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Key Speakers

Submitted by jamesl.eddy on Sat, 09/25/2010 - 1:15pm

Plenary Speakers

Dr. Roland Fletcher (University of Sydney) Low-density Cities: Past and Future

Present-day urban growth is rapidly trending towards gigantic low-density cities. The previous trajectory to large, low-density cities, between the late 1st millennium BCE and the mid 2nd millennium CE, tells a disturbing story for our future. That previous trajectory, led to agrarian-based, dispersed, low-density urbanism in the tropical world with sizes up to 1000 sq km, like Angkor. But this form and scale of urbanism did not survive after the 16th century CE.The long-term story of large, low- density settlements is not an encouraging indicator of the long- term viability of the giant, low-density, industrial-based, urban agglomerates of the 21st century. The diverse histories and economies of the great agrarian, low-density cities of the Maya and the Khmer and perhaps also in Sri Lanka, displayed a vulnerability to severe climate change which is of some concern. These cities, which had cleared their natural landscapes and were dependent on massive material infrastructure, such as great reservoirs, were then hit by periods of extremely unstable climate change that picked out their basic operational vulnerabilities.  When these low-density cities ceased to function their entire urban heartland regions, covering thousands of square kilometres, reverted to village-scale life.  Low-density urbanism never recovered. Over several centuries, a new network of small, more compact towns re-formed far out on the periphery of the former heartland regions.

Circumstances today are disturbingly similar - extensive landscape modification, dependence on massive infrastructure, huge populations in giant low-density cities and now severe unstable climate change. The example of the old agrarian, low-density cities is of some concern because their economies, socio-political organisation and cultures were very different yet the outcome was similar and terminal. We should beware if the same outcome were to happen to our present-day, giant low-density cities. 

Dr. George Nicholas (Simon Fraser University) Reconciling Heritage: Doing Archaeology at the Intersection of Indigenous Heritage, Intellectual Property, and Human Rights

When descendant groups are denied direct and meaningful engagement in decision making, heritage management policies are ineffective at best and harmful at worst. Access to and control over one’s own heritage is a basic human right essential to identity, wellbeing and worldview. The historic separation of Indigenous peoples from their heritage not only results in considerable economic and cultural harms, but is arguably a form of violence. Community-based heritage initiatives are capable of challenging colonial structures in the research process without compromising the integrity of archaeology. I discuss opportunities to move heritage research and management in more satisfying ways through a discussion of local and international collaborations developed by the Intellectual Property Issues in Cultural Heritage (IPinCH) Project, which I directed for eight years, and my involvement in the realm of Indigenous Archaeology over the past 25 years. 

Dr. Joanne Pillsbury (Metropolitan Museum of Art) Archaeology and the Future of Museums

 Fifty years ago, the subject of "archaeology and museums" would have meant a concentration on large, centralized, urban institutions dedicated to collecting, with a predominantly local, well-educated audience. The past few decades have witnessed a dramatic shift in how archaeologically-known cultures are presented to a public. From the rise of community-based museums to the expansion of audiences through digital technologies, knowledge of the past is accessible to a vastly greater number of people. Yet many challenges still persist, including a growing sense of an erosion of knowledge of the past…near and distant…and, indeed, of its irrelevance. In an era of multiple platforms competing for the public's attention, uncertain public funding, and a rising climate of intolerance--whether defined as nationalism or xenophobia--how do we fulfill our roles as crucial generators of archaeological research and education?

Banquet Keynote

Dr. Rosemary A. Joyce (University of California, Berkeley) Responsible Archaeology: Reflections on Practice in the Age of Chacmool

In The Languages of Archaeology, published in 2002, I drew on concepts developed by Mikhail Bakhtin to argue that archaeology should be self-conscious of its inherently dialogic nature. In particular, I drew on Bakhtin's concept of "responsibility" or "answerability", arguing that it pointed to both the responsibility that archaeologists have as they engage with materials created by people no longer present to contradict representations of their lives, and the way that archaeological representations seek affirmation from others, increasingly including others who are not archaeologists but have an interest in the images of the past that we create.

Today, most archaeologists operate self-conscious about such ethical and sociopolitical dimensions of our work. We have the benefit of analyses rooted in indigenous archaeology, decolonizing research, and a host of other engaged perspectives, from queer theory to theories of whiteness to anarchist archaeology. It is a heady time to be talking and thinking about the ways archaeology can be used to create understandings of humans engaged with materials, nonhumans, landscapes, and forces beyond the human.

But it remains necessary for us to be reflective on what has actually changed in our practice, and particularly, in those aspects of practice validated within the academy, in hiring and promotion for tenure-track jobs, in peer-reviewed publications, and even in the kinds of media representations of archaeology that we as a discipline encourage and reward.

As Chac Mool celebrates 50 years of pushing the boundaries of archaeology, it seems timely for me to reflect on the trajectory I have witnessed over my own four decades of practice. Using case studies from the contemporary archaeology of Honduras, I sketch out a trajectory moving toward a fully responsible position as community-engaged scholars, requiring repudiation of the remaining echoes of our disciplinary origins as a colonialist practice dominated by discourses of discovery, and calling for us to fulfill our as-yet unrealized potential to contribute to understanding of the serious impacts humans are having on a planet that will survive us, and the non-human life it shelters, too much of which may not.