Crossing the Line (Part II): Taphonomies of toxicity in Contemporary Archaeology

Author(s): Haeden Stewart

Year: 2015


This paper is the second part of a two-part dialogue on the use of taphonomy as an archaeological technique in both prehistoric archaeology and the archaeology of the contemporary. Part II explores how using the concept of taphonomy to study the accumulation of harmful toxins in the environment and in the human body opens up new avenues of study for an archaeology of human-environment interactions in the contemporary nuclear and industrial age. Intimately tied to the waste of human activity, and dangerous to both human and non-human bodies, toxins bind bodies into communities of shared danger and toxic harm. Toxins index historical processes of production and consumption, as well as the taphonomic processes of dispersal, disintegration and accumulation connecting them to the bodies they harm. Bodies congeal toxic traces that individuate as well as gesture towards global dynamics. These traces can be ‘excavated’ to reconstruct individual and collective histories, long-term processes of environmental degradation, and to understand collectivities constituted by emerging toxic dangers. In thinking fishing as archaeological practice, I argue that locating toxicity as a central archaeological concern facilitates useful exchange across different archaeologies, as well as broadening what we consider to be archaeological method.

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Cite this Record

Crossing the Line (Part II): Taphonomies of toxicity in Contemporary Archaeology. Haeden Stewart. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 395535)

Spatial Coverage

min long: -104.634; min lat: 36.739 ; max long: -80.64; max lat: 49.153 ;