AAA2020 Virtual Conference Banner 7 - 10 Dec

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

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.

The Impact of Different ‘Worldings’ on the Exhibition of Australian Aboriginal Artefacts and Rock Art

Martin Porr
University of Western Australia

Co-Author
Ella Vivian-Williams

It has long been recognized that the institution of the museum is deeply related to the modern Western ontology and has been complicit in the European colonial endeavour. Indigenous people have critiqued museum displays and the resulting misrepresentation of their philosophies and ontologies for a considerable amount of time. Some progress has certainly been achieved in acknowledging the importance of the inclusion of Indigenous perspectives and voices in museum, exhibition, and collection/archival practices. However, here we want to argue that these developments remain incomplete if they do not include a reflection of the ontological dimension of these contexts. In this paper, we are using the framework of political ontology as proposed by Mario Blaser to analyse three case studies related to Australian Aboriginal stone tools and rock art. A political ontology perspective focussed on the power dynamics involved in the negotiation between different ontologies and allows to understand their intersection related to different exhibition techniques and elements (use of texts and displays, structure of the exhibition space, use of audio-visual technologies etc.). This understanding recognises that the museum has both world-building and world-destroying capacities. Consequently, the non- or misrepresentation of Indigenous epistemologies and ontologies in the exhibition of Indigenous things leads to the exclusion and suppression of possible worlds. We will discuss the implications of our observations for future engagements with Indigenous ontologies in exhibition and museum contexts.

Godly Innovations? 3000 Years of Religious Change in Southern Vanuatu

James Flexner
University of Sydney

From the 1600s onwards, European missionaries sought to ‘convert’ Pacific Islanders to Christianity. Much of what is written about religious change in the past is arguably coloured by a Western missionary lens, with an active proselytiser transforming existing beliefs and practices among the converted. This story is not sufficient to explain even colonial mission contexts, let alone religious changes in the deeper past. Elements of syncretism and creative adaptation of new beliefs while maintaining the old ways are often under-theorised in archaeological studies of religious belief and change through time. For Vanuatu, the Melanesian pidgin term kastom provides a useful means of challenging Western assumptions about conversion, including in non-Christian contexts.

The Once and Future Chief: A Biography in Multiple Registers for Roi Mata of Efate

Chris Ballard
Australian National University

How do you write a biography for a figure who is simultaneously the stuff of ancient myth, a living legend in contemporary Vanuatu, and an archaeological find? Roi Mata is a title held by successive paramount chiefs of west Efate, whose exploits across several centuries are still widely recalled and recounted. The last holder of the title was buried towards the end of the 16th century in a spectacular grave on Retoka Island, excavated in 1967 by José Garanger, confronting the biographer with a rude materiality. But Roi Mata also lives on, revered and emulated by contemporary ni-Vanuatu, and celebrated locally, in theatre and exhibitions, and globally, as the focus of numerous television series and the World Heritage site of Chief Roi Mata’s Domain. Drawing on archaeology, history and ethnography, this paper reports on a dialogic history generated in collaboration with local communities, and chews over questions of register and narrative in the production of a biography for Roi Mata.

Rock Art and Ethnography: The way Forward in Pacific Archaeology

Roxanne Tsang
Griffith University

Rock art is an important but complex type of material culture that relies on collaborative approaches to be holistically understood. The use of either scientific archaeological methods or local perspectives is often debated, especially when only one methodology is applied. However, a combination of both is paramount for a better understanding of the artwork and the context of its production. This paper reviews the current state of rock art concepts in the western Pacific and reveals the importance of in-depth ethnoarchaeological research utilizing community knowledge. It is essential to have a local regional perspective before attempting to explore broader concepts to understand past-present human cognitive behaviours. Rock art as an artefact highlights the need for connecting disciplines and methods owing to its subjective nature. Thus, rather than isolating disciplines (i.e. archaeology, ethnography and anthropology) and outcomes, collaborative approaches that combine community knowledge about the artwork with scientific and/or digital methods are vital in the study of Pacific rock art. There are communities in the Pacific that are still closely connected with rock art sites, therefore, an ethnoarchaeological approach is the way forward.

The Groote Eylandt Archaeology and Repatriation Project

Annie Clarke
University of Sydney

Co-Author
Ursula Frederick, University of Canberra

In 2018 the Anindilyakwa Land Council, Groote Eylandt traditional owners, Annie Clarke and Ursula Frederick reconnected via the development of a new project initiated by the Land Council. This new project has two components 1) the repatriation of the archaeological materials, including excavated materials, photographs and archives from the research undertaken in the 1990s and 2) archaeological survey in the Central Plateau area and surrounding sandstone hills to record rock art and locate sites with potential for excavation. The project builds on the community-based archaeological approach developed by Annie Clarke as the central element of her PhD research (1990-1994), with community members working on the project as community co-researchers. In this paper we will outline the history of community-based archaeology on Groote Eylandt, the main elements of the repatriation project from 2018 and the survey work in 2019.

Contagion and Social Identity in the Assemblage of North Head Quarantine Station

Peta Longhurst
University of Sydney

Sydney’s North Head Quarantine Station was a means of disrupting connections, rupturing the bonds of contagion by severing the social and material links that facilitate the spread of disease. But while the institution was physically isolated, it also operated as a node in a politicised global network of quarantine sites that were connected by the flow of disease, as represented by the vectors of people, ships, and cargo.

The landscape of North Head Quarantine Station is characterised by social and spatial hierarchies that became increasingly complex throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. As a public health institution that also acted as a conduit for immigration, the spatial differentiation of the landscape both created and perpetuated the interweaving of ideas of health, class, race, citizenship, and morality within social identities of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, designating not only people but also objects and places as contagious, dangerous and diseased.

My research draws on relational theories to explore the agency of disease and its role within the archaeological assemblage. I argue that the institution was shaped as much by the potential for contagion as by the reality of it, such that the Quarantine Station’s attempts to control and erase disease instead ultimately materialised it, creating a contemporary landscape across which both the presence and fear of disease are physically inscribed. The assemblage of North Head demonstrates the ways in which the health and social identities of the people detained in quarantine were made to interact and coalesce, and raises questions about the contemporary manifestations of these public health practices.

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