Contested Caves: The Politics of Underground Places

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 82nd Annual Meeting, Vancouver, BC (2017)

Moving beyond established archaeological narratives of the human uses of caves, we will explore some of the diverse political tensions surrounding social engagements with these spaces, particularly from an historical perspective, drawing on case-studies from around the world and from a variety of disciplines. Examples of issues we seek to discuss include: Power relations inherent in religious rituals/secular activities performed in and around caves; Cave deities/forces sometimes regarded as threatening the order of the outside world, and therefore often actively appeased, controlled, destroyed or evicted; Different religious/political groups fighting over control of sacred caves; Tensions over the maintenance of secrecy about the locations of special caves; Conflicts between local people and outsiders over the occupation and use of important natural and cultural heritage caves; Competition between cave owners or environmental groups over their commercial exploitation; Tensions between the development of tourist show caves and the protection of caves and karst areas from environmental pollution and other damage; Tensions between looters and archaeologists over archaeological deposits in caves; Tensions over legislation enacted to protect caves; Tensions over whether or not certain caves should be designated as national monuments; Tensions between different artistic and scientific conventions in representing caves.