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


Session: “The Past in the Present: Mediating Cultural Heritage”


Session Organizers:


Ashlee Hart, University at Buffalo, SUNY

Hannah Quaintence, University at Buffalo, SUNY



ABSTRACT:  Discussions regarding the world’s cultural heritage - what it is, whom it represents, and where it belongs in the discipline – are becoming increasingly critical aspects of anthropological and archaeological work. The work of archaeologists, anthropologists, and museum professionals is beginning to include a more detailed focus on the ways that remnants of the past interact with the contemporary contexts in which they emerge. The ways in which cultural narratives and materials are excavated, interpreted, and presented are all processes of mediation. Archaeologists, heritage managers, and museum professionals often serve as intermediaries between what may have happened in the past and what is currently happening today. Being practiced in diverse regions and with concern for different time periods, such mediation often develops variation in methods of excavation/investigation, research team diversity, and museum storage and exhibit organization. All of these aspects of exposing the past are intimately connected to interpretation. This session proposes to look at the variety of ways that cultural heritage may be mediated by those who expose and study it. How, in their effort to reveal and represent the past, do researchers and heritage managers negotiate the social and political significance of tangible cultural heritage? How can and have social, economic, and political pressures influenced methods of excavation and presentation today and throughout the history of the discipline? Archaeologists, heritage and cultural resource management professionals, anthropologists, and museum specialists are encouraged to reflect critically on their role in dissemination to public audiences. How and by whom archaeological remains and anthropological narratives are excavated influences interpretations, requiring mediation as they are introduced to contemporary social and political climates. Those who study the past must acknowledge its power and work in partnership to reflect on its influence. (Papers will be 2,000-3,000 words, an oral presentation of 15 minutes with 5 minutes for discussion.


Individual papers:


The Trouble with Mudbrick


Heather Rosch, University at Buffalo (SUNY)


This paper will address the difficulties faced preserving and conveying the value of ancient mudbrick architecture. Mudbrick is notoriously problematic to excavate and conserve, as the material is fragile and very vulnerable to degradation. As is common with other ancient structures, the buildings are rarely complete, but are massive and immovable. For ancient mudbrick, finding space in modern narratives when so far removed from current populations proves as difficult as finding physical space for them.


Variability in the original buildings, structure location, and in modern financial resources necessitate the formation of equally varied approaches for heritage management related to ancient mudbrick. Often a vital step for heritage, education about its history and value is essential here as well. This can foster a desire for people to protect or maintain structures, aid a broader audience in feeling connected to them, and convey their significance as feats of skill and engineering. The original mudbrick can be maintained through careful monitoring and upkeep to prevent further degradation from the environment (with aid from shelters or by covering the mudbrick with geo-textiles). Reburial often proves the most cost effective way to conserve such structures for future generations, thus constructed replicas and digital models have allowed for the continued dissemination of knowledge about the structures after they have been covered. This also allows a broader audience to view and interact with them when they are portable or housed in museums. These ideas can also be applied to other ancient structures or to modern earthen architecture.



Monumentality and Heritage in the Maya Lowlands


Kaitlin Ahern, University at Buffalo (SUNY)


Archaeologists play a key role in the mediation of cultural heritage. Their interpretations have a profound impact on the perception of archaeological sites and can encourage the development of public attractions. However, archaeological findings are subjected to cultural and individual selection that results in the manipulation of what archaeologists disseminate to the public. These selection pressures emerge from diverse factors such as archaeological approaches(paradigms), political and social influence, and project funding. These influences strongly impact and shape the presentation and interpretation of archaeological discoveries.


This occurrence is clearly presented in Maya archaeology, frequently resulting in the overemphasis of monumentality. It has also prioritized the characteristics of the Classic period in particular as being key components to an authentic Maya heritage. This perception has spatially and temporally hindered the public’s understanding of the diversity and resilience among the

ancient Maya. Archaeologists' interpretations have a significant influence on the emergence of public attractions about the ancient Maya and what the public perceives as "authentic" Maya civilization. Therefore, archaeologists must be self-reflective in their presentation of archaeological remains.



Divergent Mohawk Histories and Identities in and of the Ancestral Homelands


Samuel W. Rose, University at Buffalo (SUNY)


This presentation draws from ethnographic and historical research to discuss the production of contemporary Mohawk identity as it is linked to divergent histories grounded in the use of three historic-era Mohawk village sites in their ancestral homelands in the Mohawk River valley. This draws from Jonathan Friedman’s (1994) work on the relationship between history and the politics of identity in recognizing the specific socio-historical contexts in which cultural realities and identities are produced. As such, it is necessary also to account for the historical processes that have produced those contexts in order to understand the nature of both the practice of identity and the production of historical schemes. I briefly discuss the histories of the three Mohawk village archaeological sites and the histories of the three entities that now occupy those spaces: the Kanatsiohareke Mohawk Community; the National Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Shrine; and the National Shrine of the North American Martyrs. This is done by contextualizing the emergence of these entities and their particular constructed histories and identities within the material processes shaping Mohawk history within the Mohawk communities in the Saint Lawrence River valley during the twentieth century, and within the history of the Catholic Church during this same time. I therefore demonstrate the ways in which these three entities have produced identities and historical schemes in response to material processes and sociopolitical events in the twentieth century that draw on events of the past and the supposed authenticity of place to conceptualize and explain these particular responses.



The Mediation of Cultural Heritage in Post-Communist Bulgaria: Reimagining isolation and exoticism in Bulgarian archaeology


Ashlee Hart, University at Buffalo (SUNY)


The Republic of Bulgaria, in southeastern Europe, has a rich archaeological history containing the third most archaeological sites in Europe with intensive human activity from the Neolithic until modern times. Interest in archaeological heritage had been of great importance prior to World War II. However, in the aftermath of World War II, Bulgaria became a single party socialist state and became incorporated into the Soviet Eastern bloc, which had major effects on the practice, scope, and funding of archaeological research. In 1991, a democratic constitution was adopted and the country began to rebuild and recreate itself in a post-communist world. The aftermath of communism led to mixed feelings and understandings of the past. While some pieces of Bulgarian cultural heritage were emphasized and celebrated others were ignored and forgotten. The archaeological record plays an important role in the way individuals perceive the past and, in turn, individuals, governments, and external nations impact the way heritage is distributed. Due to the era of communism, Bulgaria has been typed as backwards, oriental, and exotic, which has led to isolation and a desire to fit into the western world. This presentation will examine the effects of communism on archaeological studies, the way outsiders have interpreted Bulgarian archaeology, and the current state of archaeology, which has a bright future.



Negotiating Interpretation: Curating Slavery at U.S. Plantation Museums


Francesca A. Calarco, University of Cambridge


While having ended over 150 years ago, the institution of slavery is still systemically rooted within the United States and remains a difficult topic for candid conversation. Regardless, in recent years there has been an increase in U.S. museums and historic sites that have begun to incorporate the interpretation of slavery into site narratives.  Long-established museums have begun to re-evaluate their interpretive approaches, and new institutions have emerged implementing innovating strategies.


Perhaps some of the most provocative sites that interpret this darker chapter in America’s history are plantation museums, which incorporate the very landscape and historic structures on which enslavement occurred. These emotionally charged environments contain great innate potential for curating compelling narratives and facilitating meaningful discussions. Still, the interpretive strategies utilized by these U.S. institutions vary in terms of region, time period, institutional history and present-day stakeholders.


To capture the varied nature of how these contexts can impact interpretative planning, two sites will be examined. Philipsburg Manor, an 18th century Dutch slave plantation in Sleepy Hollow, NY, has functioned as a museum for over 60 years and employs tactile experiences with “head and heart” strategies typical of institutions that interpret the colonial era.  Conversely, having recently opened in 2014, the Whitney Plantation in Wallace, LA utilizes a contemporary social justice approach similar to self-proclaimed “sites of conscience,” and has received abundant press coverage.


Ultimately, the greater institutional interpretive networks in which each of these sites are incorporated, serves as the framework upon which localized contexts are then placed. How these strategies are able to respond when confronted with current events and changing present-day race relations, will be examined.



Greeting Heritage: Museum-Migrant Interactions in Europe


Ariel Noffke, University at Buffalo (SUNY)


Since 2011, Germany has received the largest amount of the roughly six million Syrian refugees entering the European Union. In response, museums throughout the EU implemented heritage programming that engages Syrian migrants with Syrian heritage items. Understanding the potential efficacy of these programs for all parties is not only crucial in reaching migrants but also in understanding a potential role of future heritage work, especially since little analysis has been possible in relation to the recent Syrian migration crisis. This paper aims to theoretically understand these programs and the heritage mediators involved in them by looking more deeply at precursors and established contemporaries in the European Union, particularly those of Berlin. It will explore the presentation and stated goals and practices of heritage mediators within the museum structure. The paper will analyze how heritage mediators associated with museums construct heritage, in line with Smith (2006), in relation to the experience of a given group of migrants and how these mediators choose what to include and what to exclude from such displays of heritage. Further, it will explore programming goals and the social and political factors that may affect it. Finally, the paper will contemplate the approaches and theoretical constructions involved in this programming and how it might affect that aimed at recent Syrian migrants. The paper aims to gain insight about how heritage can be excavated, conceptualized, regulated, and presented for the benefit of all, including displaced migrants.




Excavating Collections: Finding Meaning in Museum Storerooms


Hannah Quaintance, University at Buffalo (SUNY)


Whether engaging with local publics at field sites or creating narratives about the past from abstract fragments and measurements, part of archaeologists’ work is to act as a bridge between the past and the present. The analytical skills they employ to illuminate the mysteries of the buried past, however, can aid in the interpretation of another material record: that of the museum storeroom. Tucked away in museum storage spaces are accumulations of objects and materials, variously delivered by anthropologists, archaeologists, travelers, and other enthusiastic amateur collectors. Collections are, for many museums, the heart of the institution and the tools with which curators and museums staff communicate with the public. Still, many museums care for more materials than can be regularly displayed or adequately researched. Whether arriving from scholarly excavations, salvage projects associated with public works and development proposals, or as donated legacy collections, materials and objects from the past are accumulating faster than they can be studied.

This paper will discuss the value of research on existing, but perhaps poorly documented, anthropological collections as part of holistic collections care. In particular, it will focus on the role of the archaeologist or other museum professional in mediating the interpretation of a collection’s acquisition narrative and its recontextualization through exhibition and/or community-based public programming. Donated collections present particularly interesting opportunities for research, often arriving varied amounts of documentation and bringing with them a range of narratives regarding the circulation/movement of objects from the past.




Producing, Consuming, and Living the Past – France’s politicized heritage and archaeology’s place


Mélanie Lacan, University at Buffalo (SUNY)



Recently, populist political parties in France have monopolized discussions of heritage. Narratives of the past are especially employed to bolster anti-immigration, anti-globalization, and anti-European agendas of the far right and far left. Such identity politics draw on well-established national myths of resistance created from an imagined Celtic past and reinforced by popular culture icons. In spite of the archaeological record illustrating a much more complex picture than what is commonly presented in public discourse, archaeologists have been unable to correct some of these nationalist narratives. This presentation argues that they are instead entangled in these narratives, which shape both their individual perception of the material record, and their collective practice. Their inability to mediate between their object of study and the broader emotional heritage discourses is caused in part by the nature of archaeology and the enduring archaeological paradigm in France, which claim objectivity when this is not in fact the case. This presentation argues that recognizing that emotions and subjectivity are central to the creation and spread of archaeological knowledge, which will help bridge the gap between the community of researchers and other interest groups.  More specifically, this includes a proposal to directly engage with the public in a more compassionate, humble, and reflective way, as is being done more and more frequently in North American archaeology.



Sonic Textures of Mission Santa Cruz: Historical Echoes of Materials, Tools, Labor


Casondra Sobieralski, University of California, Santa Cruz


Is archaeoacoustics a valuable pursuit in terms of yielding new epistemologies? If so, how can archaeologists inform the technological and intellectual processes of a digital media artist-researcher towards useful results? To facilitate such discussion, I would like to present an eleven-minute audio loop, “Sonic Textures of Mission Santa Cruz: Historical Echoes of Materials, Tools, Labor.” Theoretically situating audio in relation to materiality, my sound piece reveals how the process of recording and editing generated questions for me about labor in a particular historic adobe. I have sixteen years of experience in digital heritage. I only discovered the emerging field of archaeoacoustics, however, when I started recording in the Santa Cruz Mission in September 2016. Archaeoacoustics investigates what the past might have sounded like. Archaeoacoustics seeks to do this by exploring what made noise in a given historical moment (musical instruments, tools, human activities) and how sounds might have resonated within their historic environments. Archaeoacoustics research comes out of post-processual archaeology methods. Theoretically grounded in structuralism, phenomenology, and Neo-Marxism, post-processualism recognizes subjectivity, multiple points of view, and multiple points of entry as gateways to examining the

past. In presenting this sound piece, I hope to gather feedback from archaeologists in order to better formulate a methodology for a larger project. Over the summer of 2017, I will be capturing audio in/around the ancient Egyptian copper mines and Hathor chapel at Timna Park, Israel. I am seeking to learn if the acoustics of the mines might have had any relationship to why Hathor, a goddess of music, was the sacred goddess of miners as opposed to, for example, Osiris god of the underworld. Having attended a Theoretical Archaeology Group conference at Stanford University, I know that this community of archaeologists will generate useful critique and debate.


 Till, Rupert, “Sound Archaeology: An Interdisciplinary Perspective” in Archaeoacoustics: The Archaeology of Sound, Publication Proceedings from the 2014 Conference of Malta, ed. Linda C. Eneix (Myakka City, Florida: The OTS Foundation, 2014), 23-32.