Thursday, February 19, 2015
Wednesday, November 5, 2014
A trip back to Dos Mangas would not have been complete without a tour of some of the key archaeological sites that I identified a few years back, with an eye to future research. We went back out to Buen Suceso, and while the field with the Valdivia site has been plowed twice in the intervening years it hasn't been planted, which has minimized some of the damage to the site. This time we were also able to do some informal survey in the fields on the other side of the dirt road that bisects the former boarding school lands. Much to my joy we found some pretty interesting evidence of a Manteño occupation, including several low platforms where houses were likely located.
|Ask and ye shall receive. Large chert flake, olla rim sherd, and Manteño mascarone found in the field. Quarter for scale.|
The community is talking about turning this area into a protected archaeological zone. Considering that artifacts from the entire prehispanic cultural sequence are present in these few fields, that seems like a worthy goal. These fields also lie alongside one of the existing ecotourism paths that the community has developed. If the community moves ahead as planned then we will have the opportunity to integrate archaeological information alongside the existing tourism economy.
|Before and after my little tour. The joys of working in a tropical environment.|
Back in the village proper, the state of archaeology wasn't as positive. If you remember my last post, you'll recall that USAid has contributed extensively to Dos Mangas, including sponsoring a remodel of the casa comunal. The final project looks great, but there's one downside. The materials from my excavations were stored there, and when they did the remodel, they moved the bags and boxes. Into a disused house. That's missing half its roof. If you're having trouble imaging the condition of my excavated collection, well, I have a picture for you.
The community members who were the most involved in the project weren't aware that the collection had been moved, or its current state. I left behind some funds and detailed instructions about how prevent further damage to the site, and it will be moved to a better storage location within the community tourism interpretation center.
|The collection will have a new home on this side of the village. There's also some available land to build a small museum....|
The last big achievement that we managed during my visit was to sign a convenio between myself and the community. This document outlines our mutual benefits and obligations as we move forward with future archaeological work and the integration of these projects with community tourism and development goals. I can't wait to get back to work!
Monday, October 13, 2014
|Fanny, Chico and their kids.|
|Luis and Vicente.|
On Saturday, my only full day to visit, I was able to wander around the village and I was struck by how much had changed, and how much was still the same. The road into town actually has a bridge over the river now, meaning it doesn’t turn into an island during the rainy season. There’s also a new high school, so children don’t have to travel to continue with their education, an investment that can be a barrier for many. The church has been redone, the casa comunal has been remodeled, and it's clear that the community has benefitted from the support of USAid. But it's the same two roads, the same people, and the same excitement to get back to work!
|The new colegio, located next to the primary schools.|
|Remodeled church, with room for parking out front!|
|This is where I used to live. Now a hostel.|
Stay tuned for my next installment, a look at the archaeology after four years!
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
|Museo Portoviejo, where the workshop was held.|
|The historic building of the INPC Region 4 offices.|
The first day focused on archaeology as a field of study, as a scientific and interpretive endeavor. We talked about stratigraphy and, overall, the importance of context to archaeological interpretation. We did a series of activities related to stratigraphy, chronology, and context drawn from outreach activities on the AIA website and Intrigue of the Past, an online curriculum for school teachers developed by the Research Laboratories of Archaeology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. The goal was not only for the participants to understand these concepts, but to have materials and activities that they could take back to their communities and use in their own educational efforts.
The second day we discussed the archaeological cultures of coastal Ecuador. I had two main goals for this module. The first is that participants become familiar with the archaeological cultures on the coast, spanning from the Archaic period until Spanish conquest, material that isn't covered in schools. This included being introduced to some of the characteristic pieces of material culture from each period to help them associate these cultures with what they find in their communities. The second goal was to move beyond "the cult of the object", away from an artifact as a museum piece or one that might be worth money on the black market (a fine distinction at times), and towards a greater appreciation of what an artifact can tell us about past societies, particularly when found within its original context. We used some objects from the INPC bodega to help with this discussion, and participants brought photos of some of the objects recovered in their communities. The need and desire for discussion of past societies within primary school curriculum was highlighted by participants.
On Day Three we discussed community rights and responsibilities according to the national patrimony laws. This was the most interesting and difficult of the days for me. While the constitution states that everyone has an obligation to protect national patrimony, and laws outline the penalties involved for those who damage, deface, or loot (see resources here), there seems to be a gap between what is expected and the skills and resources of various governing bodies. The scenario presented by representatives from one community is not uncommon: archaeological remains are eroding out of a nearby river bank. The next time the river crests it will wash those objects away. If the community rescues them now, to put on dispay in their community center, they will be looting. If they wait until the river floods it will be too late, and they will lose this resource they are trying to develop. The INPC doesn't have the staff or funds to carry out a full rescue project. What can the community do?
We were fortunate to have the director of the INPC office join us on this day. The discussion wasn't easy, and no satisfying agreement was reached. A key point in the community's favor seemed to be the fact that they wanted to gather these objects to display them within their community. This fulfilled the public accessibility and dissemination mandates of the patrimony law. We spoke about ways in which they can document the current state of the materials (photographs with scale, showing the landscape context, etc) in order to document as much about the archaeological context as possible. Of course, no one was willing to say "yes, once you've documented it you can remove it" and not just because of the patrimony law but also because we know that once you remove one object you'll find another, and another, and another (the archaeology version of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie).
|Workshop participants on Day 2.|
Over the course of these three days we also spoke about ways that communities can integrate archaeology into their community development projects. The culmination on the fourth day consisted of brief presentations by each community of their plans of action to this end. Some focused on education of children to build an interest in protecting the past, while others targeted adults as role models to begin this work. Some plans tied the presentation of archaeological remains to current artisan practices in communities. Others discussed the need for protection committees to mitigate damage to sites from land use practices and development.
To close the workshop we were very lucky to receive a tour of the site of Cerro Jaboncillo. This was a Manteño site, one that has been famous for awhile but that only recently been excavated, so from an archaeology nerd standpoint I was very excited for the visit. The Ciudad Civico Eloy Alfaro in nearby Monticristi has developed interpretive material for the site, and the visit was a good opportunity to for workshop participants to see excavations in progress and how this information was presented to a general public. The representatives from Ciudad Alfaro were extremely generous and helped provide a nice capstone to the workshop.
|Workshop participants at Cerro Jaboncillo.|
This workshop is just the first step in a changing relationship between archaeologists and communities in Ecuador, and if I get the chance to present it again I'm sure I'd do some things differently. I'd love to be able to visit each community and provide a more customized approach, but given the distance people traveled in order to come to Portoviejo that may not be feasible. Regardless, I hope that people stay in touch and I look forward to seeing how they implement things in their communities!
Press from the workshop:
Sept 22 Day 1
Sept 23 Day 2
Sept 25 Day 4
Sept 25 Visit to Cerro Jaboncillo
Sept 25 El Diario (short piece, mostly correct)
Friday, September 19, 2014
|Dos Mangas, one of the first photos I took back in 2006. I can only imagine what it will look like today!|
Thursday, April 3, 2014
|Word cloud from my theory chapter. I'm one of "those" archaeologists. And by that I either mean one whose theory is dominated by words like "practice" or one who procrastinates by putting their theory chapter into a word cloud.|
So, I'm going to try to squeeze in this post just under the wire. I managed to respond to the first month's question for the Blogging Archaeology Carnival (#blogarch) back in November, and that was it before I got pulled into a vortex of family holidays, international travel, and dissertating. The last query for #blogarch in the lead-up to #SAA2014 asks us to discuss our goals for blogging and where we hope it takes us and archaeology.
Saturday, January 25, 2014
Some very useful discussion is already happening on other blogs (here and here) and got me to read the study a bit more closely and think about the themes the authors identified. I posted Michael E. Smith's blog response (the second link above) to my Facebook page along with the commentary that the list left me feeling a little "ho-hum". What followed was a lively discussion that helped me tease out my lack-luster response to the study, which I present here.The items set out in the list are "big" themes, and while I think that it is very useful to set out these grand challenges, I didn't feel very excited after reading it. While my level of enthusiasm doesn't mean much in the grand scheme of things, I do think that if broad sectors of archaeologists don't get fired up by these suggestions, then neither will the general public, who we need on our side. My critique of the study centers around two themes (participation and content) that I am hopeful will be addressed by the authors in greater detail, perhaps in later publications.
First, the authors of the study were quite concerned about the overrepresentation of older participants in the survey (or the lack of young and student archaeologist, as they describe it). It concerns me as well. An informal survey of my networks (which are primarily populated with early-career and student archaeologists) left a lot of us scratching our heads about how the survey was distributed, because we don't remember ever receiving notice of it. In my case, I was also starting a full-time job around the time that it went out, which may explain some amnesia, but it is worrisome that so many people in the under-represented age demographic don't remember receiving the survey.
The authors don't go into great detail concerning their research methods in the AA article, but I think it's important to look at who led the study and the report in this regard. The demographic that responded in greatest numbers seem to me to be similar to the authors themselves, suggesting that informal networks may have played a big role in getting people to respond. That makes it problematic, then, that 11 out of 14 authors are male, that they are all senior in their fields, and they are all white. As anyone who has attended a professional meeting in the last few years can tell you, the face of archaeology (in the US at least) is changing. Women are taking over, and people of color are more numerous, though still underrepresented. Finally, though Canadian, European, and UK societies were included in the survey, the respondents were overwhelmingly from the US. What languages were the survey distributed in, and was there any effort to include the international members of North American professional societies, or societies located in the Global South?
Second, the authors "explicitly excluded responses to the survey that addressed 'disciplinary challenges with respect to the practice of archaeology, such as changes in financial and legal frameworks'" (Kintigh et al. 2014:6-7). I think this is a missed opportunity. As my colleagues indicated during informal discussions, the decreasing excitement for archaeology in the face of "Ancient Aliens", "Diggers", or lawmakers' outright hostility to archaeology, is a real issue that needs to be addressed. The types of "big" questions proposed in the article come off as dry and unexciting to most people not directly engaged in that research. While I think there are ways to successfully convey what people do under each of those headings for a general audience, they were framed in such a way as to not promote much conversation outside of archaeology.
Ultimately, the topics heralded in the report seem likely to further the insularism of so much of archaeology these days by emphasizing what archaeologists can discover about the past, without really emphasizing they ways in which we can contribute to current debates outside of the discipline (though there are some exceptions to this). Given the work I do, I was surprised to see how little attention was given to the valid research questions that accompany the politics and social context of archaeological inquiry (nothing about working with contemporary people, or our contributions to discourses surrounding heritage, or the political sphere that our work often enters). I realize that the authors had limitations and certain goals, but the themes they emphasize serve to obscure the excitement that we feel for our discipline and that we so desperately need to convey to other people.
So, what next? I think we need to encourage informal and formal discussion of these topics among the demographics that were underrepresented in the original study, and then move that to a more formalized response. There's momentum building for an ad hoc meeting in Austin to be held Friday night over a few beers, in typical archaeological fashion. If you're interested, drop me a line, or check back here as we get closer to the meetings.
The "25 Grand Challenges for Archaeology" may not result in more research on those topics, but it will at least get us all thinking more critically and publicly about where we see the discipline going, and that's a useful result in and of itself.
UPDATE (1/27/14): The study authors published the raw data from the responses, including the survey they used and the 40% of responses that addressed the "excluded" topics, on The Digital Archaeological Record (tDAR). You need to set up an account to download it, but it's free. The responses are quite interesting (some made me chuckle), and it gives you an idea of the kind of synthesis work that was required.