Cross-Cultural Archaeology: An Introduction

By Clarke, Anne; Paterson, Alistair | Archaeology in Oceania, July 2003 | Go to article overview

Cross-Cultural Archaeology: An Introduction


Clarke, Anne, Paterson, Alistair, Archaeology in Oceania


In many ways much of the practice of archaeology is inherently cross-cultural. Indigenous archaeology in Australia, both pre- and post-contact, when carried out by non-indigenous archaeologists is by definition a cross-cultural practice. Historical archaeology, whilst mostly concerned with the archaeological remains of British and white colonial/settler culture, also transforms into cross-cultural practice when dealing with the material remains of other recent immigrant cultures. Archaeological research carried out overseas is cross-cultural in both practice and focus. However, despite these somewhat self-evident observations, we rarely conceptualise or interrogate either the context of our practice or the subject matter of our research as cross-cultural. Yet, by failing to do so we miss out on the potential to broaden the scope of archaeological inquiry to include different forms of material evidence, to integrate different views of the past, and to engage in scholarly debate with other disciplines concerned with the nature, forms and social implications of cross-cultural interactions.

Internationally, archaeology has recognised the potential for archaeology to bridge gaps in knowledge regarding the histories of literate and non-literate peoples. This has seen research focussing on people not commonly represented in dominant historical narratives, including the illiterate, indigenous peoples, women, children, the elderly, the infirm, the poor, the disenfranchised, providing an alternative and critical perspective on the past. In Australia, anthropological and historical research in the last twenty-five years, particularly that prompted by Land Rights and Native Title Claims, has brought into the public sphere what Deborah Rose (1991) has characterised as 'hidden histories'. These hidden histories are the personal and community narratives of indigenous people that relate their experiences of the incursion of pastoralism, mining, towns, missions and transport routes onto their ancestral lands. A growing body of historical (e.g., cultural geographical (Gill 2000; Howitt 2001) and anthropological research (have analysed how dominant accounts of national identity have been created through exclusive narratives of settler achievement. It can be argued that aspects of the non-indigenous history, particularly the everyday work and domestic experiences of people is also partially hidden from the official records and may only be accessible through the material remains of the archaeological record. Archaeologists have only recently begun to analyse the input of different ethnic groups (eg. Chinese and Afghan) to the archaeological record of this period and to consider how archaeological research might contribute to this process of uncovering the hidden histories of marginalised people and groups. The paper by Lape (this issue) expands the geographical focus of cross-cultural interactions to examine the archaeology of contact in island south east Asia and this study highlights both the historical and ethnic complexity of cross-cultural interactions in this region.

Although the archaeology of cross-cultural interactions can be interpreted as yet another synonym for contact archaeology and a number of the papers in this volume reflect this direction to a certain degree (Lape, Paterson, Middleton), our aim here is to present papers that illustrate the breadth and diversity of what can constitute cross-cultural archaeology. The idea of cross-cultural interaction has expanded the scope of archaeological inquiry to include different forms of material evidence (for example Ferrier 2002; Lydon 2000, 2002; Sutton this issue; Tacon et al. this issue). It also provides a platform to integrate the previously disparate concerns of heritage conservation and indigenous and colonial/settler archaeology (for example Byrne 2002; English 2002a, 2002b; Greer et al. 2002; McIntyre-Tamwoy 2002; Smith and Beck. this issue).

In our original call for papers we were concerned to expand the scope of research that falls under the rubric of cross-cultural interaction. …

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