The Pinery stage station, a historic resource of Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Photo credit: National Park Service.
By: Rochelle Bloom
The article, A Critique of Unfeeling Heritage, by Denis Byrne, is a useful text to introduce holistic approaches to archaeology. It is particularly well suited for students in an applied archaeology program who are considering a career in cultural resource management (CRM) and might not have a solid background in cultural anthropology or intangible heritage values. The article highlights the tendency of archaeologists, particularly those working in CRM, to privilege large-scale inventorying of sites and focus upon the “technologies and economics of the past” at the expense of the behaviors of the humans who created the sites. Though archaeology is, by definition, the study of material culture, this article helps to articulate the risks inherent in ignoring the social values communities attribute to sites.
The author illustrates the necessity for consideration of past and present social context through discussion of how communities relate to Cold War-era mass grave sites in Indonesia and massacre sites in other areas, particularly in instances where material evidence of past events is not visible in the landscape and specific locations have not been recorded. The article proposes an approach to archaeology in which artifacts are used as an avenue to explore the lives of associated individuals, rather than allowing for recordation and salvage of material as an end in itself. Although the article does not seek to develop a comprehensive methodology for a “feeling” archaeology, it does provide an excellent foundation for reflecting on some of the limitations of a purely tangible approach to the discipline.
A useful way to incorporate this article into the curriculum would be in a discussion of the potential issues that prevent best practice archaeology in CRM. It might be helpful to explore the pressures of projects,such as limited time and money, and how they affect the quality of work and goals for CRM projects. You may demonstrate how the investigation of past and present social context can be incorporated practically into fieldwork. For instance, in addition to discussing survey,excavation, and recording methodologies, you may wish to introduce some of the methods by which it is possible to obtain knowledge of human behavior, even with the prescribed limitations dictated by CRM. A useful exercise with students might be to provide examples of reports that are typical of more traditional environmental impact assessments and ask them to provide critiques and recommendations for more holistic studies.
Byrne, Denis. 2009. “A Critique of Unfeeling Heritage.” In Intangible Heritage, edited by Laurajane Smith and Natsuko Akagawa, 229-252. London and New York: Routledge.
As of 10/23/2018 the article is available for free through Marquette University.
Resource Contributed By:Rochelle Bloomis, Portland State University
Rochelle Bloom is an anthropology research assistant contracted to Portland State and working as a collaborator with the National Park Service. She assists with identification of ethnographic resources on federal lands.
Perhaps you are a cultural anthropologist who has been toying with the idea of how that other, grubby subfield – archaeology – could make a cameo appearance in your introductory course or even an upper level seminar on race, colonialism, or the body. Or, take another scenario in which you find yourself assigned to teach or TA an archaeology course when your colleague is on leave (curse you and your last-minute sabbatical), and want to shame them by adding something awesome and new to the syllabus. In both instances, and many others we might concoct that are not motivated by vengeance,I will demonstrate here the potential for utilizing the Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery (DAACS — https://www.daacs.org/) as tool for teaching an array of topics and concepts to undergraduates through actual data sets. DAACS is a resource which bills itself as a “Web-based initiative designed to foster inter-site, comparative archaeological research on slavery…”with the intention of assisting students and scholars from “different disciplines use archaeological evidence to advance our historical understanding of the slave-based society that evolved in the Atlantic World during the colonial and ante-bellum periods.” Without getting into extensive detail about the history of this database and its structure, much of which is amply and carefully documented on the site, it accommodates educators’ varying comfort levels with archaeological data by offering a range of pathways for navigating and querying the materials from the more than 50 sites it covers. In what follows, I offer a few suggestions for how to incorporate this tool in teaching students to explore archaeological assemblages and incorporate material culture into their anthropological thinking.
The first exercise I want to share allows students to get a feeling for the database and its potential for doing comparative analysis. It has them establish a query of a particular artifact category across a set of sites, the parameters of which are theirs to determine. In this example they would open the query database tab, choose the option for “object query,” and navigate to Object Query 3: Select Artifact Attributes by Type. In the first step of their query they have a variety of options of subsets and for this example I will suggest using “object form” as it can allow for a more precise choice of the artifact type. Students should consider and document what they see as significant about the particular artifact type they are tracking across the various sites in the database. In the second step students limit what set of sites to include in their query. Here, as well, they should discuss why they choose their specific parameters (or defaulted to selecting all) and what it might demonstrate. Perhaps the student is interested in evidence for whether enslaved populations had access to stimulants as part of their diet, and did this vary across the coverage area of the database. From this point they can retrieve their results which might look something like the following search for “Ceramic: Coffee Pot” across all sites:
The student’s analysis might document how such vessels were found at multiple sites all of which were in Virginia and not elsewhere. The expectation is not that students will make conclusive arguments, rather that they will begin the process of using material culture to ask interesting questions about patterns of social practice such as sociality and consumption. It is also important to note that students can download data results to an Excel file by clicking on the query options button. In order to further contextualize their preliminary findings they should also examine the wealth of information about the sites connected with their results by using the “Archaeological Sites” tab.
It is also productive for students to approach these data from the specific site as the starting point rather than a category of objects. As another exercise I will assign each student or group of students a particular site to explore in order to identify a specific “feature” within that site to investigate through the assemblage of artifacts associated with it. Not all sites are equally suited to this exercise, so it is necessary to limit students to those that strike a balance between sufficient quantity of materials that may demonstrate patterning or facilitate useful comparisons and those where assemblages are either overwhelming or thin. Some sites that work well include Monticello buildings l, o, r, s, and t, Palace Lands, and Mount Vernon’s House for Families, though you should feel free to experiment with others. After students carefully read the “background” and “before you begin” sections of their assigned site, they should run an Artifact Query 1: Basic Inventory in which they click the radio button for site in Step 1 and chose their specific site in Step 2. This will return a finds list for the entire site organized by artifact type and category. After downloading the data into an Excel sheet they can produce basic histograms and charts of the counts and discuss those findings.
Next students can drill down into a specific artifact type or category that is well-represented in the data through a second query that explores its attributes. For instance, using an Artifact Query 3: Select Artifact Attributes by Type, they could choose button as the artifact category in step 1 along with several attributes (e.g. material, manufacture, shape), no selection in step 2, and Building S at Monticello in step 3. Such a query might be designed in accordance with either a formal hypothesis about sartorial habits or as part of a broader inquiry about access to prestige items or other aspects of the domestic life of slavery. Once the results are downloaded into an Excel table, students can visualize the data in appropriate charts and analyze their findings. These examples only scratch the surface of what is possible with DAACS. The many scholars involved in making these data available also provide valuable guidance and suggestions under the site’s research tab. Such data do not need to be intimidating even for the introductory classroom. This is particularly the case in providing students with skills in comparative analysis and how to approach material culture in formal assemblages. Even within the context of a socio-cultural course such exercises encourage students toc onsider material culture as a lens into anthropological concerns over bodily practices, social class, consumption and more.
Resource Contributed by:Dr. Ian Straughn, University of California, Irvine
Dr. Straughn is an archaeologist whose research focuses on the spatial and material formation of the emerging Islamic tradition in the Levant. Additionally, he published on issues of Islamic heritage in the Middle East. He is currently co-editing a volume on the Islamic textual tradition of West Africa and developing new pedagogical tools for teaching archaeology and material culture.
In their project, Dig Into History, the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago gives students the opportunity to learn how archeologists work while taking a closer look at the rich history of Mesopotamia. Students begin by participating in a virtual dig in Iraq where they travel to find priceless artifacts. Once they are assembled, students will curate a museum where they have the chance to analyze and write about the artifacts as they learn more about everyday life in Mesopotamia.
These activities require you to have a flash plug-in, like the free one offered by adobe, downloaded onto your browser.
Resource Contributed by: Megan Daniel Neal, University of California, Irvine
This 10-minute film available on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YItBnWz0vOU) documents the 2012 Aboriginal Women’s Natural and Cultural Resource Management (NCRM) conference held at the Macquarie Marshes Nature Reserve on Weilwan territory in New South Wales, Australia. This film can be used in introductory archaeology and environmental anthropology classes as it calls attention to how women from indigenous communities have important cultural knowledge about the significance of natural resources and their preservation. Coming together for a three-day conference offered an opportunity for these women to learn more about how they can use resources communally while giving anthropology students additional perspectives on the benefits of ensuring NCRM projects prioritize the voices of indigenous women and their communities. Their work underscores how any given location should be considered both a cultural and natural resource in need of conservation methods led by local communities who offer pertinent forms of expertise on conservation.
The idea that a place like the wetlands can be both a natural and cultural resource is also made vivid as they engaged with the land according to traditional notions of community. For example, the women were able to learn how sedge is harvested for weaving and participated in projects where even the most experienced weavers were surprised to learn new traditional techniques. The women also planted native species of sedge to preserve the wetlands for future generations and once again weave together the importance of indigenous knowledges, practices, and aspirations for the future. Cultural tours, planting, and harvesting natural resources like lomandra flax plant used for weaving and trees native to the riparian area became ways of doing and seeing cultural knowledge through community building. These activities reiterated why natural resources like the wetlands should be protected for future generations as well as the need for indigenous women to become more involved in efforts to get their lands returned.
This film additionally provides a concrete example of environmental justice and how indigenous communities are working together to combat forms of environmental racism, such as the inability to own their traditional lands. The politics of natural and cultural resource management are therefore highlighted as workshops, activities, and discussions at the conference also focused on sharing strategies toward the attainment of land titles to protect the cultural heritages inextricable with natural resources like the wetlands. Surrounded by land cultivated for agriculture, the Weilwan people have been able to establish their territory as a protected area through joint management relationships with national parks and the Australian federal government. This film enables students to learn that NCRM can be a political as well as creative process in which activism and artwork can work hand in hand to reaffirm the rightful relationships indigenous groups have with natural resources. In these multifaceted relationships, we also see how indigenous women should have a prioritized voice in the creation and implementation of conservation procedures.
only is the wetland a sanctuary for native plants and animals, its creation is
part of a dreaming story that once again demonstrates how fundamental a natural
resource can be to the identities and lives of local communities. By sharing
dreaming techniques at the conference, the women reaffirmed their
understandings of the spiritual, ecological, and communal values that are
inseparable from the wetlands. They also illustrate how applied scientific
knowledge about ecologies also requires sociocultural contextualization that
considers the deeper relationships local communities have with them. Cultural
activities were therefore enacted as a way to remind women of the knowledge and
practices that need to be passed along to future generations as well as
reiterate the importance of expanding their engagement in decision-making
processes from which they have been historically excluded.
Teaching Resource Contributed By: Megan Neal, University of California, Irvine