Tag Archives: archaeology

Urbanism and Ancient Maya Neighborhoods: Social and Spatial Organization

Scott Hutson (University of Kentucky)

Novelists, philosophers, and social scientists have highlighted negative aspects of urbanism, yet cities have thrived for nearly 5,000 years. The existence of neighborhoods helps explain this since neighborhoods afford pockets of familiarity and networks of trust among a landscape of anonymous and potentially hostile strangers. Neighborhoods are also important because they often serve as administrative units intermediate between households and central authorities. Exploring neighborhoods among ancient Maya cities has been difficult because neighborhoods generally elude researchers. Archaeological features at the urban center of Chunchucmil, however, permit the first successful attempt to detect neighborhoods across an entire large Maya city. This presentation presents methods for finding neighborhoods and reflects on how their size, function, and composition changes our understanding of ancient Maya politics.

*co-sponsored by the Center for Ancient Studies

Pilgrimage, Materiality, & Phenomenology: To Chaco Canyon and Beyond

Ruth Van Dyke (Binghamton)

 Pilgrimages involve journeys – movements and displacements – as well as spiritual encounters and social transformations. From the Turners’ forays into 1970s liminality, to contemporary ethnographies of tourism, cross-cultural anthropological investigations into pilgrimage have focused on symbols and sacred places, communitas and contestation. But what of pilgrimage’s materiality, as experienced by moving bodies? In this presentation, I adopt a phenomenological perspective to consider bodies in motion; objects carried, venerated, deposited or left behind; clothing worn and gear adopted; trails, markers, and transportation; food and lodging. My goal at the end of this phenomenological journey is to shed archaeological light on the 11th century experience of pilgrimage to Chaco Canyon – the center of the ancient Pueblo world, in northern New Mexico.

*co-sponsored by the Center for Ancient Studies (CAS)

A Difficult Time: Archaeology and Modernity.

Alfredo González-Ruibal (National Research Council of Spain)
Despite its deceiving proximity (or perhaps because of it), the time of modernity is a difficult time to study for archaeologists. In fact, it can be argued that it can be more so than prehistoric temporalities. First, there is the epistemological question of how to produce relevant archaeological knowledge of recent periods, where there is an overabundance of written, visual and oral testimonies and a unique experience of coevalness. Secondly, the time of modernity is different to other times with which
archaeologists are used to deal with, because of its multilayered and heterogeneous nature: increasing social complexity, technology and globalization bring a proliferation and superimposition of temporalities, which is at odds with historicist perspectives. Finally, the time of modernity, as geographers and philosophers have abundantly demonstrated, has radical political implications. It is a time out of joint, as Derrida put it, an unjust time of violence and destruction that ultimately annihilates itself. In this talk, I would explore, through different examples, how an archaeological approach to the difficult time of modernity might look like.

*co-sponsored by the Center for Ancient Studies

On Dangerous Ground: Taphonomy, Necroviolence, and the Politics of Migrant Death in the Arizona Desert

Jason de León (University of Michigan)

In the mid-90s, the U.S. federal government implemented an immigration enforcement strategy along the southern border known as Prevention through Deterrence. This strategy increased security in unauthorized crossing areas surrounding urban ports of entry in an attempt to shift undocumented migration towards remote border regions such as the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, where security is less intense but crossing conditions are more difficult. Since 2009, I have directed the Undocumented Migration Project, a long-term anthropological analysis of clandestine border crossings between Northern Mexico and Southern Arizona that uses a combination of ethnographic, archaeological, and forensic research to understand this violent social process. In this presentation I focus on the types of deaths that migrants experience during border crossings, the decomposition of their corpses, and the impacts that these desert fatalities have on families. Drawing on the archaeological concept of taphonomy (i.e., the analysis of the phenomena that impact the remains of biological organisms at the time of and after death), I argue that the post-mortem treatment of migrant bodies is part of a larger state project that uses nature as a weapon to maintain boundary control. I label this post-mortem treatment necroviolence and aim to show its direct connection to the American government’s problematic construction of undocumented people as expendable lives.

Paradoxes of Patrimony: Risks to Life and Livelihood in Securing Mexico’s National Resources

Lisa Breglia ( George Mason)

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and the international community are hailing the strides Mexico is making in confronting its serious and well-known security problems.  The recent capture of notorious drug trafficker Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman of the Sinaloa Cartel made splashy headlines and played endless news cycles. Official homicide rates in border towns such as Ciudad Juarez have significantly reduced from a 2011 peak. In the Spring, the government reached an agreement with vigilante groups in the state of Michoacan aimed at disarmament and demobilization. These steps to advance traditional “state security” concerns have gone hand-in-hand with constitutional reforms to achieve gains in economic security, hoping to assure foreign investors that Mexico is a safe and secure foreign investment opportunity. If Mexico is more secure, why do citizens express a growing sense of insecurity, especially in areas rich in the resources that are the hinge of Mexico’s new wave of economic transformation? A phenomenon I call the “paradox of patrimony” demonstrates that those who live and work in the midst of Mexico’s most valuable and strategic “national” resources (such as the oil-affected region of Mexico’s Gulf coast) are experiencing a newly found sense of insecurity and vulnerability.

Cadastral Desire: Colonialism, Capitalism, and Landscape on Nineteenth Century Zanzibar

Sarah K. Croucher (Wesleyan University)

In this talk I explore the capitalist landscapes of Zanzibari clove plantations in the late nineteenth century. These were longstanding spaces of capitalist production, founded largely by Omani colonists utilizing enslaved African labor. But by the late nineteenth century British colonial rule was growing on the islands and colonial administrators stationed on the islands continually articulated their desire for an orderly landscape of capitalist production, which in turn would modernize and expand their income from taxation. However, ideas of cadastral survey remained only in the realm of desire. Omani plantation owners had no interest in such cartographic imaginaries, managing to deal with land ownership through radically different ways of understanding the landscape. In exploring British colonial desires I highlight the frail nature of European rule in this context, and the manner in which such desires also help us to understand broader subjectivies of landscapes on nineteenth-century Zanzibar.

*Co-sponsored by the African Studies Center

Standing at the Crossroads: Toward an Archaeology of the African Diaspora

Whitney Battle-Baptiste (UMASS)

In the 1970s a group of radical Black Feminists, known as the Combahee River Collective, met and put forth a concept they called the “simultaneity of oppression.” In 1989, legal studies scholar, Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” to describe the interlocking matrix of oppression (meaning race, gender and class) experienced by women of African descent within the U.S. legal system. For African Diaspora archaeology, the framework of intersectionality has become a useful method for providing new insights into the past lives and experiences of women and men of the African descent.  This paper will discuss this recent trend and expand the discussion to include the usefulness of Black Feminist Archaeology, the impact of critical heritage in the interpretation of African American historic sites, and the movement toward a multidimensional analysis within the field of historical and African Diaspora archaeology.

Colonial Desires: Imperial Negotiation in the Iron Age Caucasus

Lauren Ristvet (Penn)

Desire lies at the heart of many theoretical interventions into the logic and practice of empire.  As a factor behind the endless accumulation of capital and a stimulus for conquest, desire may fuel colonial expansion. Similarly, the language of desire and sexual union is implicit in colonial and post-colonial discourses on race and hybridity.  I will consider the operation of empire in the Iron Age Caucasus in terms of multiple and conflicting desires, investigating their economic, cultural, and political implications.