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

What can archaeological data tell us about anthropological realities?
Location Wills 1.5
Date and Time 7th April, 2009 at 14:30


Aleksandar Boskovic (Institute of Social Sciences)
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Short Abstract

In recent years, archaeology and anthropology are again connecting with each other, after decades of separation. As we strive more towards interdisciplinarity, it becomes obvious that combining these field can benefit any attempt to understand societies that we try to study.

Long Abstract

In recent years, archaeology and anthropology are again connecting with each other, after decades of separation. Even in the US, with the "four field approach," these disciplines tended to move along separate lines. However, as we strive more towards interdisciplinarity, it becomes obvious that combining these fields can benefit any attempt to understand societies that we try to study. For example, there have been numerous attempts to interpret rituals or religious beliefs of the past, for which we have scarce archaeological data, in light of contemporary historical understanding of these cultures. There have also been attempts to interpret forms of social organization, again, juxtaposing historical and ethno-historical data upon the available archaeological records. The aim of this panel is to look at specific areas all around the world, including (but not limited to) Southeast Europe, Latin America, and Sub-Saharan Africa, where archaeological data do indeed inform our understanding of current ethnographic realities, and to show the usefulness of combining methodologies and approaches that will increase of our understanding of both the past and the present.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


The uses of archaeology and the Serbian Neolithic

Author: Aleksandar Boskovic (Institute of Social Sciences)


The paper deals with interpretation of the data from several Neolithic sites in the present-day Serbia, especially Lepenski Vir and Vinca. These sites (and the "cultures" assumed to have flourished in them) also provide examples for tendencies to project ethnographic ideas and interpretations from the present into the past, and then try to justify conclusions not actually supported by archeological data. This becomes plainly obvious when dealing with ideas about myth, religion, and ritual. Both of these sites have also served as important symbolic markers of the Serbian (and even wider, Balkan) ethnic identity, which was important in times of the political upheaval and wars that raged in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s.

In these examples, it is clear that archeology has been used as a tool for promotion and formation of a particular ethnocentric worldview, the one that promotes intra-group solidarity, and strengthens a particular self-esteem of the present-day population of the region.

The anthropological imagination and British Iron Age society

Author: Paul Sillitoe (Durham University)


What can anthropological experience bring to the understanding of British Iron Age society? Until recently, archaeologists have portrayed the British Iron Age as a time of precursor medieval fiefdoms comprising small-scale kingdoms of warrior monarchs and knight-like aristocrats ruling regions from their hillfort castles, and warring with neighbouring rivals. But lately their interpretations have inclined towards more stateless tribal arrangements. What can anthropology, with its knowledge of such orders, contribute to this tribal reformulation? Turning the anthropological gaze on archaeological evidence is fraught with problems, as highlighted in discussions about ethnographic analogy. But by drawing on general principles established about tribal socio-political life, in addition to ethnographic specifics, anthropology can suggest possibilities that fit with settlement and land use patterns, subsistence evidence, artefact remains, burials etc. While no recently extant tribal arrangements are likely to parallel closely those of the British Iron Age - in view of the variety evident in contemporary times - it is possible to suggest features that sit more comfortably with what we know about tribal life.

The question of territorial distribution of Illyrians in archaeological debate and in Serbo-Albanian cultural and political relations

Author: Igor Bogdanovic (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona)


This paper discusses implication of Serbian archaeologists and scientific institutions in late 1980s and 1990s in the political debate raised from complicated serbo-albanian relations in the last decades. Both parts in the violent dispute over the region of Kosovo as a key argument appeal on their historical right to rule these 10887 kmĀ² of territory. Serbian part claim succession of long-standing medieval statehood on Kosovo, which is converted in essence of their national identity today. On the other side, Albanian nationalist discourse insists on their indigenous, Illyrian origin, which dates their presence on the Balkans far before arrival of Serbs.

How this social situation was reflected in science and which was importance of interpretation offered by Serbian archaeology in popular nationalist discourse? Trying to answer this question through a case study, in this paper I will analyse arguments in archaeological debate about ethnic definition and territorial distribution of what is defined as Glasinac culture in Western Balkans Bronze and Iron Ages.

Stone forts and shell middens: archaeological and anthropological investigations in East Timor

Authors: Sally Brockwell (Australian National University)
Andrew McWilliam (Australian National University)
Sue O'Connor (The Australian National University)


The remains of fortified walled structures abound in remote hilltop locations in the contemporary landscape of East Timor. While few have so far been mapped, dated or otherwise investigated, preliminary radiocarbon dating suggests that they were constructed from about 1300 AD. Oral accounts indicate that walled villages continued to be constructed and used up until the middle of the twentieth century. Some archaeologists have linked the emergence of fortified settlements in Timor Leste post 1000 AD with a period of rapid climate change and environmental variation leading to resource scarcity and inter-group conflict. However anthropological investigations and historical accounts indicate that the trade in sandalwood from the island, in exchange for value goods such as iron and ceramics, may have led to inequalities in wealth and control and acted as a catalyst for fort-building. There is also evidence to suggest that the regional trade in slaves may have also played a role, at least in the 17th and 18th centuries. This paper describes a recent collaboration between archaeology and anthropology to document the nature and timing of cultural change in East Timor over the last 1000 years, through a detailed investigation of the fortifications. The results are tested against independent scientific data to establish whether climate change was in fact a catalyst for cultural change, or whether fortifications were the result of other social and economic factors.