Queer Theory and Archaeology

Last October, my fellow graduate student Trish Markert discussed the sociopolitics of gender within archaeology and its potential impact on our contemporary sociopolitical landscape. In her post, she briefly addressed the manner in which queer archaeologists gives our field the ability to challenge normative assumptions – and she promised a more thorough discussion of queer theory to come. Well, that time is finally here! Over the next few weeks, I will be discussing several facets of queer theory’s incorporation into archaeology, and its power to radically change our perception of the past and present. Why Should I Care About Queer Archaeology? Queer archaeologies are especially important in these uncertain times. The Trump administration is legitimizing the alt-right movement in an effort to void past social victories and impose a new normative upon us. Those who live outside of this “new” normative — which is really an old normative rearing its ugly head — are discriminated and legislated against. Originating in social amnesia, and enforced in the law, what is “good” and what is “right” becomes naturalized – we start to believe people have always been heterosexual and cisgender, men have always had political authority, women have always belonged in the [Read More]

The Archaeology of Vulnerability: Hurricane Katrina and archaeology in the midst of disaster

As Hurricane Katrina made landfall along the Gulf Coast in late August of 2005, 1.2 million people across the Southeastern United States received evacuation orders. Most fled the storm, but many stayed behind; close to 2000 people lost their lives as a result, the vast majority of those fatalities occurring in New Orleans.  Katrina is recognized as the largest disaster ever to occur in the United States, causing hundreds of billions of dollars in damages and disrupting wide swathes of the Southeast; many communities have still not recovered to their pre-Katrina conditions. One of the reasons I chose to center my thesis on archaeology and disaster recovery after hurricanes is the immensity of Katrina’s impact; the effects of the eight-day storm have been widespread and slow to resolve. The hurricane alone is not responsible for the damage and destruction, however. Without people a hurricane is just a windy storm that lashes the coastline; once people are placed in the path of danger, and given those people’s position in relation to any number of societal statuses – their race, education, and income, for example – the hurricane becomes the precipitating factor in a disaster which, particularly in New Orleans, had been [Read More]

Stewards of Memory: Terrorism and Public Archaeology

Public archaeology is deeply connected to issues of heritage. Our National Register of Historic Places, our archaeological reviews, our love of old things are all tied back to how physical manifestations of memory shape our experience and identity. We use museums, memorials, and mansions to construct a story of our shared past, to idealize and sometimes idolize our history. Many of the moments we memorialize are surrounded with death and devastation – the National Battlegrounds of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, for instance, or monuments to the victims of the RMS Titanic or the Donner Party. When people die, our urge is to preserve their memory, to mark the loss somehow. This urge is intensified when lots of people die, or when the circumstances of their deaths are unexpected or violent. To rise into national consciousness, the tragedy must appear to be out of the control of the victims, further heightening the loss of unfulfilled potential. FEMA is tasked with providing support and assistance, including the work of archaeologists, to survivors – people who have gone through what is likely to be the worst moments of their lives, who have lots loved ones, homes, and belonging and who are experiencing [Read More]

Rupture and Rebirth: California’s Earthquakes

Earthquakes aren’t just a hazard in California, they’re events that Shannon Lee Dawdy (2016) describes as ruptures in everyday life, creating schisms in time, space and community, and with a revelatory power to uncover things hidden in the earth and in the habitus of living. Rupturing events can take many forms, but I will here be focusing on those caused by disasters which are of large scale or wide impact. National disasters typically fit both of those descriptors, and the Stafford Act, the legislation which created and authorizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency provides that the President may provide federal assistance in response to any natural catastrophe, fire, flood, or explosion. “Natural catastrophes” here include “any hurricane, tornado, storm, high water, winddriven water, tidal wave, tsunami, earthquake, volcanic eruption, landslide, mudslide, snowstorm, or drought”; it is important to note that fire, flood and explosion may be of any cause, including human action – as we will see in a future post. National disasters, when viewed through Dawdy’s lens as a rupture, create a situation in which the values, priorities and vulnerabilities of a community are stripped to the bone. Earthquakes are a present danger, a premonition of an apocalyptic future, [Read More]

Public Archaeology and Disaster

Trish Markert and guest blogger Kevin Gibbons have done an excellent job exploring the physical and political implications of climate change and Michele Turner has given us a look at the American legal system and archaeology. With thanks to them for their insights, I’d like to spend a little time delving into one of the issues at the heart of archaeology and climate change: disasters. I’m sure it won’t come as a surprise when I say that archaeologists have long been interested in disasters (Pompeii, anyone?). What many do find unexpected is that archaeology is also practiced during disasters. Any time that a community is threatened by earthquake, fire or hurricanes, their collective past – their heritage – is also threatened. Disaster management is about more than simply providing clean drinking water and a place to shelter from a storm. Some of the most important work is done when survivors return to the home passed down to them by their grandparents, or when the church where their children were baptized reopens its doors. Communities are created through a sense of shared belonging – whether this is through growing up in the same neighborhood, following the same football club, or developing [Read More]

The Western Klamath Restoration Partnership

I’ll be kicking off 2017 on the MAPA blog with a post about meaningful tribal collaboration, traditional ecological knowledge and preventing natural disasters on federal lands. I am Paula Hertfelder, MA/PhD student at Binghamton University and Pathways Intern with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) at the Six Rivers National Forest in northern California. I started work this past summer on the Western Klamath Restoration Partnership (WKRP) – an interdisciplinary collaborative formed between the Karuk Tribe, the U.S. Forest Service, the Mid-Klamath Watershed Council (MKWC) and other stakeholders. This collaborative partnership addresses concerns over the increasingly devastating wildfires in the West in part by using traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) and land management. It has also led to a successful collaboration between USFS and Karuk Tribal archaeologists, which has improved heritage resource management efforts. The WKRP is a case study of successfully integrating TEK and Western science, collaborative work, and how TEK can be incorporated into the expectations of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when assembling an Environmental Assessment (EA). When conducting an EA, NEPA requires consultation with a range of stakeholders on varying concerns. There are many examples of TEK incorporation into the NEPA process, especially in different National Park [Read More]

“So, you dug it up and then you just reburied it?”

Last summer, I was involved in a small excavation in northern New Mexico for my dissertation project. When I give formal talks about our work, with lots of background information, people get excited about the research questions and how much we learned from just a month of work. At those times I feel like I’m making some progress as a public archaeologist, something that is very new to me. But in more casual conversations, it’s sometimes hard to get the excitement across. Folks are intrigued at first when I tell them we were excavating a thousand year old building that may have had as many as 100 rooms, but then I can see their interest dim a little as they realize how small our excavation actually was. It usually leads to two questions: First, “Are you going back next summer?”  Second, “Wait, so you just reburied it all at the end? Archaeologists understand that extensive, long-term excavations are neither necessary nor feasible in most places, that research funding is severely limited, that our labs are full of artifacts and samples that we may never have time to properly analyze, and that backfilling is the best way to preserve architecture and features. But that is [Read More]

NAGPRA After Kennewick Man

Last weekend, Congress passed legislation that directs the Army Corps of Engineers to transfer the human remains of Kennewick Man, also known as the Ancient One, to Washington state authorities so they can repatriate him to claimant tribes in Washington State. Tucked into a 270-page bill called the 2016 Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act, Section 1152 requires transfer of the human remains within 90 days after the president signs it into law. Barring new developments, we seem to be nearing the end of a long saga. His remains were found 20 years ago, in 1996, and the litigation began the same year. It has been twelve years since the Ninth Circuit ended the lawsuit, ruling that Kennewick Man was not “Native American” within the meaning of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). (For those who aren’t familiar with the Kennewick Man case, visit my footnote[1] down below for an overview.) While some research still questions the cultural link to Native Americans, a 2015 article in Nature reported that his DNA is closer to local Washington tribes than to any other population, and as a result, last spring the Army Corps of Engineers began repatriation consultations. A senator from Washington [Read More]

When Archaeologists Teach the Law

When I left my job as an attorney to study archaeology, I assumed I was leaving the law behind. But one of the things that has surprised me most in my new life is just how much work archaeologists do in teaching the law. Time and again, in undergraduate seminars, at excavation sites, at museums, in field schools, at national parks, or online, I’ve watched archaeologists and anthropologists educating people about Section 106, NAGPRA, historic preservation law, the Antiquities Act, the legal history of Native American dispossession and public lands, or the finer points of Native American sovereignty. Many archaeologists seem uncomfortable with this role, though. If I’m around and they know my background they’ll sometimes look to me as if I might be able to chime in and clarify everything. The truth is that many professional archaeologists know much more about these areas of law than most lawyers do. My law practice mostly involved product liability and insurance law. When I started my PhD program, I could have told you all about the laws regulating dangerous products but almost nothing about any of the laws that surround archaeology. Only once in my legal career did I even have a [Read More]

Checks and Balances: The Legal Future for Archaeology and Archaeologists

If your Facebook feed as a fellow anthropologist is anything like mine, then you know the fear that has accompanied the election of the new president. My friends are expecting imminent deportations, registries, all of the worst possible scenarios. At a lower level of terror, my archaeologist friends are also fearing for their jobs and for our natural and archaeological resources. As a naturalized immigrant, the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, and the adoring aunt of two biracial toddlers, I am not immune to the nightmare scenarios, and I also fear for the future of archaeology. But I am also a lawyer by training, and my legal background colors my views. There are checks and balances in place, and they are not just formalities, and that is what I want to write about this week. I’m not a constitutional scholar, nor an expert on the laws surrounding archaeology, so this is necessarily a basic and general discussion. I’ll try to address the laws that surround archaeology but also the possibility of civil rights violations that are really keeping people awake at night right now. And in the hopes of including people who might have different political views, I’m going to put [Read More]