Proper ID Required: Difficulties in Discerning Past Identities

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 80th Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA (2015)

Extrapolating identity from material culture has always been a complicated and challenging aspect of archaeological work. Over the past four decades, exploration of identity has evolved from primordialist roots to an understanding that this is a fluid social construct which varies significantly with place, time, and cultural references. The goal of accurately understanding and representing the past, instead of simply reflecting current social constructs or biases, continues to challenge archaeologists. Past communities created, adopted, or appropriated diverse identities for complicated reasons which we may not understand. The objective of this session is to explore past and present interpretations of material correlates of identity in variable geographic, cultural, and temporal settings. Identity can be reflected in the use and creation of material culture, the spread and exchange of ideas and objects, as well as the construction or curation of monuments and the built landscape. However, identity can also be misrepresented, consciously and subconsciously, for myriad reasons. Therefore, we seek papers that reflect upon how we project the familiar present, be it nationalities, genders, or structures, onto the past, and how that past is reified in the present. There is no temporal or geographic restriction on this session.

Resources Inside This Collection (Viewing 1-5 of 5)

  • Documents (5)

  • Be Our Guest: Tablescapes in Early Modern Ulster (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Kathryn Whalen.

    The ethnic relationships found in colonial settings are complicated and varied negotiations that are hard to decipher in the present, much less in the past. Performance of ethnic allegiance may be influenced by oppressive legal structures, systemic racism, reformation or resistance movements, and personal taste. As archaeologists have adopted more nuanced readings of material culture and its relationship to ethnic performance, such as the use of Homi Bhabha’s concept of the third space and...

  • Re-use and Recycle: the various lives of prehistoric monuments (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Erin McDonald.

    There are innumerable examples throughout prehistory (and history) of ancient monuments repurposed for a variety of reasons, such as the legitimation of power, land ownership and ancestry, among others. Today, many people, in particular Neo-Pagans, attempt to identify with past peoples and to incorporate ancient sites into their modern day religious beliefs. Although not inherently bad, interpretations of ancient sites through a Neo-Pagan lens tend to gloss over archaeological evidence and...

  • The Redneck vs. The Humble Farmer: How Popular Imagination Influences Studies on Rural Identity (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Britta Spaulding.

    Rural forms of life and their material remains are rich sources of information for archaeologists on what was the largest economic demographic in the Western world until around 1900. Distressingly, influences from popular imagination and culture, with their many simplistic notions about the rural individual as either an idiotic bumpkin or a noble, humble tiller of the soil, continue to plague interest in, and conclusions about, rural remains and identity. Historical archaeologists have to...

  • Reshaping Identities Through the Destruction of Artifacts (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Joshua Heath. David Witt.

    Archaeological artifacts can be used to foster a powerful feeling of national pride, or they can be held up as a sign of previous degeneracy and destroyed to 'purify' a populace. For example, artifacts such as Egyptian pyramids, Mesopotamian Lammasu, Afghani Buddhas, and Malian Sufi Shrines represent cultures and conditions that do not fit the fundamentalist identity of Islamists groups. While modern states have often—and rightfully—raised these artifacts as evidence of equality with...

  • The Trip of a Lifetime: Archaeology, Tourism, and Irish-American Identity (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Jennifer Shaffer Foster. T.L. Thurston.

    In America, millions of people claim Irish ancestry and celebrate their heritage in myriad ways. Many actively embrace the identity of Irish-American generations after their family members became U.S. citizens in the aftermath of the famine and socio-political turmoil of the mid-19th to early 20th century. Over the past two decades, the tourism industry in Ireland has flourished with Americans among the most numerous visitors each year. Several of the top destinations are those connected to...