AAA2020 Virtual Conference Banner 7 - 10 Dec

AusTAG3: Social Archaeology as Reaching out—connections between Communities, Connections between Disciplines – Part 2

Catherine Frieman
Australian National University

Co-Convenor/s
Emily Miller, Griffith University
Jacqueline M. Matthews, Cultural Heritage Management Australia

In this session we turn the conference theme of “isolation” upside down and explore how social and theoretical archaeology connects us across fields and sub-disciplines. Being a social archaeologist in Australia can sometimes feel like an isolating experience (cf. Matthews and Frieman 2020), but the power of archaeological theory lies in the way it draws on and draws together ideas, methods, scholars and communities both within archaeology and more broadly. Participants in this session apply a broad suite of theoretical, methodological and interpretative approaches to the archaeological record. Their goal is to reach out and connect—with the past they study, the ever-increasing pool of scientific data about that past, and the wider archaeological and non-archaeological communities. What their work (and this session by extension) showcases is how infusing theory through a range of archaeological contexts and questions allows us to tell new stories, expand on the old, and to offer archaeological perspectives in increasingly innovative ways.

Decolonisation? Democratisation? Cosmopolitanisation? Homelessness and Graffiti as Social(ist) Archaeology

Sven Ouzman
University of Western Australia

Social archaeology should be democratic archaeology. Less of “The King off England built this castle” (silly bugger, it’s a lot of work – he should have got some people to help him…) – and more of “in small things forgotten”. But even here are grounds for intervention. ‘Forgetting’ is not neutral, a can’t-be-helped pathology where memory fails us. Forgetting is often wilful and takes effort. This is especially true of most ‘western’ societies’ attitudes towards homelessness and graffiti. These phenomena are considered ‘problems’ that can be solved/eradicated rather than enduring and axiomatic constituents of iniquitous built environments. Archaeological work helps make a seemingly chaotic or feral set of practices, marks, artefacts cohere through the discipline of our surveillance. We are also able to scale homelessness and graffiti spatially and temporally, which few other studies can do. But perhaps most importantly, this kind of studies turns the lens on ‘us’ rather than the ‘other’. Key to ‘decolonising’ archaeology – an as yet imprecise project – is to apply our work to all people at all times – including (and especially) ourselves without self-indulgence. Even if we achieve this there is still more to be done as ‘decolonising’ is a deficit model – we take something (and) away but what then is left? This may be a necessary deracinisation of an indelibly colonial discipline – but where do we then go? Do we cosmopolitanise – and what does that mean? It is in this reaching out and outreach that we close the social distance by taking on work that has immediate consequences for the living, using artefacts that are productively transgressive.

What do we know about the Evolution of Human Behaviour?

Alex Mackay
University of Wollongong

How, when, where, and in response to what factors human behaviour evolved through the Pleistocene are strongly debated issues. Numerous approaches to these issues have been deployed and explanatory models developed, with theoretical foundations of varying strength. As is often the case in archaeology, the viability of the debate is partly an affordance of the weakness of the data on which it depends. The behavioural implications of major classes of evidence are contested, and continued expansion of the dataset driven by new empirical research regularly alters timelines and the validity of some explanations. In all cases, however, there is a tendency to treat patterns in the empirical evidence as, foremost, a product of past human behaviour. In this paper I will present a few of the more prominent models of human behavioural evolution the assumptions on which they are based, and the expectations they generate. I will then turn my attention to the nature of the data – specifically, to the data from Africa – and the extent to which long-term patterns are the product of factors without behavioural significance in terms of those models. The impact of these factors is sufficient to suggest that we may not actually know much about human behavioural evolution at all.

Interdisciplinary Theories of Value: An (Historical) Archaeological View

Penny Crook
La Trobe University

As anthropologist Daniel Miller once observed, ‘we are hardly short of theories of value’ (‘The uses of value’, Geoforum 39:3, 2008: 1122). There is a long history of value theorization across the social sciences in economics, sociology, anthropology and, to a lesser degree, psychology, but archaeological considerations of value remain uncommon and focused on prestige goods. In this paper, I will briefly review these and alternative conceptions of value through the lens of the modern world, and argue that the process of devaluation, through discard and waste, offers a unique archaeological understanding of the shifting values people of the modern world placed on commodities.

Connection, Community, and the Dawn of Industry in Early Islamic Southeastern Arabia

Seppi Lehner
University of Sydney

The expansion of early Islamic societies represents one of the largest social and cultural transitions. Yet this transition, beginning in sparsely populated eastern Arabia during the 7th century AD, is poorly understood given that few direct written historical records accounts exist to study this period and archaeological research of the early Islamic period is patchy and under theorized. This paper examines how the spread of Islamic society in southeastern Arabia was facilitated in part by existing industrial links and trade networks, specifically in the production of raw copper along the piedmont of the Hajar Mountains of Oman. Coupled with archival research of early Islamic legal texts from Oman and early European traveler’s accounts, our archaeological surveys and excavations in Oman from 2018-2020 targeted regions of industrial copper production to investigate its effect on the environment and how societies ultimately mitigated resource stresses against broader global political and economic changes in what we theorize as a large-scale collective action problem. While the adoption of Islamic life-ways was certainly complex, it was nevertheless coincident with the rapid development of large-scale industry and a tremendous scalar increase in metal production and trade. Our work argues that this activity lasted only a few generations, demonstrating how social connectivity and the development of community can be driven by the short-term gains industrial production yet is not impervious to the inherent social and environmental risks.

A History of New Ideas: Innovation, Tradition, and the way Archaeologists make Meaning

Catherine Frieman
Australian National University

In this paper I will explore the way assumptions about innovation and change have shaped archaeological inquiry. In archaeology, we work from fragments, each in itself representing no more than a moment or collection of short moments in the past, and extrapolate outwards to build coherent narratives of human action. Our focus on change over time—particularly technological change—within archaeology is almost inescapable. Despite an ever-increasing number of scientific dating techniques, the foundations of archaeological chronologies are the very low-tech close study of artefacts and archaeological sites, with a major focus on the emergence of new technologies. Moreover, having developed alongside and out of the 19th century intellectual traditions, positivist and evolutionary frameworks often underlie our discussions of social and technological (and, hence, chronological) change. I suggest that pulling apart the idea of innovation, building on social models originally developed elsewhere in the human sciences, and questioning our reliance on evolutionary metaphors gives us a rich body of thought from which to reimagine a narrative of the past, challenge old assumptions, and tell new stories with old data.

“The interpretation is the personal opinion of the author”: An Indigenist Critique of Frederick McCarthy’s Rock Art Research at Mount Grenfell, NSW

Isaac Roberts
Department of Indigenous Studies, Macquarie University

Indigenous people are the most researched people in the world. This status is involuntarily acquired through a consistent and continued investigation of Indigenous people and cultures by non-Indigenous peoples, primarily within an archaeological and anthropological framework. It is unsurprising, then, that archaeology is often utilised by colonising groups to practice colonialism. This practice operates within a framework of perceived European supremacy which places Indigenous people on the periphery of research regarding their own cultures, rather than at the centre, and often does not engage with Indigenous peoples when research is conducted at ancestral sites. Frederick McCarthy’s research of rock art sites on the Cobar Pediplain, NSW, is an example of this – both critical in the development of Rock Art Research in Australia, and deeply reflective of the colonialist mentalities of archaeology. This research sits at the intersection of Indigenous Studies and Archaeology, driven by an Indigenist research paradigm that combines Indigenous research methodologies with archaeological theory. Using Frederick McCarthy’s research on the Cobar Pediplain as a case study, I reflect on the ways his research both contributes to Indigenous Archaeology, and demonstrates the colonial mentality of the field. I consider methods and approaches that can be applied to archaeology of ancestral sites that ensure Indigenous peoples retain sovereignty and autonomy within this research. The core outcome of this project is an innovative contribution to the discussion around Indigenous sovereignty in rock art studies.

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