Saturday May 20th,  2017 Morning Sessions - 9am-12pm


Session: “A thing, a First Nations elder, and an archaeologist walk into a museum, “I think it is time to make some changes around here.”: reevaluating perceptions of material culture”


Session Organizers:

Steven Gordon Dorland, University of Toronto


Sarah Ranlett, University of Toronto


ABSTRACT: Archaeologists hold a privileged position of scholarly and scientific authority as interpreters of the material past. How archaeologists perceive of material culture or cultural materials has changed throughout the span of archaeological thought, shaped by shifting scholarly mores, methodological expediencies, and historical contingencies. This has resulted in developing a sense of multi-vocality to address voices of the past actors and current stakeholders that may have previously been unheard. In light of this, there is a growing need to critically evaluate traditional theoretical models and frameworks of analysis, curation, and presentation of past objects in order to take these different, and sometimes diverging points of view into consideration. This session will address the nature of these changing and diversifying perceptions of artifacts as well as propose avenues to further incorporate these alternate material perceptions into archaeological practice. This is a general paper session



Inidividual Papers:



Experiences and Traditions: artifact interpretation through the perspective of an Indigenous Elder


Cat Criger, University of Toronto


The need to understand our past through what has been left behind, and the history contained in the 'physical' objects artifacts and structures of cultures past are the driving forces of curiosity for many of us. It is a passion. Sometimes, with the two-dimensional world of observation, there is something missing in the quest for interpretation of what we see, understanding the concept of 'life' within inanimate objects as a learning tool. Using a mixture of artifacts of Indigenous origin and antiquity brought forward, we will explore additional dimensions of meaning by way of traditional indigenous teachings and the combination of spiritual/science of construction.  This overview will open a new level of artifact interpretation, and though an 'Indigenous lens', foster a respect for a much deeper connection to the past.



The Revitalization of Wendat Pottery


Richard Zane Smith


    As a Wyandot tribal member and artist involved in the revitalization of our Waⁿdat language, our songs, lifeways, and ceremonies, I've been also interested in the recovery of ancestral arts as well. As a full time ceramic artist for over 30 years using an ancient Southwestern Pueblo technique called "corrugated ware", I've found it gratifying to connect with ancestral roots and build upon them. The study of ancient Wendat pottery in the Ontario homelands and experimenting with various hand-building and firing techniques has also been a passion of mine. To revive an ancient arts tradition, its imperative to start where the ancestors left off, which is making skillful reproductions.

     Much can be learned by handling and looking closely at the cross sections of sherds. Stretch marks, coil separations, finger and tool marks, all can reveal insights. There's also information that can be inferred from our old Wyandot and Iroquoian stories, from the waⁿdat language itself, and even the Jesuit accounts who witnessed the making of pottery in Wendat villages in the early 1600s.

      I've had some successes creating reproductions of Wendat pottery using a pottery making technique that works well and could have easily been used in the villages of my ancestors. I'd also like to share what's been happening with Shawnee tribal members in the revival of ancestral Fort Ancient pottery techniques of the Ohio river valley, which includes tribal insights, history, archaeology, anthropology and hands-on clay experimentation...tižamęh!



Untangling the Threads of Exchange Networks in Museum Collections: Plains Indian dress and adornment at the American Museum of Natural History


Claire Heckel, Division of Anthropology, AMNH


Though all objects are embedded in social practices, dress and adornment constitutes a category of artifact that is immediately and directly implicated in the constitution and communication of social messages. In the Great Plains region of the United States and Canada, objects of dress and adornment circulated widely in the systems of gifting that were a central component of social and political life. Yet, the mobility of objects that were made to circulate is arrested in museum settings through processes of collection, curation, and display. The American Museum of Natural History holds an exceptional collection of artifacts from Plains groups, more than half of which were collected by well-known anthropologists (Kroeber, Lowie, Wissler) between 1898 and 1920. While these anthropologists were interested in constructing object-typologies and culture-areas, the origins and circulation of objects were largely neglected and poorly documented. The rest of the collection comes largely from amateur collectors, with vague and variable information on the origins of the objects. Reanimating these objects, and tracing the paths they traveled prior to collection, presents substantial epistemological and practical challenges. This paper focuses on efforts to re-contextualize the Plains collections at the AMNH through interdisciplinary research that privileges objects and incorporates multiple sources of evidence in their interpretation, and places objects and ethnographies in a dialectical relationship that subverts ethnographic authority in attempts to untangle the threads of mobility and exchange.




From Historical Contingency to Archaeological Fact: Epistemological Trajectories of Upper Palaeolithic ‘Art’


Sarah Ranlett , Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto


The visual nature of archaeology as a discipline, in concert with 19th century roots of archaeological practice, has contributed to a traditional subversion of the dynamism and materiality of archaeological objects. This, in turn, has invited specific hierarchies of categorization, as well as analytical and viewing contexts that predispose themselves to interpretations which may bear little relation to their roles as past (or present) cultural objects. These contexts are then reified when archaeological artifacts ultimately move under the purview of museums as a locus of interaction between the public and the past, finding permanent homes and definitive narratives in collections cabinets and display cases. A recognition of the multivocality of artifacts is not a new one, but by scrutinizing the foundation of archaeological practice it may be possible to suggest frameworks that are more at ease with the coexistence of many voices. Contending with the simultaneous roles of artifacts as, cultural, archaeological, and curatorial objects in archaeological frameworks will be explored through concretes case study of ‘art’ objects from the French Upper Palaeolithic, including recently discovered engraved limestone blocks from Abri Blanchard and Abri Cellier (Vézère Valley, Dordogne, France).



On Properly Assembling Materials and Mind in Archaeology


Peter Bikoulis, Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto


 In this paper I critique a new philosophical movement within Cognitive Archaeology, namely Material Engagement Theory (MET). Cognitive archaeology is a field of inquiry that combines material culture, cognitive science, and philosophy of mind to understand the origin, development and proliferation of mental states and their material manifestations in the archaeological record. As an emerging explanation within Cognitive Archaeology, MET examines the relationship between people and their environment based on the Extended Mind Hypothesis. I argue that MET fails in the same way that EMH fails, namely that it cannot satisfactorily demonstrate that cognitive processes do in fact extend beyond the boundaries of brain and skin. In fact, new grounds for critique are opened when examining the particular failures of the EMH when applied to material culture and the problematic of conducting social scientific research like that of archaeology. To this end, I argue that archaeology is better served holding to its natural Physicalist stance, where cognitive processes and consciousness supervene on cranial or brain-bound processes. However, the entire discussion underscores the desperate need for archaeologists to understand better fields of inquiry such as cognitive science and Philosophy of Mind.




From a Child’s Mind: an investigation of childhood experiences and 15th century Wendat potting practices


Steven Dorland , Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto


Childhood archaeology continues to develop and become more integrated within standard archaeological practice. And yet, our ability to capture childhood traces continues to be questioned. Part of the problem of identifying childhood traces concerns our archaeological perception of childhood material engagements. I investigate in this paper how we can more effectively capture child perception in such a way to help address the plurality of community experiences. I adopt an ontogenic framework that focuses on children’s actions in an experimental setting to study childhood through 15th century decorative traditions. This framework recognizes that perception and experiences change as children develop cognitively and physiologically. The ontological turn has made us reconceptualise our potential to confront pluralities of realities and worlds, but we must not forget that child experiences are not a monolithic. Childhood experiences were mediated by changing bodily experiences and developments that resulted in new perceptions of material things and their social surrounding.



Things, “us” and “them”: Affiliative curation of the archaeological record in the digital continuum


Costis Dallas, Faculty of Information, University of Toronto


This presentation focuses on the implication of emerging and pervasive practices of archaeological curation in the digital continuum on the ontology and epistemology of the archaeological domain. My initial motivation is an interest in the sociotechnical practices of archaeology, viewed as purposeful activities centred on material traces of past human presence, as exemplified in contemporary practices of interpretation “at the trowel’s edge”, in epistemological reflexivity and pluralization of archaeological knowledge. I focus, specifically, on how the rise of ubiquitous digital media and pervasive intelligence ironically reinforces the efficacy of the material as a site of cultural agency, albeit now mediated through digital representation, surrogation and simulation, thus producing distinct new forms of materiality. These new contact zones permeate the boundaries between custodial contexts (such as archaeological archives), places of research (universities, research labs), and the fluid worlds of personal and social practice, involving amateur, source, and local communities, as well as other interlocutors. I discuss alternative perspectives to object description – morphological, technological, functional, symbolic – problematizing the notion of “raw” data, and making the case for a re-conceptualization of archaeological objects to account for their cultural and epistemic biographies as they become “affiliative objects” (Suchman) spanning the boundaries of custodial and vernacular practice. The resulting theorization is based on notions of thing, thingness and hybrid (after Heidegger, D. Miller and Latour), summoned to demonstrate two interrelated points: firstly, how archaeological objects become meaningful and efficacious through their biographical entanglements in cultural activity, bridging across the domains of object vs. subject, conceptual vs. material, and universal vs. particular; and, secondly, how from “matters of fact” they become “matters of concern” – how their affiliative powers act to produce identity.