O. Present, Past and Future: Modern and Archaeological Bodies in Interpretation

Organizers: Karina Croucher, University of Manchester and Ellen Belcher, John Jay College/CUNY

Saturday, May 7th
1:30 – 4:50
Kroeber 221 (The Gifford Room)


This session brings together papers that investigate changing attitudes to the body through time, including both human and animal bodies. Can using contemporary, ethnographic and historical experiences of bodies advance our understanding of the bodies we excavate? And how do the bodies we excavate inform our contemporary embodied experiences?

We invite papers investigating prehistoric, mythological, historical or contemporary bodies, as well as those that examine them in juxtaposition. We suggest, for example, in addition to archaeological topics, papers that deal with bodies in cinema and theatre, media portrayals, and the body in the history of science. Themes might include the portrayal of gesture, movement, senses, texture, clothing, life and death, body adornment, enhancement and manipulation, and insights these areas might provide in our interpretations relating to the body, both past, present and potentially the bodies of the future.


Imagining the Body as a Sum of its Parts: Prehistoric Body-Parts & Modern Meanings

Ellen Belcher, John Jay College/CUNY, ebelcher@jjay.cuny.edu

Anthropomorphic and zoomorphic body imagery is often partitioned, fragmented, or dis-proportioned on ornaments, pottery motifs and figurines in Halaf material culture [N Mesopotamia, 6th millennium BCE]. Body parts appear on representations of complete bodies improbably exaggerated, minimized, manipulated, detachable, or absent. Other objects represent disembodied parts, such as a head, hand, or foot, many of which might be worn on or about actual bodies.  Considered in tandem with historic and modern meanings of body parts, this paper explores prehistoric iconography as it may relate to socially constructed body decoration and manipulation, technological constraints, as well as cosmological interpretations of the lived body.

Reconsidering Cross-Dressing in Ancient Japan: Queer Archaeology of the Human-Figured Haniwa Figurine in the Kofun Period

Jun Mitsumoto, Okayama University, jun_m@cc.okayama-u.ac.jp

This presentation aims to reconsider cross-dressing and its historical evaluation in ancient Japan through queer archaeology. Some scholars have evaluated ancient Japan as being characterized by unisex periods, which included societies preceding the male-dominated phase, on the basis of the culture of cross-dressing. However, such studies also bring to light the issues of contemporary heteronormativity and modernity criticism. I will argue that the bodily representation of the human-figured haniwa figurine in the Kofun period consists of the competitive process between heteronormative representations and border violation. Additionally, I will discuss bodies from the past in the context of modernity criticism.

Writing on the Body

Nadya Prociuk, University of Texas at Austin, nprociuk@mail.utexas.edu

What does it mean to write on the body? To write on the body is to see it as a social surface, a medium through which a person can communicate a message to oneself, to a specific person, to anyone open to receive it. This idea can be explored through Franz Kafka’s “In the Penal Colony”, in conjunction with examining widespread cultural bodily modification practices, such as tattooing. Through this lens it may be possible to uncover how one’s life, one’s experience, writes itself on flesh and bone.

How Material Traces of Gesture Inform our Perceptions of Technology

Philipp Rassmann, University of Washington, prassmann@gmail.com

Gestures convey social relations and perceptions of the body through meaning-laden signals and material culture and refer to acts of mechanical movement reflecting human physical and technological evolution.  Somatically this is observable through changes in locomotion and manual proficiency while material traces of gesture relate to the choices made to produce artifacts.  Applying modern replication studies delineating stone tool chaîne opératoires and the relationship between gesture and tool production, as suggested by Leroi-Gourhan, this presentation examines the physical traces of gesture on ground stone implements to illustrate the state of Ancient Near Eastern technology toward the end of the Neolithic.

Archigestural Time Space: An Archaeology of Embodied Lived Space

Amir Soltani, Cambridge University, amir@metrowave.co.uk

Traditionally architecture is perceived as static, yet architecture is dynamic when combined with gestures as embodied interface for decoding emotive spatial forms. To understand the perceptual space of architecture, body movement dynamics are as important as static drawings. Architectonic coherency is a plastic mental experience through senses; Le Corbusier, Choisy, and others such as Merleau Ponty investigated embodied lived spaces and objects as they traverse and interact. The archaeology of embodied space is an apprehension regarding lack of sensory modalities, a gap in majority of architectural design; we can study the space, and body gestures to excavate time space of emotive architecture.

The Unholy Duality?  Deconstructing Personhood in Contemporary Anthropology and Wendat Corporeal Practices

John L. Creese, University of Toronto, john.creese@utoronto.ca

Anthropologists often cast “individuality” in terms of ego-centric : socio-centric, modern : premodern binaries. Thus, premodern and non-western “dividuals” are contrasted with modern western “individuals”, “relational” with “intrinsic” personhoods. But what happens when both constructs coexist and collide in different spheres of corporeality within one society? Here, disparate genres of bodily engagement in Wendat society are analyzed as alternative scripts of personhood. Ritual violence was a “playful inversion” of ordinary mortuary narrative structures such that its contrapuntal motion defined a dual personhood in which part and whole, atom and collective were construed as inseparable dimensions of any legitimate social body.

By Force or By Will: Body Re(f)use

Manjree Khajanchi, Independent scholar, manjree@gmail.com

This paper explores ways in which the human body has, and continues to be, used for human sustenance. Whether dead or alive, human remnants and byproducts have been utilized by people during times of need and want. I delve into the adjacent worlds of auto-cannibalism and survival cannibalism to help illuminate how and why the entire human body, not just human flesh in particular, can be used as a recycling tool by human beings. Topics such as body/blood donations and reuse of body wastages will be discussed while being mindful of religio-cultural, ethical, and health-related constraints.

Death and Decomposition: Modern Opinion and Archaeological Narrative

Karina Croucher, University of Manchester, karina.croucher@manchester.ac.uk

Modern attitudes towards the dead body are not straightforward, with a complex relationship often arising between belief, emotion, and practice in our treatment of the dead. This paper will consider public displays of the corpse, the emotions evoked, and the relevancy of these experiences to the interpretation of the archaeological human remains we uncover, primarily drawing on examples from the Neolithic of Southwest Asia. Issues of fleshed and un-fleshed remains will be discussed, and how the sensory impact of the different states of the dead (and decomposing) body alter the narratives we tell about the past.

Why the Body Doesn’t Matter

Douglass Bailey, San Francisco State University, dwbailey@sfsu.edu

Like all disciplines in the social sciences and humanities the body has held center stage in archaeological thinking, writing, and research (as well as in the criteria for gaining funding and getting publication). My published work has been no exception. Indeed, western philosophical thinking over the past 500 years has worked from the position that the human body is central to living. The challenge this paper sets for us is that we ask the question, “What if the body doesn’t matter?”.  Discussion will examine the assumptions that underlie our body-centric position, and provocation will come from Stephen Levinson and his team of linguistic anthropologists.