Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Presenting Archaeology and Communities in Ecuador

The main purpose of my trip to Ecuador was to present a four-day workshop titled "Archaeology as a Community Resource" to community representatives at the regional office of the Instituto Nacional de Patrimonio Cultural (INPC) in Portoviejo. Most of the participants have some sort of community-based tourism project in their town. Some traveled 6-8 hour roundtrip every day to participate in the six hours of seminar each day. If I hadn't already felt a responsibility to make the workshop as useful as possible, knowing that people traveled that long in order to hear me talk certainly did the trick! Representatives from the local INPC office and nearby archaeological site also joined us for portions of the seminar.

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 ManteƱo 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)

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like an intense workshop! Hopefully it generated some productive plans.