culture left behind.

After the storm: The potential for an archaeology of Hurricane Katrina destruction and reconstruction

Author: Margaret Bagwell (University of Bristol)


Since making landfall on 29 August 2005, Hurricane Katrina has been used by individuals of the Gulf Coast regions and fellow United States citizens to mark time. The destruction of homes and the displacement of approximately two million people left a visible scar of the event that remains over three years later. Although a region accustomed to hurricane devastation, this population has experienced a cultural shift in the wake of life post-Katrina. Communities, though being rebuilt, are not the same. Absences exist where once stood houses. On a personal level, cherished materials have been lost or destroyed. A general misunderstanding of how to memorialize these cultural changes exists. These traumatic societal changes necessitate the participation of archaeologists beyond the 'normal' bounds of salvage archaeology to record and preserve a contemporary culture in danger of being forgotten in the rebuilding efforts. This paper will discuss the significance of modern ruins, the material record of the reclamation process, and the guidance needed to preserve the historic record.