OSEA Host Wenner Gren Workshop 2005
"The Public Meanings of the Archaeological Past:
Sociological Archaeology and Archaeological Ethnography"
Quetzil E. CASTAÑEDA & Christopher N. MATTHEWS, Organizers
Pisté and Chichén Itzá, Yucatán, México.
June 1-5, 2005
OSEA-The Open School of Ethnography
and Anthropology, Institutional Sponsor
The Public Meanings of the Archaeological Past: Sociological Archaeology and Archaeological Ethnography was held, June 1-5, 2005 in Pisté, Yucatán, México. The workshop was made possible by a Workshop Grant from the Wenner Gren and hosted by OSEA—The Open School of Ethnography and Anthropology. The event was held at the OSEA Research Facility in Pisté, Yucatán, México.
Pisté, Yucatán was determined to be an appropriate site for a workshop that explored the question of how ethnography can be incorporated into archaeology. Pisté, located only two kilometers from the famous archaeological site and tourist destination of Chichén Itzá, has a long-term historical relationship with anthropology. In turn, Pisté, a contemporary Maya community, and Chichén Itzá, an internationally famous pre-Columbian Maya city, have unique places in the intellectual, social and institutional history of US Americanist archaeology. In order for the participants to best appreciate this intricate and ongoing historical and contemporary relationships in Pisté between archaeology, cultural anthropology, and tourism, OSEA arranged for special cultural activities. Dr. Castañeda, founding director of OSEA, provided an introduction to the community of Pisté, which included discussions of the politics of tourism and the social history of archaeology of the nearby archaeological zone of Chichén Itzá. OSEA arranged for unique and rare meals from traditional cuisine of Yucatán and for accommodations at the family run Posada Olalde. The great-grandfather of the owner of the Olalde family was the hacienda foreman for the archaeologist Edward H. Thompson who excavated Chichén and collected antiquities for the Peabody Museum in the early years of the 20th century. In addition to paper presentations, the workshop included guided tours of the archaeological sites of Chichén Itzá and Ek’ Balam and a screening of the visual ethnography video, “Incidents of Travel at Chichén Itzá,” produced by the cultural anthropologists, Jeff Himpele and Quetzil Castañeda (distributor: Documentary Educational Resources, Watertown, MA, 1997), with follow up discussion with the filmmakers.
The workshop was a remarkable success in establishing cross-subfield dialogues and in creating new communicative links and engagement with colleagues that are working on shared issues of concern. Given that these issues are relatively new for US-Americanist archaeology, the workshop was an important event that has allowed for the establishment of new networks and the bringing together of colleagues to continue to work on these initiatives, specifically on the issues of how ethnography can be incorporated into archaeology. Included within this general problem were workshop debates and discussions about reflexivity in archaeology, the history and writing of archaeology, the ethnographic study of archaeology as a science and institution, the limits and potential of public archaeology, politics of heritage, and archaeological epistemology. The success of the workshop must also be measured in terms of the intellectual content that was manifested in the dialogues and debates. In particular, the workshop was a forum in which the participants were able to develop a strong, programmatic and practical vision of this interdisciplinary area that is currently emergent within US archaeology. The quality of the papers and discussion strongly recommend the publication of a volume based on the successes and strengths of the workshop.
The twelve participants consisted of six archaeologists and six ethnographers all of whom have significant cross-over and interdisciplinary research experience or formal training in the other subfield. A seventh archaeologist participated in absentia as a co-author on a paper presentation. Among the ethnographers, Hugo Benavides (Fordham) received training as an archaeologist and has significant experience leading and directing archaeological projects. Rick Wilk (Indiana University), a major figure in economic anthropology, has had extensive and direct experience working in historic and archaeological preservation. Four of the cultural anthropologists, Breglia, Castañeda, Himpele and Handler, in turn have accomplished considerable research in the ethnographic study of archaeological heritage and patrimony. Richard Handler (University of Virginia) was a pioneer in the ethnographic study of archaeological and living history museums. Quetzil Castañeda (OSEA) and Jeff Himpele (New York University) have not only conducted ethnographic studies of archaeology, but have also received undergraduate training in archaeology. Lisa Breglia (Wesleyan University), with major funding from a Wenner-Gren dissertation grant in cultural anthropology, completed in 2003 an ethnographic study of an archaeological research project in relation to conflicting forms of ownership of archaeological and cultural patrimony.
In turn each of the archaeologists have in diverse and engaging ways used and continue to develop ethnographic methodologies in their archaeological research projects, dissemination/outreach programs, and interface with communities when conducting archaeological research. Julie Hollowell (Research Associate at Indiana University and Guest Curator of the Princeton Art Museum) has written extensively on the place of ethnography within archaeology as it relates to ethics and indigenous conceptions of the archaeological record. Mark Leone (University of Maryland, College Park) has not only been teaching his students the value of the ethnographic study of archaeology, but has used forms of ethnography in his archaeological research in Annapolis in the development of museum display and the dissemination archaeological knowledge. Christopher Matthews (Hofstra University) has continually relied upon ethnography as a tool in his proactive development of a public archaeology that not merely engages local communities but that facilitates the appropriation of archaeology for local needs. Lynn Meskell (Stanford University) is an archaeologist that is currently undergoing re-training as an ethnographer/cultural anthropologist through a Mellon Grant. Anne Pyburn (Indiana University) has been a practitioner of the use of ethnography in archaeology in her research in Belize and an active advocate for this practice in her work with archaeologists from archaeologically-underdeveloped countries. Larry Zimmerman (IUPUI) has been a major figure within the archaeology of Native America who has advocated and developed ways to successfully engage indigenous peoples and issues into archaeological research, in part through the use of ethnography. George Nicholas (Simon Fraser University), a specialist in the archaeology of northwestern Canada, has directed a long-term indigenous archaeology program that has not only trained many First Nations archaeologists but that has developed unique and innovative ways for archaeologists to respectfully engage indigenous ownership of the past.
The workshop was divided into four sessions, each consisting of three papers with a commentary by a participant. The workshop was structured with double sessions on two days and a half day of synthesis and roundtable discussion and debate. The two days of double sessions were separated by a day of extra-curricular activities revolving around the intellectual and political problems of the archaeological heritage at Chichén Itzá, as described above. Half of the day devoted to workshop synthesis included rest and a visit to the recently excavated and restored for tourism site of Ek’ Balam. The dynamic of the workshop was shaped as a cross-disciplinary dialogue in which papers by ethnographers were discussed by archaeologists and vice-versa. This structuring and dynamics proved to be a very successful organizational strategy as it allowed participants to fully engage with the intellectual issues with appropriate time for rest, for individual reflection, and for developing knowledge of and engagement with the local communities and cultures of the area. All of the workshop participants were exceptionally pleased with this organization of the intellectual work as well as with the activities organized for time outside of the actual forum of paper presentation and commentary.
The opening session, “Archaeologies and Ethnographies,” was conceived as means to establish a conceptual framework for the workshop as a whole and for the subsequent sessions. The presenters were two ethnographers and one archaeologist. Quetzil Castañeda of the Open School of Ethnography and Anthropology prepared a comprehensive position paper, Archaeological Ethnography: Research Positioning in the Project and Practice of Archaeology, on the issues that underwrite a sociological archaeology. He presented a broad vision of three general modes by which to further develop and constitute archaeological ethnographies, that is, the incorporation of ethnography into archaeological research, and specific strategies and objectives by which to actualize these forms of incorporation. His introduction of the concept of research positioning offers new insight on the manner in which archaeology may be conceived as a problem of investigation for ethnographic analysis. In Crumbling Walls and Mending Fences: Archaeological Ethnography in the Limpopo, Lynn Meskell of Stanford University proposed her own notion of archaeological ethnography and elaborated a substantive vision of it with a thick ethnographic account of the politics, science, and sociological contexts of making Kruger National Park in South Africa into heritage with multiple values for contending stakeholders. This ethnographic research, which dovetails with proposals presented by other workshop participants (Pyburn, Zimmerman, Hollowell and Nicolas) is not simply a study of the struggle to construct, define, and administer heritage but also an applied intervention in the social fields of power and politics in which archaeology is embedded. On the basis of this work, she argued that archaeological ethnography provides an especially useful set of tools “to trace the processes of community participation in archaeology, indigenous access to sites and collaborative site development, educational outreach based on local heritage and the identity politics engendered in the crafting of ‘possible futures.’” Rick Wilk of Indiana University concluded the session with a paper, Time for the Maya, that analyzed the graphism and epistemology of how “time” is represented in archaeology and, thus, used to construct holistic cultures. Drawing on research in Maya and Olmec archaeology, he showed various ways that the ancient and modern peoples are arbitrarily distinguished and congealed into discreet entities that come to have an independent life and reality of their own. This critique of the epistemological basis of defining archaeological objects of study through reified constructions of time and time-units offered a response to Castañeda’s call for a sustained appraisal of the forms of allochronism that inhabit archaeology. The paper suggested other modes of thinking and representing time that may allow for the emergence of alternative conceptions of the archaeological past.
The second session, “Archaeology as Object of Study,” consisted of studies of archaeology or archaeological projects by three ethnographers. Hugo Benavides of Fordham University in his paper, Disciplining the Past, Policing the Present: The Postcolonial Landscape of Ecuadorian Nostalgia, addressed the question of how the “archaeological recovery of the past” operates in relation to political projects of domination, whether colonialism or postcolonial nation-making. Through detailed analysis, he explored how different archaeological narratives and interpretations of the Ecuadorian indigenous past, rely upon an ideology of (imperialist) nostalgia (a lá Rosaldo) even as this nostalgia takes on contrastive rhetorics and values in terms of class, race, national, and sex/gender identities. The question of nostalgia persisted in the workshop as the theme of the experiential meaning, value and motivations of doing archaeology for archaeologists was debated throughout the discussions. In Filmmaking in the Shadows of Archaeology, Jeff Himpele of New York University used video clips from two of his own video projects at sites in Bolivia (Tiwanaku) and Yucatan (Chichén Itzá), as well from a National Geographic video on archaeological research at Tiwanaku to illustrate his vision of how ethnographic film and filmmaking can be used to further develop the notion and practice of a sociological archaeology. Ethnographic filmmaking of archaeological research, he contends, can be a productive way to document and bring to discussion the actual practices of archaeology that are otherwise under-inspected in the analysis of the production of archaeological knowledge. This prospect, he argued, would be a significant extension of the current move to bring archaeology under investigation within frameworks such as the “anthropology of science” or that of archaeological ethnography proposed by the workshop. Lisa Breglia of Wesleyan University, in her paper, Development and Descent: Archaeology, Local Communities and the Making of Proper Publics, provided both an ethnographic study of the outreach program developed by an archaeological research project in Yucatán and, developed from a quote from Freud, an analytical framing of the archaeological motivations to “uncover the past.” Her analysis illustrates social and political problems that can emerge when archaeologists impose onto local stakeholders their own external visions of who are (and thus who are not) the proper and legitimate descendants of the archaeological past and how they should (and should not) value the archaeological record. This paper stimulated substantial debate and severe criticism of the archaeologists. In the discussion, Castañeda made the observation that although ethics and politics are connected, the cultural analysis of politics is not the same thing as an ethical analysis of interaction and that too often we conflate these two types of analysis as both authors and readers and thus, when the former passes as if it were the latter, we create a polarizing moralism. This moralism that antagonizes scholarly camps then becomes the meaning and message of any use of the word “critical” as in critical approach, critical archaeology, critical historiography, critical ethnography of archaeology, etc.
The third session, “Ethnography as Archaeological Method,” consisted of three papers by archaeologists. Anne Pyburn of Indiana University in her paper, Wagging the Dog: Archaeology as a Positive Political Force, makes a strong argument for the imperative that archaeology must become a type of applied anthropology that proactively intervenes in social fields and cultural communities in which archaeology is practiced. Specifically, she proposed a practical vision of how to attain this by suggesting that archaeology needs to become a form of participation action research, in large measure through the use of ethnography. The incorporation of ethnography into archaeology would operate as a primary means to productively and ethically engage the needs, claims of ownership, and values of stakeholders in archaeological projects. She points out the need to identify and define the various stakeholder groups and their values, concerns, and needs, on the one hand, and, second, that archaeologists themselves are stakeholders who have very specific vested interests, motivations, and claims that must be brought to the forefront in any successful and respectful collaborative work with archaeological publics, stakeholders and descendent communities. In The Location of Archaeology Christopher Matthews of Hofstra University presented his research with an African-American community in New Orleans. He described how the problematic of race both interrupted and enabled the production of a community archaeology program. His paper explores how the legacies of race construct not only an archaeological research interest, but the way archaeological research in the living world is constructed by descendent communities. He argues that research be determined at the hybrid moments between archaeology/the past and the public/the present that such engagements elicit. Larry Zimmerman of Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis provided a paper, Real people or reconstructed people? Ethnocritical archaeology, ethnography, and community-building in which he elaborated his programmatic vision of ethnocritical archaeology based on discussion of diverse archaeological research projects, including field schools, amongst indigenous communities. The contention of ethnocritical archaeology, the phrasing of which is indebted to the work of Arnold Krupat, is that archaeology must effectively collaborate with living descendent communities of the archaeological past in order to make the research a meaningful engagement with humans, the interpretations valid and significant to persons and communities other than scientific archaeologists, and the research activities ethical. In a convergence with Pyburn, Zimmerman highlighted the idea that this more extensive as well as intensive collaboration with descendent communities necessarily involves a kind of ethnography or ethnographic approach to ethical interaction with subject communities that is most clearly developed as applied anthropology. Zimmerman is careful to note not only that his vision of ethnocritical archaeology is much the same as what is known as indigenous archaeology, but that this approach or mode of archaeology is practically dependent upon pre-existing communities with significant degree of collective and corporate solidarity.
The fourth session, “Archaeology as Ethnographic Subject,” was comprised of papers by two archaeologists and one ethnographer. The first paper, The Foundations of Archaeology, by Mark Leone of the University of Maryland-College Park explored the role of archaeology in contemporary US governmental politics. He contends that among the missions of archaeological science is to weigh in on the contemporary debates in which archaeology and archaeologists have something to contribute to the broader social good within the public sphere or civil society. This point is elaborated in a discussion of the increasing power and validity given to the thinly concealed theological “theories” of intelligent design of human origins by different political groups and governmental agencies in Washington as compared to the long standing archaeological understandings of human origins. Leone discussed the need for the validity and authority of science to be sustained within such contexts and used his research collaboration with various African Methodist Episcopal churches in Maryland as an example of how archaeology and archaeologists can negotiate public and political constructions of the past. Richard Handler of the University of Virginia presented a paper, A Dangerously Elusive Method: Disciplines, Histories, and the Limits of Reflexivity, that addressed underlying epistemological assumptions in a cautionary tale that can usefully guide those who of us who seek to develop a new “marriage” of ethnography with archaeology. Specifically, he pointed out the effective power of the artificial differentiation between disciplines and noted that these differences do not simply constrain but also enable and facilitate (innovative)research agendas and (interdisciplinary) practices. Similarly, he insisted on the incommensurability between the cultural conceptions of the past as heritage for descendent communities and social science conceptions of the past as history for archaeologists. This difference, which can and must and is in fact always negotiated by archaeologists and stakeholders, must be consciously held in mind by archaeologists or otherwise risk the ethically questionable imposition of the archaeological agenda onto others. The paper by Breglia illustrated this dilemma. Finally brought Handler to reframe lessons from Sapir, in order to identify reflexivity (and ethnography) as an elusive and dangerous method for archaeologists to seek out in creating new solutions to the sociopolitical contexts of archaeology. His proposal for a more limited notion of reflexivity resonated with the idea of research positioning presented by Castañeda and was embodied in the public role advocated by Leone. Julie Hollowell, Research Associate at Indiana University and Guest Curator of the Princeton University Art Musuem, presented a co-authored paper, Archaeological Ethnography: Archaeology As Subject, with George Nicholas of Simon Fraser University, who was unable to attend the workshop. For this paper they conducted an open, online survey in which they asked archaeologists to briefly describe the uses with which they are familiar of ethnography in archaeological research. The survey clearly showed that there has been a long history of articulating ethnography into the agenda of archaeology. Their analysis identified five types that include the use of ethnography to classify cultures, the direct historical method to define culture areas, ethnoarchaeology, ethnography as a method of CRM by the National Park Service to facilitate research, and as a means to engage stakeholder communities in a dialogical approach to the past. From the results of the survey, they outlined a series of “best practices” that aim toward the goal of the development of an archaeological ethnography. They contend that the use of ethnography as a tool in archaeology can lead and has led to the development of more nuanced and sociologically attuned results in research.
The fifth and final session was a roundtable discussion with all the participants. Christopher Matthews opened the session returning to the theme of the dialogue between the disciplinary fields of archaeology and ethnography. Here he raised his concerns about the relative status and authority of these fields within anthropology as well as how one can contribute to the processes of the other. While the question was posed during the workshop about what archaeology could contribute to ethnography, the participants shared the view that the focus of the workshop was securely locked onto to how archaeology can benefit from the incorporation of different forms of ethnography into the archaeological project. This raised substantial debate about the specificity of the fields and their differences in terms of their methodologies, practices, training, and career prospects. Zimmerman, Handler and Matthews were particularly concerned with the implications of disciplinary training for careers, both in and out of academia. Matthews pointedly asked Meskell what would be the status and nature of both her research and her own academic position as an archaeologist if she continues in the course of studying the sociopolitical contexts and processes of heritage. Would she still be an archaeologist? Would this work still be archaeology? In response, Meskell asserted, first, the need to increase the inherent mixing of fields through more cross-over training so as to effectively release ourselves from disciplinary boundaries; second, she expressed her vision of archaeology as a project that is not focused on the archaeological past for its own sake but that is primarily concerned with the sociological and political processes in which the past exists in the present. Handler reiterated a point made in his paper that inter-disciplinarity requires the foundation of a discipline from which to begin crossing into and mixing with other disciplinary fields, as well as to secure academic positions. Leone reaffirmed Meskell’s point about the need to increase “cross-over” training by suggesting that any study of archaeology must demonstrate significant knowledge of the field. Himpele asserted that the ethnographic work of Meskell was a strong example of the goals established by the workshop to develop archaeological ethnography, which he expressed as an incorporation of ethnography into archaeology and a crossing of fields of methodologies and of representation into a project that is defined not as archaeological science “for its own sake” but that instead defines the archaeological endeavor as a project of sociopolitical and ethical engagement with the world around the question of the past. Benavides confirmed his agreement with Himpele and Meskell about the importance of this project and also expressed his view that that this agenda of social responsibility, versus the question of training and careers, should be maintained as the central focus of the workshop.
This moved the discussion to identify three paradigmatic or disciplinary modes of archaeological projects: the inherited archaeology that is oriented on the materiality of the past for the sake of science, a relatively new archaeology that is focused on the sociological contexts of making the past for the sake of an ethical engagement, and an archaeology that is devoted to the making and preservation of heritage for the sake of identity-formation. The identification of these three raised the crucial question of the future of excavation, and closely related methodologies, as the essential diagnostic methods of archaeology. This led to discussion of the underlying problem of what constitutes disciplinary identity, not only in archaeology, but history and ethnography. Meskell clarified that disciplinary boundaries are constituted differently in different national traditions of social science. The majority of the participants anticipate a future in which excavation will not define archaeology and thus also envision diverse forms of “ethnographic” relationships with publics, stakeholders, and descendent communities as having increasing centrality. In this context, Breglia expressed her view that one significant way ethnography can contribute to the archaeological project is specifically through an exploration of the politics of defining descendent communities.
In closing up the roundtable, Wilk, Pyburn and Castañeda initiated discussion of the broader objectives of the workshop by asking the asking the question, who are the intended audiences of the workshop papers and therefore of our collective, yet differentiated, vision of archaeology and of archaeological ethnography. How can the workshop project be enlarged to address other archaeologists and what would be the best means to do so? Agreement was expressed that the workshop discussions, both following the papers and in the final session, were an invaluable contribution to the papers. Further, all of the participants were in agreement that the strengths of the papers warranted publication in a book format and that there is a significant need for the ideas, analyses, and results of the workshop to be more broadly disseminated to wide range of archaeologists. To this end the organizers have already initiated work on a book proposal.
The proposed book is organized into two substantive parts based on two types of archaeological ethnography. One part consists of five chapters that take archaeology as an object of study. These would include chapters by Benavides, Breglia, Himpele, Meskell, Wilk. A second part consists of five chapters that explore how ethnography is, has been or could be incorporated into archaeological research in the form of an applied archaeology. These would include chapters by Hollowell and Nicolas, Leone, Matthews, Pyburn, and Zimmerman. Three additional chapters would form an introductory section, the chapters by Castañeda and Handler in addition to a short, introduction to the book that would be written especially for this project. The co-organizers have already begun to draw up suggestions for each author on how to revise their papers to better form a coherent and unified book project. The co-organizers, as well as all the participants, strongly felt that this project would fit nicely with Berg Press and felt that this publisher would be the most appropriate one with which to pursue the publication of the proposed book. In recognizing that the Wenner-Gren has an agreement with Berg to publish conference projects, Castañeda and Matthews anticipate future discussions with the Foundation regarding this venue as the most desirable, beneficial and effective prospect.
The organizers and participants all thank the Wenner Gren for its invaluable support of this project without which this workshop would not have taken place. Many of the participants, in particular senior scholars, repeatedly pointed out that this was among the most productive, enjoyable, and engaging research conference that they had participated in during their careers. The dialogues, intellectual issues, and specific proposals that the workshop was able to produce will be of major interest and of invaluable significance to the discipline as a whole. Travel itineraries or travel documentation and other materials regarding participant travel to the workshop and a description of the workshop organization are attached.
Quetzil E. Castañeda Christopher N. Matthews
OSEA Hofstra University