Friday May 19th,  2017 Morning Sessions - 9am-12pm


Session: "Archaeology & Human-Animal Relations: is anthropocentrism an issue?"


Session Organizer: Brian Boyd, Columbia University


“We polish an animal mirror to look for ourselves” (Haraway, 1991).

In archaeology, as in sociocultural anthropology, the dominant analytical perspective on human-animal relations is ontologically anthropocentric: the study of the human use of nonhuman animals for the benefit of human beings, and scholarly inquiry largely for the sake of elucidating what nonhuman animals can tell us about the human condition.


For more than three decades, ‘beyond nature/culture’ has been a recurring theme in archaeological/anthropological publications, conference papers and classroom discussions. Any survey of the current literature, however, will show that animal-related anthropology is still firmly anthropocentric. Most scholars barely mention the substantial contemporary critical animal studies literature, and pay little more than lip service to the tenacious issues surrounding anthropocentrism and/or speciesism.  Common motifs are Derrida’s cat, and Borges’s fictional animal classification list (invariably by way of Foucault’s preface to The Order of Things), used to demonstrate awareness of, respectively, different alterities and non-Western ways of categorizing animals. And yet, archaeological investigation continually confronts us with ample material contexts that show in no uncertain terms that people in the past routinely classified animals in a myriad of ways different to those of the modern world, but as yet there is little evidence that archaeologists are engaging critically with this literature.


This session invites papers that push forward contemporary archaeology’s – including posthumanist approaches - encounters with animal remains, and evidence for human-nonhuman animal interactions, to explore desired, but maybe unachievable, non anthropocentric/nonspeciesist perspectives.


Individual papers:


Introduction: Archaeology, anthropology and anthropocentricism

Brian Boyd, Columbia University.



Watching the horses: Human-horse synchronies, pacifism, and social mimicry in Pazyryk Culture


Gala Argent, Eastern Kentucky University


As the Bronze Age shifted to the Iron Age some 3,000 years ago, the “early nomads” of Inner Asia refined the human-horse relationship in ways that allowed new social, economic and political structures. Bound up with our current understanding of the many dynamic changes occurring during this timeframe is the notion that the locomotion provided by horses fostered the development of mounted militaries, hierarchical class structures featuring a warrior elite, and a war-like ethos. Studies concluding thusly have operated from the anthropocentric base of conventional archaeological inquiry, reflecting a sense of horses’ separation from human social and cultural life. This position leaves no room for the fluid and reciprocal agencies that are at work within hybrid human-horse communities made up of individuals of two social species sharing interpersonal and social spaces. Here I query how the smaller-scale corporeal synchronies and mutual interpersonal adaptations that occur between humans and horses—and are necessitated to large measure by horses’ ways of being—might have influenced larger-scale social arrangements within these societies. I suggest that the certain archaeologically visible material points to the Pazyryk as a community of protective pacifists rather than fierce warriors, and that this ethos might have been developed through a mimicking of horses’ ways of being.




Butcher & butchered: posthumanism in the context of intensive large mammal hunting and processing in the southern African Early Iron Age.


Evin Grody, Columbia University


This piece explores how aspects of posthumanism may aid in teasing out the broader implications of hunting intensification and specialisation. The aim is to use the intersection of humans, non-human animals, and technology to move beyond purely exploitive or ‘calorie’-focused narratives and into the realms where the economic and social are interwoven, as well as giving greater weight to the agency of animals within these interactions. Exploring human-animal and human-technology relationships as an interactive framework might be a profitable way to break into both the intent behind and affect of intensifying hunting and processing practices. In the same way that hunting and herding are often seen as comprising different views of animals—and thus related ontologies—could intensified hunting in the southern African Early Iron Age (EIA) have marked or necessitated a change in the relationship between hunter and hunted? And/or how that relationship was negotiated? To address this, I look at ways to question the hunter:hunted relationship—ontologically and technologically—in the zooarchaeological and taphonomic record. In other words, how hunting techniques, butchery technology, and other taphonomic practices of processing, use, and disposal may aid in identifying alternate views of what it meant to be a hunter hunting and a butcher butchering in the southern African EIA. If humans are considered as reactive (or at least inmutually affective relationships) rather than as autonomously agentive, how does this complicate the view of hunting as simply and unilaterally exploitative? To this end, posthuman ideas of multivalent agency are used to explore the various facets of interaction at intensive hunting sites.




The Pecking Order: Human and Animal Hierarchies in Ancient Mesoamerica


Sarah Newman, James Madison University


European projections of cultural traits onto biological hierarchies and taxonomies are numerous and familiar. From Linnaeus choosing breastfeeding as the principal characteristic of Mammalia, a reflection of the complex and gendered politics of his time, to studies of “social” insect colonies, comprised of queens and kings, soldiers and workers, shaped by the monarchical systems in which early entomologists were themselves embedded, Western theories about the animal world both reflect and naturalize anthropocentric human experiences. What then, happens in cultural situations where the human and the animal realms are not separated by rigid boundaries? What happens when anthropocentrism is not the default recourse to classify and explain animals? In ancient Mesoamerica, humans, animals, and even the dead were understood equally as “persons.” Among the Maya, humans shared their consciousness with animal or celestial co-essences. Shamans could shed their skins like toads and be transformed into jaguars. And yet people still imposed hierarchies on the animal world: the pelican was imagined as the “lord” of aquatic birds, the rattlesnake as the “leader” of the serpents. Did ancient Mesoamericans “polish an animal mirror” in Donna Haraway’s words, or did they look through an animal window?



Considering the Alternative: Animals as Active Agents in the Late Moche Jequetepeque Valley, Peru


Aleksa K. Alaica,  University of Toronto


The agentive role of animals is something that has not be problematized enough in anthropological literature. In order to take a necessary step away from anthropocentric endeavours, this paper will explore the role of animals in the Late Moche period in order to shed greater light on the impact of species in the daily and ritual life of communities on the north coast of Peru. Mobilizing the faunal record from the Late Moche site of Huaca Colorada (AD650-850), I will address how the presence of wild and domesticated species differs across domestic and ceremonial spaces to consider non-Western ways of categorizing animals. By considering how the collection of animals, with humans included in this category, this paper hopes to consider relational meanings and alternative taxonomies. This paper will argue that the ritually charged contexts on this site may have permitted the blurring of boundaries between what is human and non-human.



Species logics, mastery, and anthropocentrism: Rethinking human-animal relationships across and outside the nature/culture divide


Hannah Chazin, Stanford University


This paper explores the tensions generated between conceptions of the human and the animal within anthropocene narratives – tensions that call into question claims that the anthropocene renders the division between nature and culture obsolete. It asks: what is the relationship between tacit understandings of the animal as a ‘determined’ entity (to which the human is or is not reducible) and narratives about the human past (including the relationship between humans and non-humans over various timescales)? In order to answer this question, the paper considers three examples where the connections between humans and animals are theorized in both the present and the past: the concept of carrying capacity, the relative ranking of pastoralists in evolutionary schemas, and contemporary concerns about novel hybrid species. In all three examples, species logics rely on slippage or movement between the human as animal and the animal as nonhuman. These species logics perpetuate particular forms of anthropocentrism, reinscribing the nature/culture divide through the figure of the animal, even as they diverge or are ambivalent when regarding actual, lived relationships and co-existence between humans and animals. This critical diagnosis of the anthropocene suggests that mastery continues to structure how we understand humans’ relations with other types of beings. In order to take certain strands of posthumanistic thought seriously, archaeologists must begin to consider how the anthropocentrism of mastery – underlying our accounts of domestication and the anthropocene – prevents us from writing different accounts of human-animal relationships, both in the past and the present. Building from my work on ancient pastoralism, I present an example of how viewing the herd as a human-animal hybrid shifts how we tell the history of human-animal interactions, moving the emphasis away from traditional ideas of domestication.