This article addresses the relations between archaeology and social anthropology, as exemplified by archaeological research in the Middle East. It is argued that further integration between both disciplines, as well as between archaeological theories, methods and data, is necessary. As an example of such an 'archaeology of relations', an analysis of domestication in the prehistoric Middle East is presented in summary.
Relating the Past and the Present
Toward a Prehistory of Human-Animal Relations
The discipline of archaeology has long engaged with animals in a utilitarian mode, constructing animals as objects to be hunted, manipulated, domesticated, and consumed. Only recently, in tandem with the rising interest in animals in the humanities and the development of interdisciplinary animal studies research, has archaeology begun to systematically engage with animals as subjects. This article describes some of the ways in which archaeologists are reconstructing human engagements with animals in the past, focusing on relational modes of interaction documented in many hunting and gathering societies. Among the most productive lines of evidence for human-animal relations in the past are animal burials and structured deposits of animal bones. These archaeological features provide material evidence for relational ontologies in which animals, like humans, were vested with sentience and agency.
Dig Less, Catalog More
Julia A. King
Legacy collections are an increasingly valued source of information for researchers interested in the study and interpretation of colonialism in the Chesapeake Bay region of North America. Through the reexamination of 34 archaeological collections ranging in date from 1500 through 1720, researchers, including the author, have been able to document interactions among Europeans, Africans, and indigenous people in this part of the early modern Atlantic. We could do this only because we turned to existing collections; no single site could reveal this complex story. This article summarizes the major findings from this work and describes the pleasures and challenges of comparative analysis using existing collections. Collections-based research can also be used to inform fieldwork, so the legacy collections of tomorrow are in as good shape as possible. Indeed, collections-based work reveals the need for a critical dialogue concerning the methods, methodology, and ethics of both collections- and field-based research.
Some Examples from Spanish Museums
Lourdes Prados Torreira
Through the items in archaeological museums’ collections, it is possible to create inclusive narratives and discourses in which different social groups, ethnicities, age groups, and genders can and must be present. With this in mind, we shall focus our attention on some Spanish archaeological museums inaugurated in recent years, with the aim of analyzing how they have represented and represent women, which roles are assigned to women within the collective community, and how gender relations in past societies are illustrated.
Disentangling Provenance, Provenience, and Context in Vanuatu Assemblages
James L. Flexner
The archaeological value of museum collections is not limited to collections labelled “archaeology.” “Ethnology” or “ethnography” collections can provide useful information for evaluating broadly relevant theoretical and methodological discussions in the discipline. The concepts of provenience (where something was found), provenance (where the materials for an object originated), and context (the ways an object is and was interpreted and used within a cultural milieu) are central to much archaeological interpretation. Archaeologists have often looked to living societies as analogues for better understanding these issues. Museum ethnographic collections from Vanuatu provide a case study offering a complementary approach, in which assemblages of ethnographic objects and associated information allow us to reconstruct complex networks of movement, exchange, and entanglement.
"Altaian-ness" in the Twenty-First Century
Since the early 1990s the Altai Republic has been experiencing a dispute about its archaeological heritage. This article deals with one aspect of it—the discrepancy between a local understanding of archaeological monuments as belonging to the direct ancestors of present day Altaians, and an expert view of many historians, archaeologists and physical anthropologists who see no relation between the two. Drawing on the work of Halemba and on Ingold's distinction between relational and genealogical models of indigeneity, this article describes the controversy as feeding on different concepts of "Altaian-ness." Original data nevertheless show that Ingold's sharp distinction between the two models is better understood as complementarity in the Altaian context. Historical data furthermore suggest that such complementarity is a principle that has long been in operation, visible, for example, when we look at identity labels preceding "Altaian."
Past Achievements, Present State and Future Prospects
Kamyar Abdi, Marjan Mashkour and Soheila Shahshahani
Anthropology of the Middle East has implicitly and explicitly been a journal with a regional orientation. Most previous issues, however, have added a thematic dimension to this regional orientation, and the same applies to this special issue. The chosen theme is anthropological archaeology, given the fact that this school in archaeology has been responsible for tremendous progress in Middle Eastern archaeology and has advanced our knowledge of the ancient Middle East by leaps and bounds. Anthropological archaeology has been a major player in Middle Eastern archaeology for the past half-century, and no other school in Middle Eastern archaeology can claim to have been immune from its influence, whether in matters of theory or, more visibly, in methodology.
Modeling Emergent Socioecological Outcomes of Environmental Change
Thomas P. Leppard
How will human societies evolve in the face of the massive changes humans themselves are driving in the earth systems? Currently, few data exist with which to address this question. I argue that archaeological datasets from islands provide useful models for understanding long-term socioecological responses to large-scale environmental change, by virtue of their longitudinal dimension and their relative insulation from broader biophysical systems. Reviewing how colonizing humans initiated biological and physical change in the insular Pacific, I show that varied adaptations to this dynamism caused diversification in social and subsistence systems. This diversification shows considerable path dependency related to the degree of heterogeneity/homogeneity in the distribution of food resources. This suggests that the extent to which the Anthropocene modifies agroeconomic land surfaces toward or away from patchiness will have profound sociopolitical implications.
Collections Care at the Laboratory of Archaeology
Archaeological repositories are active spaces that preserve the archaeological record for future research and care for the cultural and ancestral heritage of Indigenous communities. Repositories therefore have the potential to be sites of continued collaborative engagement between scholars and communities. The Laboratory of Archaeology (LOA) at the University of British Columbia is a repository that now works with communities to respectfully care for their cultural material, while still remaining committed to research and education. Drawing on interviews with LOA members and my own experience working at the lab, I explore the ways LOA’s practices and policies work to mitigate power asymmetry and facilitate sharing knowledge between communities and scholars.
James L. Flexner
One could easily create a pessimistic view of the future of museums, and museum archaeology more specifically, from current events. Budget constraints, the elimination of research staff and departments at venerable institutions (Aubusson 2015; Johnson 2015; Shen 2012), and even the closure, albeit temporary, of long-established state institutions (Davis 2016) all paint a bleak picture for museum research within an environment of continuing austerity and financial crisis. In archaeology, on top of immediate economic concerns, we have yet to solve a long-perceived “curation crisis” caused by an urgent need to increase the size, quality, and sustainability of long-term storage spaces (Kersel 2015; National Park Service 2016; SAA Advisory Committee on Curation 2003). In some cases, archaeologists are even reasonably advocating for returning finds to the ground in order to take some of the pressure off overwhelmed curatorial facilities (Williams 2011). This crisis looms while the rate of accumulation of archaeological materials accelerates, driven largely by the expansion of development-driven commercial archaeology globally.