Accepted paper:

Making heritage with bodies and glass: re-enacting human skeletons in archaeological museums

Authors:

Anne-Sofie Hjemdahl

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the practice of reconstructing skulls into hyper-realistic faces, and enact skeletons of the past as individual and bodily “monuments” exposed behind transparent walls of glass in archaeological museums. What are the relations between the bodily presence, the agency of the glass and archaeological knowledge production?

Paper long abstract:

This paper explores the practice of reconstructing skulls into hyper-realistic faces, enact skeletons of the past as individual and bodily “monuments” and then expose them to the audience behind transparent walls of glass in archaeological museums. The procedure, called forensic art, is to scan and copy skulls and build them up as completed faces with muscle, skin and hair. The result make it possible to identify and present them to the audience as three-dimensional people. As such, the audience are supposed to meet the individuals of the past: “face to face” at the same time as they are covered and framed with glass walls. Hence, these bodies dwell behind glass walls. In this paper, I will focus on the relation between the bodily presence of the reconstructions, archaeological knowledge production and the glass as both seems to protect and expose the bodies. The bodily presence behind the glass raises question about how the people of the past are brought into contemporary culture and what kind of existence and status they are given. The tension between knowledge production and knowledge communication is central and questions such as: how are these practices involved in archaeological production of knowledge - and what kind of work is the bodies and the glass meant to do within the archaeological museum, becomes significant. Inspired by critical museology and actor-network theory I will focus upon practices and the agency of things. Further; I will relate my questions to archaeological exhibitions in Norway and Sweden, where human remains from the stone age have been reconstructed and put on display.

panel Mat01
Walls of glass: visibility and transparence in materiality and metaphor