Archaeological Theory and the Politics of Cultural Heritage

Archaeological Theory and the Politics of Cultural Heritage

Archaeological Theory and the Politics of Cultural Heritage

Archaeological Theory and the Politics of Cultural Heritage

Synopsis

This controversial book is a survey of how relationships between indigenous peoples and the archaeological establishment have got into difficulty, and a crucial pointer to how to move forward from this point.With lucid appraisals of key debates such as NAGPRA, Kennewick and the repatriation of Tasmanian artefacts, Laurajane Smith dissects the nature and consequences of this clash of cultures.Smith explores how indigenous communities in the US and Australia have confronted the pre-eminence of archaeological theory and discourse in the way the material remains of their past are cared for and controlled, and how this has challenged traditional archaeological thought and practice.Essential reading for all those concerned with developing a just and equal dialogue between the two parties, and the role of archaeology in the research and management of their heritage.

Excerpt

In the mid-1990s two extremely public conflicts occurred between archaeologists and Indigenous peoples over the repatriation of items of cultural heritage significance. Although separate conflicts - one occurred in Australia, the other in the USA - and focused on very different material heritage, there were significant similarities in the ways in which these conflicts were conducted, regulated and expressed. In Australia, what has been called the 'La Trobe Affair' developed over the control over secular material culture and was popularly believed to have precipitated the 'death of archaeology' (Maslen 1995a). What became known as the 'Kennewick Man' case in America centred on the repatriation of human remains, and has been defined as the case that 'will determine the course of American archaeology' (Preston 1997:72). The aim of this book is to provide a theoretical framework for understanding the social consequences of archaeological theory and practice. My intention is to illustrate how conflicts over the disposition of cultural heritage, like those above, are framed by archaeological discourse and how, in turn, the politics of cultural heritage and archaeological theory are inextricably intertwined.

Since the 1980s there has been a growing acknowledgement in the Western discipline of archaeology that what we do as archaeologists is 'political', and has significance beyond the accumulation of abstract knowledge about the past. However, what is actually meant by 'politics' - how is archaeology political, and what is the relationship of politics and archaeological knowledge and discourse? What does archaeological knowledge and discourse do outside of the academy that makes it political?

One of the principal things that archaeologists do outside of academia is cultural resource management (CRM). Although defined in more detail below, CRM refers to the process and procedures, often underpinned by public policy and legislation, used to protect, preserve and/or conserve cultural heritage items, sites, places and monuments. Although often perceived as a process that is in some way separate from the 'real' business of archaeological research, or at least as an adjunct area of archaeological practice, it is nonetheless integral to the discipline. Not only does CRM employ a significant number of archaeologists, it is the process through which the archaeological database is preserved and maintained,

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