Some thoughts on the past and future of archaeological mapping in Polynesia

By Dr. James Flexner, The Australian National University

In a thought-provoking paper, Bowden and McOmish (2011) identify a “British tradition” of field archaeology, which they apply specifically to the careful mapping of archaeological earthworks, a practice that they claim is unique in its capturing of not only space, but time in the landscape. Many archaeologists will take issue with the idea that only British archaeologists do “field archaeology”, but I think this misses the point of the paper. Rather, I take this as a challenge to further explore the disciplinary histories of the regions in which we work. In doing so, we might understand a bit better why archaeological practice takes the form that it does, and we might uncover some of the unstated assumptions behind both theory and method in many of the regions in which we work.

Mapping a Polynesian landscape.
Mapping a Polynesian landscape (Photo by Robert Flexner).

Is there a “Polynesian tradition” of field archaeology, and how can we trace its evolution through time? Before the 1950s, archaeologists assumed there wasn’t much of interest in Polynesia. The region for the most part lacked the pottery that in the pre-radiocarbon era was the mainstay for archaeological dating. Most archaeologists thought it was thus impossible to say anything about the origin and spread of Polynesian culture. One result was a focus on documenting and mapping stone structures throughout the region.

Kenneth Emory (e.g. 1928, 1934) believed that you could trace the migration and development of Polynesian cultures through the variability of ritual sites called marae in many Polynesian languages (heiau in Hawaiian). Emory’s maps were often schematic in nature, interpreting ritual spaces to show their most important features. (for an example of this style, see Plate I from Danielsson 1952). The arrangements of stone features were used as evidence for Emory’s theories of Polynesian origins and migrations.

Emory’s Native Hawaiian research assistant, Henry E. P. Kekahuna, produced plan maps of sites throughout the Hawaiian Islands in the 1950s that foreshadowed the state of the art for Polynesian archaeology (a selection of these stunning maps have been made available online by the B.P. Bishop Museum). Kekahuna recorded Hawaiian stone construction in great detail, often relating specific features to his knowledge of Hawaiian ethnohistory, which is an ongoing practice in Hawaiian archaeology. Kekahuna also included relevant ethnobotanical details on the maps, reflecting an early interest in environmental archaeology, which would characterise much of the work to come from the 1960s onwards.

The development of the “settlement pattern approach”, pioneered by Roger Green in the 1960s (e.g. Green and Davidson, eds. 1969; Green et al. 1967), was something of a revolution for Polynesian archaeology. The theoretical development is accompanied by a notable turn in the representation of archaeological landscapes, as the focus shifted from individual ritual sites to entire landscapes, including agricultural features, domestic sites, and the temples and shrines that had been the staple of Polynesian archaeology.

As the settlement pattern approach developed over the last 50 years in Polynesia, hand drawn plan maps produced in the field have become the standard, based on close observations recording a range of features in great detail, often down to the individual stone. These plans often show the overlapping layers of human modification of the landscape, what Polynesian archaeologists sometimes call the palimpsest of stone structures going from the present to the past, which can be read from the map.

Plan map of a Hawaiian domestic site, Kalaupapa, Molokai.
Plan map of a Hawaiian domestic site, Kalaupapa, Molokai.

In the 21st century, there has been a shift back to more schematic mapping style, largely correlating with technological shifts, notably the nearly ubiquitous use of hand-held GPS units for archaeological survey. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as GPS has allowed for the recording of thousands of previously undocumented sites and features throughout Polynesia. However, if we rely solely on these schematic maps, or if we record these landscapes too hastily, we risk missing out on important features that can tell us new things about the Polynesian past.

We should be careful not to overlook the importance of being able to read the palimpsest of features in the landscape, especially in training future generations of Pacific archaeologists. Further, as Ballard (2013) points out, drawings, including maps, have an under-utilised potential as a tool for engaging in a dialogue with local communities about the work we do as anthropologists and archaeologists. This is where an understanding of our field mapping traditions becomes so important. If we recognise the crucial role that cartographic techniques have played in the evolution of our understanding of Polynesian archaeology, we will be better placed to use all of the technologies at our fingertips, the new alongside the old, for another century of exciting discoveries in the region.

Note of acknowledgement: My trip to Paris was funded by an Early Career Researcher Travel Award from the Australian National University. Colleen Morgan deserves my thanks for the invitation to guest-edit Then Dig. Frédérique Valentin and Guillaume Molle organised the conference in Paris from which this post was distilled.


Ballard, Chris 2013 The Return of the Past: On Drawing and Dialogic History. The Asia-Pacific Journal of Anthropology 14(2): 136-148.

Bowden, Mark, and David McOmish 2011 A British Tradition? Mapping the Archaeological Landscape. Landscapes 2:20-40.

Danielsson, Bengt 1952 A recently discovered marae in the Tuamotu Group. Journal of the Polynesian Society 61(3/4): 222-229.

Emory, Kenneth P. 1928 Archaeology of Nihoa and Necker Islands. Bernice P. Bishop Museum Bulletin No. 12, B.P. Bishop Museum, Honolulu.

Emory, Kenneth P. 1934 Tuamotuan Stone Structures. Bernice P. Bishop Museum Bulletin No. 118, B.P. Bishop Museum, Honolulu.

Green, Roger C., and Janet Davidson (editors) 1969 Archaeology in Western Samoa. Vol. 1, Auckland Institute and Museum, Auckland.

Green, Roger C., Kaye Green, Roy A. Rappaport, Ann Rappaport, and Janet Davidson 1967 Archaeology on the Island of Mo’orea, French Polynesia. Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History 51(2), American Museum of Natural History, New York.

Archaeological Attempt to Deal with Anthropological Issues: Investigating Societies through the Study of Techno-economic Activities

By Dr. Aymeric Hermann, University of French Polynesia

Before States, there were kingdoms. Before kingdoms, there were chiefdoms. The organization and characteristics of these societies has been a major topic of anthropological research. The islands of Oceania have always been considered as a favored place for analyzing the establishment, the organization and the variability of chiefdoms in terms of structure and evolution through time.

Archaeological remains: a twisted way to look at human societies

Complex aspects of human societies (institutions, concepts and symbolic values) are always quite difficult to approach through archaeological data, which are material remains (artefacts, architecture, traces, etc.). Nonetheless, through the study of those vestiges – otherwise referred to as “material culture” – it is possible to reconstruct the way past societies used to live, and to identify the practical choices that people made for interacting with their environment and living together.

In order to connect objects and material vestiges with social facts, one must be able to reconstruct a difficult puzzle: more than treasures, archaeological remains must be seen as an account of the activities undertaken within a given society. Those activities can be related to the purchase of raw material and goods, transformation processes for the production of those goods, and the use or consumption of those goods.

Without reducing social life to its material conditions, it seems quite obvious now that the dialectic between material and non-material aspects of cultures is a key to understanding the functioning and the development of human societies. There are two ways of dealing with material culture in order to understand its relationships with socio-economic organization: focusing on the ‘making’ (that is the production processes, and the social organization structure and the relationships embedded in the technical system) or on the ‘doing’ (that is the cultural practices of exchanging and manipulating objects).

Technology as an insight to social patterns

In the course of my PhD, I tried to investigate both making and doing, focusing on archaeological adze production and exchange within traditional communities in Tubuai, a small island (25km in circumference) located in the Australs, the southernmost archipelago of French Polynesia. In Oceania, adzes are a central element of the material culture used in all kinds of activities related to wood working in the every-day life. Because there is generally no usable ore for tool making in Polynesia, adze blades were primarily made of volcanic rock, though shell adzes are also known from the region. These were then lashed to a wooden handle with vegetable fibers. Some adzes represented a symbol of power for chiefs and were exchanged within ceremonial inter-island networks.

Stone adze blade from Tubuai.
Stone adze blade from Tubuai.

The analysis of the Tubuai collections highlighted different ways to shape adze blades and therefore different know-how due to a higher degree of specialization for some knappers. Geochemical characterizations of the rocks used in tool manufacture show that good quality raw material and stone blades produced by experts are unevenly distributed within the island communities. Stone tools coming from distant islands were found within some of the oldest occupation layers in Tubuai. Those different discoveries led to the conclusion that key materials and valued goods were monopolized by a part of the island’s population. In light of previous anthropological work, we know that control over production and exchange systems was conducted by social elites. The centralization of Polynesian traditional economy around political and religious leaders is actually a general trend of historical evolution of Polynesian chiefdoms towards more hierarchical organization.

Societies as systems

Unlike today’s mainstream idea, economic activities are not only being led by the laws of supply and demand and rational calculation of costs and benefits. On the contrary, anthropological studies show that economy and techniques are also determined by cultural choices and social organization. Indeed, before the ‘Market societies’ technical and economic activities were much more embedded with social, political, or else religious institutions. But even though economic actions in our modern industrialized world seem to be fully independent from – and moreover dominating – the cultural context in which they take place, one must see that they are related to socio-cultural patterns (individualism, hyperspecialization of workers, intensive consumption of goods and services, etc.). Modern globalization is not just the liberalization of markets; it also involves the diffusion of certain practices, concepts and technologies. The choices made in traditional societies regarding production processes and inter-community exchange systems are related to the emergence and development of socio-political structures. In the same way, the future of our globalized world is not determined only by economic perspectives but also by political and cultural choices. The ‘end of History’is not for tomorrow!


Hermann A., 2013, Les industries lithiques pré-européennes de Polynésie centrale : savoir-faire et dynamiques techno-économiques, Ph.D. dissertation, University of French Polynesia, 420 pp.

Kirch P.V., 1984, The evolution of the Polynesian chiefdoms, Cambridge University Press, 314 pp.

Mauss M., 1966, The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies, London: Cohen & West, 130 pp. (see the notion of ‘total social fact’, pp 76-77)

Oliver D.L., 1974, Ancient Tahitian society, University Press of Hawaii, 1419 pp.

Polanyi K., 2001, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time, Boston: Beacon Press, 317 pp.

Sahlins M., 1972, Stone Age Economics, Chicago: Aldine-Atherton, 348 pp.

April 2014 on Then Dig: Spatial Dynamics in Oceania


A few months ago, I had the great pleasure of attending a conference on the archaeology of “spatial dynamics in Oceania” at the Institut Nationale d’Histoire de l’Art in Paris, France. The conference was organised by Frédérique Valentin and Guillaume Molle on behalf of the ArScAn Équipe éthnologie préhistorique, and featured an international group of archaeologists from North America, Europe, and the Pacific Islands.

Presentations at the conference were all based in the region comprising Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia, and ranged across a number of topics, including the circulation of stone tools, the evolution of agricultural techniques, the construction and use of monumental architecture, symbolic beliefs embedded in island landscapes, and more.

Archaeologists who work in the Pacific are often surprised that more people aren’t interested in what is happening in the region. Many people can immediately think of the pyramids of Egypt and Mexico, pueblos in the American Southwest, and ancient ruins in Italy and Greece as places where archaeology “happens”. When it comes to the Pacific, though, most people simply imagine pleasant climate, pristine beaches, and grass skirt-wearing islanders. (Rapa Nui, or Easter Island, is perhaps the one exception here, though even that island is mostly thought of in terms of its iconic moai, which are only a small part of the story).

What isn’t discussed is the fact that the dunes on those beautiful beaches often hold great archaeological treasures, especially for understanding the early settlements on many islands! This is not simply an academic issue, as people are much happier to bulldoze the dunes away in order to build yet another resort hotel when they don’t realize (or don’t want to acknowledge) that they are wiping away a major part of island history by doing so. Of course, many Pacific Islanders as well as archaeologists (in many cases the two labels can apply to the same person) are quite vocal in noting their awareness of this.

This month, we will present a selection of the many excellent papers that were presented in Paris earlier in 2014 as short-form posts to Then Dig. There were, of course, many more presentations at the conference that for one reason or another won’t make it onto this blog, but interested readers should look for a future edition of the Séances de la Société Préhistorique Française (link to the website here), which is an open-access publication that will feature papers in both English and French from the conference.

It is our hope that these posts on Then Dig will help to show how dynamic the work of archaeologists in Oceania is, both in terms of the interesting aspects of the past that we uncover, and our ongoing commitment to working closely with living Pacific Islanders.

Dr. James Flexner
The Australian National University
(Guest Editor for Then Dig, April 2014)



Sanctifying Our Sites: Self-reflection on an archaeological dig

Ceri Houlbrook, PhD Researcher, University of Manchester

If I had to propose a title for my line of research – and the label-loving realm of academia suggests that I do – then I would declare myself a folklore archaeologist. Basically, I employ archaeological methodologies in my study of folkloric objects and structures.

But these archaeological methodologies rarely include excavation, and so, even though I’ve been dipping my toe into non-research-related digs over the years, I’m really – in the literal and metaphorical sense of the term – an archaeologist without a trowel. However, in September 2013, I had my first opportunity to get my hands dirty in a dig that was relevant to my research.

Screen shot 2013-11-18 at 4.22.38 PM

For my thesis, I’ve been studying British coin-trees, which are exactly what they sound like: trees which have had coins embedded into their barks for various folkloric purposes, such as luck or wish-fulfilment. I’ve catalogued over 200 of these trees, ranging in date from the late 18th century to the present day.

There was one particular coin-tree which took my interest; a dead hawthorn in Argyll, Scotland, which I was having difficulty dating. One source claimed that it was ‘centuries’ old, whilst the landowner opined that the custom had begun in the 1920s. The coins embedded into the tree, however, all post-dated the 1950s. And so when the evidence on the ground doesn’t proffer the information you need, what do archaeologists do? We dig.

I’m not writing this post to discuss the results of this excavation, which will be published elsewhere (although for the sake of the curious reader, I’ll briefly remark that the landowner’s estimation of the 1920s doesn’t appear to have been far off the mark). Instead, what I’m aiming to discuss are the processes of an excavation from the perspective of someone who’s new to those processes. Because, even though I’d been to this coin-tree site before, it suddenly felt very different – because this time I wasn’t there as a folklorist, but as an archaeologist.

There’s something about designating a place an ‘archaeological excavation site’ that gives it more prestige – even, to a certain extent, a sense of sanctity. The ranging rods, surveying equipment, array of buckets, shovels, trowels, and measuring tapes, all contribute to this shift, as if they imbue it with greater importance. They are props, removing it from the surrounding landscape, marking it out as something ‘special’. Archaeologists are often accused of desecration; in the hackneyed words of Mortimer Wheeler, ‘Archaeology is destruction’ (1954: 15). However, I would argue that we do the opposite. We don’t desecrate; we consecrate.


Although I’m always careful around coin-trees, I’ve never felt the same excessive anxiety as I did on this excavation. I was suddenly incredibly cautious about how I physically engaged with the site; I was reluctant to touch the tree, and whenever I moved around in its vicinity, I did so gingerly, as if so much as breathing on the coin-tree would bring the whole thing crashing down. It was a strange transition from my last visit, when I’d viewed the coin-tree as a natural part of the landscape rather than as a fragile monument, and it really struck me that archaeology doesn’t just explore sites; it alters them.

And we alter ourselves to accommodate them.

From what I’ve observed, people don’t revere these coin-trees. They don’t perceive them as solemn or consecrated, but as interesting features that they can touch, climb over/under, sit on, and hammer their own coins into. They don’t worry about the fragility of these structures; to them, it’s inevitable that the coin-trees will eventually fragment and decay. And so there’s nothing conservative about the ways in which members of the public interact with these monuments.

But as archaeologists, we don’t class ourselves as ‘members of the public’. To an extent, we don’t class ourselves as ‘people’. We’re like time-travellers; we’re scared to interfere lest we alter something that shouldn’t be altered, and so we remove ourselves from time and place. We treat our sites as sacred; we handle our finds not as if they were objects meant to be handled, but as artefacts, fragile and enshrined.

Now I’m not suggesting that all archaeologists everywhere change their approach. There’s a reason we act the way we do. But what I am suggesting is that in some cases perhaps, in order to gain both a fuller and deeper understanding of a site, we should allow ourselves to engage with places and structures the way everyone else does. To experience them as people rather than just as archaeologists.


Sara Gonzalez, Assistant Professor, University of Washington

Much like Ceri describes, I too approach the practice of archaeology with a sense of reverence.  I understand the sites where I work as belonging to a living heritage; their spaces and materials as deserving of proper treatment and care. Care here refers to the attitudes and practices one observes while working with cultural heritage.

Yet, this perspective is not so much an artifact of my training, as it is the result of my experiences working with Indigenous communities in California and the Pacific Northwest.  In these contexts the science and trappings of archaeology neither consecrate nor make an ancestral place sacred. In fact, archaeology can, and often has, achieved quite the opposite effect (Deloria 1969; Mihesuah 2000; Trigger 1980).  This colonial legacy has led many within the field to re-configure the practice of archaeology so that it is informed by both archaeological and Indigenous values and principles.

Let me illustrate using an example of my work with the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians at Fort Ross State Historic Park in northern California where I am working with the tribe and the California Department of Parks and Recreation to develop a cultural heritage trail.  Given Kashia concerns over the practice of archaeology on ancestral sites, the project worked with the community to develop a research methodology that integrates Kashia worldviews into the management and representation of their ancestral homeland, Metini (Gonzalez 2011).

The disturbance of sacred sites with profane acts—which is how the Kashia define archaeological practice—is potentially spiritually dangerous.  Hence, despite a long history of collaboration with anthropologists in the early 20th century, the tribe refused to participate in archaeological research until it was reframed as a ceremonial undertaking (Dowdall and Parrish 2003).  This reframing was achieved through observance of Kashaya cultural laws in our daily practices wherein we regarded Kashia ancestral sites as part of a sacred, living landscape that requires sacrifice on the part of individuals.

To borrow Ceri’s words, in altering ourselves to accommodate these places, we mitigate the danger of archaeology and demonstrate our respect for both the tribal community and their ancestors. This was the primary way we moved away from creating knowledge about the Kashaya to creating knowledge with them (Tamisari 2006:24).  The distinction here is forming reciprocal, non-hierarchical relationships that respect the individual contributions of collaborators.  In this way we came to view the knowledge we create as the result of social relationships that proceed from a place of mutual respect, honesty, integrity, and trust.  This, in turn, fostered an openness of communication so that tribal elders, scholars, and community members could remember and share histories of Fort Ross and Metini, thus contributing to the development of interpretation for the cultural heritage trail.

We each have our own way of relating to our work and to the places we find ourselves in.  But I would urge archaeologists, as Ceri does, to explore how local communities engage with their cultural landscapes, as this knowledge broadens our imagination and approach to the places and spaces of our work.


Deloria, Vine 1969 Custer Died for your Sins: An Indian Manifesto.  Macmillan, New York.

Dowdall, K. M. and O. O. Parrish 2003 A Meaningful Disturbance of the Earth. Journal of Social Archaeology 3:99-133.

Gonzalez, S. 2011 Creating Trails from Traditions: The Kashaya Pomo Interpretive Trail at Fort Ross State Historic Park.  Ph.D. Dissertation, Dept. of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley.

Mihesuah, D. A. (editor) 2000 Repatriation Reader: Who Owns American Indian Remains? University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln.

Tamisari, F. 2006 “Personal Acquaintance”: Essential Individuality and the Possibilities of Encounters. In Provoking Ideas: Critical Indigenous Studies, edited by T. Lea, E. Kowal and G. Cowlishaw, pp. 17-36. Darwin University Press, Darwin.

 Trigger, B. G. 1980 Archaeology and the Image of the American Indian. American Antiquity 45:662- 76.


Matt Law, Faculty Member at Bath Spa University

The Monstrous Antiquities conference at UCL next month will explore how archaeology has provided food for tales of the supernatural. Ceri’s work highlights another interesting aspect of archaeology and the supernatural, namely how archaeology can contribute to understanding how folkloric practices originate and persist. As a newcomer to archaeological fieldwork, she also provides some important insights into what archaeological investigations can mean.

The idea of consecrating places through designating them as archaeological sites is especially interesting, and feeds the idea of archaeology as social or political action. As Don Henson (2009, 117) has noted, archaeology is ‘inherently elitist’, as archaeologists seek to maintain their position as the experts, and it has a tendency to become ‘a self-selecting clique, defined by references to itself and reinforced through adopting particular methods of communication and practice’ (Henson 2009, 121). But this idea of sanctifying sites shows that archaeology –especially when it is conducted with people outside of the discipline – has the power to instil broader value on places that may be of immense social importance, but overlooked because of the transient or marginalised nature of the groups to whom they are important (e.g sites used by the homeless or vulnerably housed (Kiddey and Schofield 2011); or those related to clandestine crossings on the US-Mexico border  (De León 2012). Folklore and superstition are prone to being overlooked in modern Britain.

The objective nature of the archaeological process is rightly identified here. Often, this is a way of attempting to ensure scientific objectivity, much more rarely a coping strategy when faced with particularly harrowing finds. My own experience is that archaeologists’ emotional engagement with their sites is seldom as dispassionate as the language of the reports they later produce would suggest. Of course, many do explicitly discuss experiential aspects of the site, especially from the perspective of the population being studied (this can even be attempted from analysis of snail shells from the site (see Evans 2005), and both objective and subjective approaches to archaeology should be (and often are!) seen as complementary, although care should always be taken not to privilege the excavator’s worldview, which may not reveal much about life in the past.


De León, J., 2012. “Better to be hot than caught”. Excavating the conflicting roles of migrant material culture. American Anthropologist, 114 (3), pp. 477-495.

Evans, J.G., 2005. The snails, in D. Benson & A. Whittle (eds.) Building Memories: the Neolithic Cotswold long barrow at Ascott-under-Wychwood, Oxfordshire. Oxford: Oxbow. pp. 55-70.

Henson, D., 2009. What on earth is archaeology? In E. Waterton & L. Smith (eds.) Taking archaeology out of heritage (Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing) pp. 117-135.

Kiddey, R., and Schofield, J., 2011. Embrace the margins: adventures in archaeology and homelessness. Public Archaeology, 10 (1), pp. 4-22.


CFPo: Green

Image of Neolithic worked wood
Neolithic worked wood, Somerset Levels, UK (photo by Matt Law)


Our theme for November is inspired by one of the earliest posts on this blog, DIY, Green Burials, and Mortuary Archaeology by Colleen Morgan. Archaeology and green issues are intrinsically linked, often explicitly in conservation legislature and in the designation of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, as well as in the public imagination (at times wrongly, as evidenced by an English politician’s characterisation last year of archaeologists as ‘bunny huggers’ – to see just how wrong this can be, read this extract of a recent paper on Hebridean archaeology by Mike Parker Pearson, Jacqui Mulville, Niall Sharples and Helen Smith).

As Martin Bell has noted:

 ‘Green concerns are about current and future trends. However understanding them requires knowledge of what has happened in the past’

(Bell 2004, p. 509). In this context, archaeological studies have been informative in issues such as the reintroduction of locally extinct animals, the development of sustainable farming and livestock management processes, the mitigation of agricultural soil erosion, and the prediction of potential outcomes of climate change.

Green concerns may also be more humanistic, and draw on archaeological imagery to suggest a utopian past where humans lived in sustainable coexistence with nature. Environmental archaeology has shown that such an idealised image of the past may not reflect reality, however – perhaps most dramatically in the famous case of Rapa Nui, which may have become unproductive after overzealous deforestation and poor land management (Bahn and Flenley 1992; Mann et al. 2008) (archaeological evidence does not necessarily support the idea of ‘ecocide’ however – Hunt 2007).

Additionally, indigenous knowledge traditions may be informative for environmental policy makers and planners (Johannes 1993, 33). Such knowledge can be drawn either directly from modern ethnographic studies (e.g. Costa-Neto 2000, 90, Blurton Jones and Konner 1989, 21), or inferred from archaeological and palaeoecological data (e.g. Jackson 2001; Mannino and Thomas 2002).

This theme welcomes posts which explore any interaction between archaeology and green concerns, including the topics discussed above, the environmental sustainability of archaeological practice, or personal reflections on how archaeology has made you think about green issues. If you’re interested in contributing a submission of 750 words or less, please e-mail me (LawMJ [at] with the title of your contribution as the subject line, or drop us a message on the facebook page or on twitter (@ThenDig). Posts will be published throughout November and December and are due by November 25th. Submissions in the form of images, music, video, and other multimedia are, as ever, also welcome. Your submission will be subjected to open peer review before being posted on Then Dig (our open peer review guidelines are here)


Bahn, P.G.,and J.R. Flenley, 1992. Easter Island, Earth Island. London: Thames and Hudson.

Bell, M., 2004. Archaeology and green issues. In J. Bintliff. Ed. A Companion to Archaeology Oxford: Blackwell. pp. 509-531.

Blurton Jones, N. and M.J. Konner, 1989. !Kung knowledge of animal behaviour. In R.E.Johannes Ed. Traditional Ecological Knowledge: A Collection of Essays Gland: IUCN. pp. 21-29.

Costa-Neto, E.M., 2000, Sustainable development and traditional knowledge: a case study in a Brazilian artisanal fisherman’s community. Sustainable Development 8, pp. 89-95. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1099-1719(200005)8:2<89::AID-SD130>3.0.CO;2-S.

Hunt, T.L., 2007. Rethinking Easter Island’s ecological catastrophe, Journal of Archaeological Science 34, pp. 485–502. doi:10.1016/j.jas.2006.10.003.

Jackson, J.B.C., et al., 2001. Historical overfishing and the recent collapse of coastal ecosystems. Science 293, pp. 629-638. doi: 10.1126/science.1059199.

Johannes, R.E., 1993. Integrating Traditional Ecological Knowledge and management with Environmental Impact Assessment. In J.T.Inglis, Ed. Traditional Ecological Knowledge: concepts and cases. pp. 33-39 .

Mann, D., et al., 2008. Drought, vegetation change, and human history on Rapa Nui (Isla de Pascua, Easter Island). Quaternary Research 69 (1), pp. 16–28. doi:10.1016/j.yqres.2007.10.009.

Mannino, M.A., and K.D.Thomas, 2002. Depletion of a resource? the impact of prehistoric human foraging on intertidal mollusc communities and its significance for human settlement, mobility and dispersal, World Archaeology 33 (3), pp. 452-474.

ZEITGEIST: Cornelius Holtorf

I saw this ad in an in-flight magazine the other day and took it home with me:

Screen shot 2013-10-28 at 9.50.24 AM

The  two-page ad made me think whether the same slogan could not also apply to the way we look at cultural heritage. Is not heritage possibly too “a material of hope” and an “advanced material” that drives the future?

Too often we see heritage discussed in apocalyptic visions of imminent doom: destructive scenarios in which heritage is seen as put at risk by various present and future threats. We are told that we need to take urgent action in order to safeguard the heritage for future generations.  Heritage appears as very fragile and vulnerable, helplessly subjected to the destructive forces of history brought to bear on it. In this common view, the best we can apparently hope for is that, with out help, the heritage continues to exist for a bit longer. But there is hardly ever a positive vision of how heritage can actively contribute to specific future scenarios of a better society.

This debate is slowly changing now as the contribution of heritage to sustainable development advances from a catchphrase to a meaningful concept.  But there is still a long way to go until heritage will generally be seen as a material of hope; as something that does not in the first place need to be protected from various threats of the present and the future but that indeed drives the future:

Screen shot 2013-10-28 at 9.50.41 AM


PS: Toray is a chemical industry group using organic synthetic chemistry, polymer chemistry and biotechnology as its core technologies to produce materials for other industries, e.g. cars. This image was used with good intentions but without formal permission. 


Hope, Shape, and Heritage

Holtorf’s reconfigured advertisement is less about heritage as change than as the possibility of change.  In its invocation of an aesthetics of heritage as weathered if not eroded ruins, Holtorf’s brick structure seems to represent potential.  It is not clear if his weathered structure is an abandoned shell or a stylistically unvarnished ruin set apart from the new by its unfinished brick; in either case, its historical traces imagine a novel material transformation.

In contrast, Toray’s own ad confirms the future has already arrived in the form of an absurdly stylish eco-friendly sports car fashioned from Toray’s innovative chemical fabrics.  Heritage rhetoric routinely is reduced to desperate preservation lobbying that revolves around the potential of salvaged material spaces, ruins, and things.  Yet Toray delivers hope right now, innovation made possible through chemicals that are “giving shape” to the future.

Heritage materially provides shapes for the future, the literal structural remains, landscape expanses, and scattered objects that attest to visible histories.  However, in much of the world heritage is a sober term for checking development, desperately saving select material presences, or accepting the inevitable march of development that attempts to co-opt heritage planners.

This may well seem “apocalyptic” because heritage planning may hazard being an administrative mechanism that approves development, gathering up traces in the path of the bulldozer.  Ideally heritage refers to a social practice that uses preservation management, spatial interpretation, and historical narrative to weave tales that could reasonably be activist and forward-thinking.  Yet preserving a fragile heritage may be inevitably dystopian in the face of global development.  Perhaps that dystopian message about what could be lost is more critical than the forward-thinking message of hope.

COMMENT: Sarah May

I like the way Holtorf is investigating his concept of Archaeology as a Brand here and stretching it so that it does the work Heritage claims to do. And as always, its a positive vision of the discipline, which is sorely lacking more broadly. Its really important for us to imagine these kinds of concrete engagements with the future.

The question that this piece raises for me is, “who does Heritage give hope to?” The Toray ad is reassuring wealthy consumers that they can continue to have their lifestyles in the face of environmental change. Holtorf’s reworking retains that same feel. “Don’t worry”, it purrs, “there may be changes, but you can still live in castles.” Of course, this is exactly the kind of hope that draws funding, whether public or private. And in many ways its an explicit statement of the kind of hope that Heritage has been trading on for most of the 20th century.

But Heritage can give hope to a much wider constituency, hope for a future which is not just an adjustment of our present, but actually alters some of the power structures which leave most of the world disenfranchised. It offers this hope on the basis that the past has been different from the present, and even the present is more complex, more strange than schools, and indeed brands, tell us.

It was this hope that was most powerful for the students I taught in the late 1990’s. They lived in Dundalk, on the border of the Republic of Ireland, a place full of fortifications old and new. The Heritage they had learned at school was all about a glorious past. They had learned the strength that comes with unity and resistance. The narrative was full of repelling invaders. But the image was surface, the details of life that make it real were missing. As they explored those details they realised that, while connected, they were truly different from their ancestors. They could choose their future, it was not preordained.

How can this kind of hope be encapsulated in the kind of frame Holtorf uses? I need to stretch myself as well. Most of my experience with billboards and advertisements has involved graffiti which undermines, rather than appropriates, their message. I suspect the ‘brand value’ which expresses this hope is the sense of adventure. Archaeology and Heritage offer the freedom to imagine a different better world, not just an eco-friendly mirror of this one.

Adventure brings as much baggage as castles, but I’d rather climb that mountain than patch the old fortifications.


Karavostasi (Gemikonagi), Cyprus

Karavostasi (Gemikonağı), Cyprus: a village buckling under the strain of its history.
Karavostasi (Gemikonağı), Cyprus: a village buckling under the strain of its history.

Karavostasi was a long-mixed village, with a proud history of bicommunal labour and struggle; then it was struck by two acute waves of the Cyprus Conflict, and resource depletion, and it never recovered. Now, even the material evidence of the communities’ coexistence and cooperation is breaking up and disappearing.

Its original, Greek-language name means “boat stop”, “mooring point for ships”, ‘anchorage for sailing vessels’; its alternative, Turkish-language name, Gemikonağı, is a direct translation. In 55 years, the settlement grew from a hamlet of fishers, into a port for citrus export, into a centre for mineral processing, which was more than 80 times its original size.

Then Greek Cypriot paramilitaries forced out its Turkish Cypriot villagers in 1963 and 1964; the copper began to peter out in 1970 (Feridun, 2000: 115); and Turkish soldiers drove out its Greek Cypriot villagers in 1974. The community, which had pulled in workers from across the island, was cast out across the island. The village shrank to a sixth of its peak size, re-inhabited by Turkish Cypriot families who had left a decade earlier, and by new Turkish Cypriot refugees.

In a process that encompasses the conflict, cultural decay/destruction and organised crime, some of the abandoned buildings have been converted into sites of sex slavery.

Feridun, F K. 2000: “Lefke kasabası’nın tarihsel boyutunda bir kesit: Kıbrıs Maden Şirketi (Cyprus Mines Corporation – CMC) ve bugünkü demografik yapı [A cross-section of Lefke town’s historical dimensions: the Cyprus Mines Corporation (CMC – Kıbrıs Maden Şirketi) and today’s demographic structure]”. Journal of Cyprus Studies, Number 16/17, 111-124.

Sabratha, Libya

A Tourist Police agent is watching the Roman ruins at Sabratha, 60 kilometers west of Tripoli, Libya, on September 6, 2011.
A 'Tourist Police' agent at Sabrata, Libya. Photo by Ammar Abd Rabbo.

This week’s photo is of ruins at Sabratha, Libya, originally founded by the Phoenicians around 500 BC and later a Roman city. It’s a World Heritage Site, and in the recent civil war Sabratha was captured and re-captured a couple of times. In the modern world there’s a big divide between Europe on the north of the Mediterranean and Africa on the south. The Roman view would have been vastly different, with the major cities of the Empire being on the shores of Mediterranean and the further reaches of Europe to the north of Italy being awful places where the savages lived.

[yt video=owLSIfVQzgc]A Visit to Sabrata[/yt]

The city was re-taken by anti-Gaddafi forces in August. The speed of protection for the sites is therefore astonishing. This photo was taken on the 6th of September. Elsewhere in Libya the fight continues.

Free access to Maney Archaeology and Heritage Journals for a month

Terrae Incognitae coverManey Publishing are offering a free 30 day trial of journals in their Archaeology and Heritage collection. There’s quite a few journals in the collection. The one the caught my eye was Terrae Incognitae. If you’ve not heard of this journal, it’s a journal of the history of exploration from ancient to modern times. Even if you’re a hardline single-subject archaeologist there’s still relevant papers to read. In the most recent issue there’s a paper “The Palace Façade and the Urban Form in the Documenting of Hispanic America” which proposes a relationship between the architecture of Spanish colonisers and the monarchical urban policies of the 16th century. This sounds like something archaeological testable to me.

Another journal in the collection is Public Archaeology. I see that “From Respect to Reburial: Negotiating Pagan Interest in Prehistoric Human Remains in Britain, Through the Avebury Consultation” came out this year, which I really ought to read. Other recent papers have looked at the Philippines, Cambodia and “Archaeology as a Tool to Illuminate and Support Community Struggles in the Black Metropolis of the Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries” based in the south-side of Chicago, which I’d never heard of before.

You can visit the Maney website to see the full list of journals. There’s a mixed bunch, but it looks particularly helpful for post-med and industrial archaeologists and researchers interested in the Levant. Maney have helpfully tweeted the offer is open to everyone, so it’s well worth checking out.

Teaching Preschoolers about Anthropology

After reading a few of Matt Thompson‘s “Illustrated Man” posts over at Savage Minds, I decided to search for children’s books that go beyond the ubiquitous kiddie-adventure-with-moralistic-underpinnings storylines.  Now, those books aren’t all bad.  My 2-year-old daughter and I both really like the Adventures of Patrick Brown book series, which is lushly illustrated in an almost graphic novel style and which employs a good level of vocabulary that doesn’t talk down to kids whose language skills are increasing at an astounding pace.  But my ultimate goal was to find books related to my life-long interests – archaeology and biological anthropology – that I could share with my daughter.  More importantly, I wanted to find books that won’t make me pull my hair out when I inevitably have to read them over and over and over again.

I discovered, though, that it’s surprisingly difficult to find books geared towards the preschooler set that aren’t board books with too little dialogue (half of the words in Fifteen Animals are “Bob”) or lightweight stories about everyday activities that reinforce old gender norms (I’m looking at you, Berenstain Bears).  Most of the books that interested me and that tried to communicate a small part of what I do for a living seemed to be written for kids in late elementary school.  Fortunately, I managed to stumble upon a couple books that captivate the attention of a squirmy toddler and her academically-inclined mother.


Archaeologists Dig for lists over 1,100 results for children’s books about archaeology.  It’s pretty daunting, and I ended up getting some duds.  The best one by far – which I highly recommend – is Archaeologists Dig for Clues by Kate Duke.  The format has some graphic novel qualities to it, with little dialogue bubbles in addition to the text and side-bar explanations, which cover everything from water screening to ceramic typology.  The characters are quite diverse in their gender, age, and race.  Although the story – a day in the life of a field archaeologist – condenses basically an entire field and lab season into one day, the portrayal of the field archaeologist, the explanations about the tasks she undertakes, and the demonstration of what specialists do at the lab are all quite good.

Biological Anthropology

The WatcherA recent New York Times Sunday book review profiled two works about the life of Jane Goodall:  The Watcher and Me, Jane.  One of my friends sent a copy of each for my daughter’s birthday.  Jeanette Winter’s The Watcher is definitely the better book – with more words and better vocabulary, the story introduces children to some basic concepts in primatology and anthropology. Winter’s illustrations can be used to get children involved in watching too: Jane doesn’t immediately see the chimps, who are hiding in the trees, and it’s fun to ask my daughter to point them out and count them.  This book also deals with events like Goodall’s bout of malaria and the progressive endangerment of chimpanzees because of poaching and deforestation, all while remaining approachable by kids. One of the things I dislike about Patrick McDonnell’s Me, Jane (other than the title, which irrationally annoys me) is that he jumps from little Jane dreaming about chimps to Goodall in the field, skipping the trouble, hardships, and work she had to put in to get from interested kid to adult researcher.  Anthropology isn’t as simple as digging a hole in your backyard or looking at an ape through a zoo window for a few minutes, and The Watcher manages to get this point across quite well. It’s a surprisingly thorough (for a kids’ book) story of Jane Goodall’s life written in a way that challenges younger readers but at the same time doesn’t talk down to them.  I definitely recommend The Watcher, but I’d give Me, Jane a pass.

Another good place to look for anthropology books may be your local science or art museum.  My colleagues at the Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Roma, for example, created an illustrated pamphlet for children that explains what bioarchaeologists do (and helped me learn the Italian version of various bioarchaeological terms).  The cartoonish dead Romans are adorable, even though they’re not a great match for the higher-level text that discusses such heady topics as palaeopathology.  Unfortunately, you can’t all rush out and buy this, but I suspect there are similar English-language pamphlets floating around somewhere.  If not, well, I guess my next project will be writing a children’s book on bioarchaeology!  (Anyone want to illustrate it?)

Kristina Killgrove is a bioarchaeologist who blogs regularly at Powered by Osteons and tweets as @BoneGirlPhD.