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One Artifact, Multiple Interpretations: Postcolonial Archaeology and the Analysis of Chinese Coins

Author(s): Edward Gonzalez-Tennant

Year: 2015

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This paper examines how a focus on "culturally bounded" groups restricts historical archaeology’s exploration of oppressive social practices such as slavery, racism, and inequality. Competing interpretations of a single class of material culture – in this case, Chinese coins – illuminates how bias enters archaeological interpretations in subtle ways. Chinese coins, also known as wen have been recovered from historic sites on nearly every continent.  The author focuses on the interpretation of these artifacts in Chinese American, Native American, African American, and European American contexts. The discovery of similar artifacts in different contexts produces unique interpretations, which is expected to some degree. However, differing interpretations of Chinese coins often have more to do with the supposed cultural characteristics of each group under investigation rather than archaeological evidence. Juxtaposing numerous studies of this single artifact class reveals a potentially troubling interpretive trend among historical archaeologists. Insights from diaspora and postcolonial theories are also explored by the author.

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One Artifact, Multiple Interpretations: Postcolonial Archaeology and the Analysis of Chinese Coins. Edward Gonzalez-Tennant. Presented at Society for Historical Archaeology, Seattle, Washington. 2015 ( tDAR id: 433826)


Spatial Coverage

min long: -129.199; min lat: 24.495 ; max long: -66.973; max lat: 49.359 ;

Record Identifiers

PaperId(s): 386

Arizona State University The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation National Science Foundation National Endowment for the Humanities Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Institute of America