Department of Art History and World Art Studies, University of East Anglia, GB
This special issue gathers together a selection of short articles reflecting on the historical construction of inequality and race in the histories of archaeology. The articles also suggest ways in which the discipline might grapple with the—often obvious, sometimes subtle—consequences of that historical process. Solicited via an open call for papers in the summer of 2020 (one made with the aim of speedy publication), the breadth of the topics discussed in the articles reflect how inequality and race have become more prominent research themes within the histories of archaeology in the previous five-to-ten years. At the same time, the pieces show how research can—and should—be connected to attempts to promote social justice and an end to racial discrimination within archaeological practice, the archaeological profession, and the wider worlds with which the discipline interacts. Published at a time when a pandemic has not only swept the world, but also exposed such inequalities further, the special issue represents a positive intervention in what continues to be a contentious issue.
Operating on the principle of ‘show, don’t tell’, the aim of this collection is to let its contents—and the articles’ authors—speak for themselves. Some (Anglo-American) statistics, however, provide a useful contextualisation of the stark realities of the matters at hand. In a recent article, William White and Catherine Draycott note that the last survey of the US archaeological workforce was conducted in 1994 (!) by the Society for American Archaeology. That survey revealed that ‘98 percent of 1,502 respondents identified themselves as being of European heritage’ (White and Draycott 2020, citing Zeder 1998). Likewise, the last such survey in the UK (published in 2013) ‘found that 99.2 percent of paid archaeology staff and 97 percent of volunteers identified as white’ (White and Draycott 2020, citing Aitchison and Rocks-Macqueen 2013). Beyond any other (connected) vectors of inequality—such as gender, health, or income—archaeology’s racial inequality is stark, and representative of a discipline whose history and research interests have been driven by a small and homogenous group of individuals, often in tandem with colonial exploitation.
As the Covid-19 pandemic has taken hold, meanwhile, another form of inequality connected to archaeology has become clearly visible. Precarious (and often poorly paid) employment has transformed into mass unemployment as the culture and heritage sectors (broadly defined) have taken a substantial financial hit. For example, the latest iteration of the Museum Association’s ‘Redundancy Tracker’ (Museums Association 2021) lists 3994 Covid-related redundancies. As archaeologists and cultural practitioners across the world simultaneously become subject to manufactured culture wars, the chances of this number growing further are high. What, historically, has allowed for this and other situations of inequality to exist and what, in the future, might be done to prevent such widescale precarity and discrimination from continuing to happen? The articles in this special issue reflect on these questions and should be of interest to anyone concerned with archaeology’s future—or of the way in which archaeology’s futures have previously been conceptualised.
St. Catherine’s College, University of Oxford, and University of Warwick, GB
Independent Researcher, GB
The word discovery is both seductive and misleading. Within its meaning is the sense that something is happening for the first time. It places huge import (usually) on one person, rendering what is claimed to be a universal world view through a singular lens. And for most of the archaeological work carried out in Kenya and published in Euro-American journals during the twentieth century, that lens was overwhelmingly white and male. This point matters because ‘the production of discovery is fundamentally social’ (Rose-Greenland 2013: 252). The process through which so-called discoveries are made begins well before any archaeological dig happens and are not objective. They are subject not just to what Bourdieu describes as the ‘habitus’ of the archaeologist (the unconscious embodied way of forming knowledge) but also to cultural and political forces that shape the interpretation of what is ‘found’ (Bourdieu 1977). Knowledge cannot be separated from the societies in which it was created, and ways of knowing are ‘the result of processes of socialization, inculcation, and training’ (Fourcade 2010: 569).
Using a case study of the ruins of Gede in Kenya, this vignette unpacks the milieu of archaeological work carried out on the Kenyan coast in the twentieth century. It demonstrates how the colonial context led to both a misrepresentation of Swahili and other African peoples and an inability to fill in assumed missing links. This counter-colonial response is authored by a doctoral researcher and an independent researcher who both have roots in Kenya. JC Niala researches African collections held in UK museums and Sherry Davis is the granddaughter of Karisa Ndurya. His archaeological contribution has been omitted from official accounts of Gede’s ‘discovery’ and excavation. Starting with the name—the ruins are known as Gede to people from the region, but the location was spelled Gedi by foreign researchers—this article highlights the mis- and missing information generated by colonial archaeologists.
Gede Monument is an ancient city dating from the eleventh century. In its heyday, Gede was a thriving and sophisticated metropolis, with running water and flushing toilets. It is said to have been abandoned in the early seventeenth century, but the reasons why remain mysterious. Visiting Gede today, the entire area—shrouded in primeval forest, surrounded with wide baobab trees and the interwoven bark of strangler figs—gives off a mythical, enchanting energy. With curious monkeys at every turn and the sound of owls in the near distance, walking into Gede feels like wandering into a description out of The Jungle Book. The Mijikenda (also known as The Nine Tribes) are the current inhabitants of the surrounding village of Gede. They consider the ruins to be a sacred space.
When I was told a few years ago that my late grandfather was one of the first Africans to excavate ancient monuments in East Africa, it gave me mixed feelings of awe and disappointment. Awe, because of the magnitude of his achievements, yet disappointment, because of the belief systems of the day, which actively and overtly failed to acknowledge the contributions of Africans in the history of archaeology, or credit them for their work in the field.
These beliefs existed because of the way in which the country of Kenya came to be formed. Charles Eliot, the first governor of the British East Africa Protectorate (today’s Kenya), initiated a policy of white supremacy (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica 2020). Eliot viewed Kenya as ‘a white man’s country’ (Eliot 1966: 1), a view that was inculcated in the white settler community to the extent that the Kenyan Society for the Study of Race Improvement, founded in 1933, applied for funds during the colonial era to study the cause of ‘African backwardness’. By the 1930s, the British Eugenics Society distanced themselves from the Kenyan Society because it espoused views that were increasingly being disproved (Campbell 2007). The milieu in which archaeological work was carried out in Kenya at best saw African peoples as mentally inferior, at worst as worthy of extinction. Either way, their history in their land was subject to erasure.
My grandfather Karisa Ndurya died when I was very young, and I have no recollection of him. I managed to gather some information on his archaeological work via family accounts and books written by his boss, a British archaeologist called James Kirkman. They worked together during and after the period of British colonialism in Kenya, exploring and excavating sites all over East Africa, including Gede Ruins and Fort Jesus, from the 1940s to the 1970s.
At that time, James Kirkman was Warden of the Coastal Historical Sites of Kenya, and grandad was the Foreman. During my visit to Fort Jesus in Mombasa, my uncle recounted a memory of his dad and Kirkman discovering the ancient Portuguese art that hangs in the Fort. Yet when I walked around the site, there was only one name inscribed in historical descriptions of the archaeological work. It was Kirkman’s. In his 1964 book Men and Monuments on the East African Coast, Kirkman claims that ‘the historical monuments of East Africa belong not to the Africans, but to the Arabs and Arabised Persians, mixed in blood with the African but in culture utterly apart from the Africans who surrounded them’ (Kirkman 1964: 313). Given the context, it is unsurprising that Kirkman would have been involved in excavating a city such as Gede and would both take no account of the local expertise such as that espoused by Karisa Ndurya (who would have guided him to Gede in the first place) and find it impossible that Gede could have been built by Africans. As Professor George Abungu explains, ‘Kirkman was a good archaeologist but a bad interpreter in terms of his own interpretation of his work’ (speaking in Davis 2020). It is Kirkman’s interpretation that has had lasting impact on the way in which Gede and peoples from its local community have been seen.
Reading Abungu’s words prompted me not just to search for the grandad I knew very little of, but to explore the impact of colonialism on the history of archaeology in Kenya. I began to ask: how has this impact defined my sense of identity as a diasporan African? When the rest of the world shares its knowledge of African history, how does that knowledge reflect on modern perspectives of the continent? The opinions that many of us hold due to the legacy of slavery and colonialism have been skewed to say the least, but my research focused on what was being done to repair the damage. How do we undo the erasure of African histories, so that it isn’t distilled and reduced almost exclusively to the traumas it has experienced in the last six centuries? How can Africans reclaim ownership of their own narrative so that current and future generations can celebrate the achievements of the ancestors?
As an artist, the most natural way for me to address these issues is through music and a documentary about my journey to Kenya to uncover these hidden histories (Davis 2020). It is also important to share these findings beyond academia so that the contributions of Africans will not die with the memories of them.
Post-colonial research into the origins of ancient monuments in East Africa via institutions such as National Museums of Kenya reveal that these structures were indeed built by Africans. There were, of course, trade and religious interactions with Arab, Persian, and East Asian communities which influenced architecture through the centuries. The early work on sites such as Kilwa and Gede in coastal Kenya, however, was confirmed by African archaeologists to have been at the hands of African communities (Chami 1998; Schmidt and Walz 2007).
In writing this article together, we raise it as a challenge to the erroneous information that has been generated and continues to function as an authority within the Academy. It is vital to provide platforms to researchers from African communities to retell these stories and challenge colonial thinking, which still permeates the consciousness of many people from within and beyond the African diaspora. An increased interest in colonial history within the media has led to campaigns to add British imperial history to the National Curriculum. As the decolonisation movement across education and institutions continues to grow, we hope that these efforts will lead to lasting change.
Library of the London School of Economics, GB
In April 1889, W. M. F. Petrie excavated wooden boxes containing the remains of small babies from underneath houses in the town of Kahun, Egypt, dating to 1850–1700 BCE. In his published account, Petrie barely mentioned these bodies, but described the boxes as ‘evidently intended for domestic uses, to hold clothes, tools & etc, but babies were put in them’ (Petrie 1890: 24). Petrie provided more detail in his diaries:
In short, unlucky babes seem to have been conveniently put out of the way by stuffing them into a toilet case or clothes box and digging a hole in the floor for them […] I fear these discoveries do not reflect much credit on the manners and customs of the small officials of the XIIth dynasty (Petrie 1889: 97).
When finding more bodies, Petrie referred to them as ‘unlucky’. He implied that they were evidence, at best, of a macabre practice and, at worst, of late term abortion or infanticide. Infanticide was carried out in different cultures and notably by the Romans: whose babies would only be legally accepted when they were nine-to-ten days old (Bonsall 2013: 73). If not recognised, babies would be exposed. Petrie possibly assumed that the people in Kahun did something similar, though there was no evidence for exposure in Egypt during this period.
Infant mortality from natural causes is more likely. It is estimated that 20% of infants died before they were a month old in ancient Egypt, though most would have been buried in a cemetery (Harer 1993: 20). The families living in the houses Petrie excavated may have had repeated baby loss and resorted to a healing ritual, such as burying the bodies nearby (Quirke 2007: 259). After Petrie had excavated them, the beads and amulets ‘with which they were sometimes ornamented’ were distributed among his excavation funders. The bodies were not retained—what happened to them is a matter of conjecture. Rosalie David recorded that a baby’s head from Kahun was in the Manchester Museum but was destroyed in the 1960s (David 1986: 137). Even with the bodies available for contemporary forensic analysis, it would be difficult to assess how they died. As Christina Riggs has pointed out, ‘what happened to the body is a point of silence’ in Egyptology (Riggs 2014: 60).
This disregard for ancient human remains has parallels with the use of the bodies of the contemporary poor, particularly after the 1832 Anatomy Act. This Act meant that bodies of poor people in England with no means for burial could be dissected (Richardson 1989). People ‘misremembered’ the time of death to ‘delay an anatomy sale’ or to raise the money needed to bury loved ones (Hurren 2012: 56).
Petrie’s negative assumptions were probably informed by knowledge of Roman practice as well as contemporaneous accounts of infanticide in Britain. Kahun was connected to the construction of the pyramid complex of Pharaoh Senusret II. In much of the town, the housing was what Petrie described as ‘closely backed workmen’s houses’ (Petrie 1891: 5). Although infant burials were found in higher status housing, Petrie considered Kahun a workers’ town, albeit one with different social classes living side by side. Infanticide among the urban poor in Britain became a focus of concern from the 1870s. The infant mortality rate (149 per 1000 live births) remained high when other mortality rates, including those of children, lowered in the 1880s (Dyhouse 1978). There was concern that stillbirths were recorded as such so that bodies from infanticide could be disposed of and with less expense as no medical examination or official burial was needed (Strange 2005: 242). Legislation around registration of infant deaths and stillbirth was tightened and child protection laws introduced.
The main causes of infant mortality in poor areas were overcrowding (shared beds meant that overlying was common), parental consumption of alcohol, and poor nutrition. The focus of reformers was on child cruelty more than poverty. Pejorative language to describe the very poor, particularly in London’s East End, was commonplace (Marriott 2011: 161). This language increasingly drew on social Darwinism and became more-and-more racist in tone, with the urban poor labelled ‘aboriginals’ and ‘savages’ (Wise 2008: 217). Petrie’s emotive language in his diary was arguably due to his projection of similar prejudices onto the people in the terraced housing of ancient Kahun.
Petrie’s belief that race determined ability was influenced by Francis Galton and Karl Pearson’s idea of ‘racial character’, i.e. that familial inheritance passed on from generation to generation (Turda and Quine 2018: 14). According to this eugenic thinking, ‘racial character’ was informed by social class and disability as much as ethnic identity. Petrie openly subscribed to these views, asking whether welfare measures to lessen infant mortality would destroy ‘natural weeding’ of the unfit (Petrie 1907: 60). Pearson contended that the greater rates of infant mortality in back-to-back houses were due to consumption of alcohol, hygiene, and unhealthy parents—concluding that this was positive as it reduced ‘racial poison’ (Pearson 1912: 18). In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries racism and classism intertwined. More research is needed on how this impacted archaeological excavation and interpretation in Egypt and elsewhere.
Paola A. Schiappacasse
Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras, PR
Understanding the contribution of antiquarians and collectors allows us to acknowledge the multilinear development of archaeology and museums. Research into collecting provides the opportunity to recognise not only the collectors involved, but also their interests, the displacement of objects that they—and hegemonic powers and institutions—caused, and the subsequent impacts on local heritage. In the Caribbean, numerous interventions associated with colonialist manoeuvres from the fifteenth century onward resulted in the removal of artefacts from the region, many of which are now held in private collections, academic institutions, and museums throughout the Americas and Europe. The difficulty of accessing relevant archives, however, often makes understanding the extent of this removal laborious (if not impossible) and hampers the inclusion of local voices in that process.
These issues of access relate both to online and other resources. While research about objects might start by consulting published works, maps, and photographs, online searches are often confined to brief accession or registration details of specific artefacts made available by the institutions at hand, in addition to any photographs. Private collections acquired by museums are harder still to evaluate. Provenance details connected to early private collections might be too general or inaccurate, not least in terms of transcription errors and incomplete information. And it is often necessary to physically consult original accession files, letters, and administrative paperwork. Privilege connected to place of work or (global) residence therefore governs who has immediate access to artefacts and documents. Consequently, an absence of local voices in the production of new interpretations of previously accepted narratives regarding these collections is clear.
One example of this absence relates to Puerto Rico, which has been under colonial rule for the last 513 years. The Spaniards settled on the island in 1508 and, after the Spanish-American War of 1898, the United States acquired the territory that same year. Colonial interest in artefacts produced by Indigenous populations of the island prior to the sixteenth century was then shaped by both individuals (locals and foreigners) and institutions (i.e. museums and universities). During the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries local collectors in Puerto Rico included intellectuals like José Julián Acosta (journalist, 1825–1897), Agustín Stahl (physician, 1842–1917), Cayetano Coll y Toste (historian, 1850–1930), Eduardo Newman Gandía (historian, 1852–1913), Manuel Zeno Gandía (writer, 1855–1930), and José de Diego (lawyer, 1866–1918). Moreover, hacienda owners like George Latimer (US Consul General on the island) acquired artefacts unearthed during agricultural work. As a consequence of these activities, it seems that the lack of a formal museum on the island might have prompted collectors to ensure the safekeeping of artefacts by making arrangements with museums in colonial metropoles. The American Museum of Natural History in New York purchased the collection of one José Ortez y Tapia in 1873, and George Latimer bequeathed his collection to the Smithsonian Institution in the 1860s (Mason 1899).
The relationship of Puerto Rico with the Smithsonian does not end in the nineteenth century, however. In the first decade of the twentieth century, Jesse Walter Fewkes, a zoologist who was also interested in anthropology, travelled to Puerto Rico on behalf of the Smithsonian’s Bureau of American Ethnology. Fewkes made his trip to acquire objects through donation or purchase, and also to carry out field reconnaissance and excavation. His intentions were advertised in a local newspaper, La Correspondencia de Puerto Rico (Anon. 1902: 2), the collection he amassed was accessioned under his name at the United States National Museum (now the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History) in 1904, and interactions with local collectors described in his memoir (Fewkes 1907). My research at the Smithsonian on archaeological collections from Puerto Rico led me to consult the registries, accession cards, memorandums, and field notes related to Fewkes’ trip (Schiappacasse 1994 and 2019). It was obvious that the provenance of collections acquired by Fewkes had been truncated, but the available documentation allowed me to trace at least fifteen local collectors.
Fewkes’ notes from 1903 give particulars on his whereabouts, informants, and collectors, details on purchases and donations, as well as failed attempts to acquire particular collections. On 1 March, Fewkes ‘bought an idol (zemi) in San Juan $4.00…’, and on 2 March, he ‘visited Carolina and purchased 15 objects from the “Gibaros”’. On 10 March, he ‘visited Loquillo to obtain the Fernandez collection but did not succeed; price too high’, and on 15 April, he ‘remained in Guayanilla all day inspecting Pd. Nazario’s collection. …His idea of price very much inflated. I offered him $800.00 for it which he refused. Evidently wants many thousands, or rather a “pension” for life to work it up’ (National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution, NAA.MS4408, Field notes 45b). During his stay on Puerto Rico, meanwhile, Fewkes was perceived as a museum representative interested in acquiring ‘antiquities’ (Anon. 1903: 2). The continental press reported the ruse Fewkes employed to convince people to ‘part’ with certain objects, noting that he
has carried the news to Porto Rico that the United States is preparing to go to war with Germany. The Porto Ricans desiring to show their patriotism are turning over to Dr. Fewkes by the bushel their ancient stone axes to be grounded into powder for the use of the United States army and navy … According to the report that has reached here from San Juan, the American scientist had to resort to his harmless little deception, as his confreres in government scientific circles call it, in order to induce the guileless Porto Ricans to part with their precious stone axes or ‘thunder bolts’, as they are known among the descendants of the aborigines of the island. They are valued above money and above price (Anon. 1903: 2).
Local Puerto Rican collectors thus piqued the interest of metropolitan institutions like the Smithsonian, who wanted to acquire archaeological artefacts to expand their holdings. Unfortunately, the contributions of those collectors were obscured by museum procedures. Additional lines of research should focus on how collectors were approached by museum representatives (i.e. employment of ruses), the amounts paid for the objects (i.e. to locals vs. foreign collectors), and registration and cataloguing actions undertaken. Most importantly, Caribbean researchers need access to archaeological collections housed elsewhere to be able to shed light on contributions made by local people who were involved in finding, acquiring, and exchanging artefacts. This work will help in reshaping narratives that only ‘foreigners’ contributed to the growth of the discipline by looking at local agency. The privilege of those who have direct access to archives and museums should be extended to researchers worldwide.
I want to acknowledge the assistance provided by personnel in the Department of Anthropology, Anthropological Library, and the Registrar’s Office, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, and the Smithsonian’s Museum Support Center. Thanks also to my colleagues Reniel Rodríguez Ramos and Nieve Vázquez Lazo for sharing the newspaper sources included in this article.
La Salle University, US
In late May 1888, attempting to persuade the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (BMFA) to purchase Roman antiquities, the director of archaeological excavations in the Roman Forum, Rodolfo Lanciani (1845–1929), described some of the objects he offered using terms of race or ethnicity. Now part of the museum’s collection, they are a Roman portrait of a young man from Africa (accession number 88.643) and some terracotta dishes and vessels dated to Italy’s prehistoric age (accession number 88.538–555).
Founded in 1870, the BMFA was one of the first art museums in the United States. In 1888, the museum staff were eager to enhance their slim holdings in antiquities (Nagy 2018; Whitehall 1970: 64–66). American museums had yet to participate in any marked way in Italy’s antiquities market, and the age of significant object donations was not yet in full swing (Dyson 1998: 122–157).
Lanciani advanced two different, albeit related, arguments for purchasing the works. For the head of a ‘Negro’—either a ‘pet-slave’ or a freedman from North Africa—he inferred that the object would generate excitement among Black Americans (BMFA archive, letter from Lanciani to Loring, 30 May 1888). He felt that these visitors would feel a historical or emotional connection to the representation of an ancient Roman with African roots. Beyond recognising the likeness of an ancestor, however, Lanciani provides no further explanation as to what kind of affinity might be established: how the experiences of ancient Roman freed slaves were akin to those of post-Civil War Black Americans, for example. Lanciani’s English-language publications on ancient Rome often thinly equate the cultural habits or mindset of his British or American readers to those of ancient Romans as a rhetorical ploy to garner interest in the subject (Dixon 2021), and thus this pitch is by design. The remark was not directed towards Black Americans, but rather to the white men who held the museum’s purchasing power.
Those men were all members of the newly founded Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), presided over by Charles Eliot Norton (Will 2002). Most were abolitionists in the years before the American Civil War and were likely receptive to Lanciani’s message. As for Lanciani, it is highly plausible that the community of American expatriates and visitors to Rome, who numbered among his immediate social circle, helped form his ideas. Some from this community hailed from the northeast United States and were supporters of suffrage of all sorts. They included Julia Ward Howe and Helen Hunt Jackson (Dixon 2019: 71–72; Madden 2016).
In the same letter to Loring, Lanciani argued that some prehistoric terracotta dishes and vessels were akin to Native American objects. Lanciani’s characterisation of the terracottas was aimed unambiguously at the white men in high administrative positions at the BMFA. He eschewed any statement about their appeal to Native American viewers, and indeed treatment of the tribes at this time would have made museum visits highly unlikely. Rather, Lanciani assumes that museum viewers who were collectors of such objects would observe the similarity of Native American objects to those of prehistoric Rome, based on material, forms, and surface design.
In the late nineteenth century, the methods used by white men to acquire Native American objects took severe economic and cultural advantage of the tribes. This in turn exacerbated policies that violently destabilised and disempowered the Indigenous presence in America (Berlo and Phillips 1995: 7–8). In addition, the desire for such objects fuelled the AIA’s interest in sponsoring excavations in the southwestern United States (Allen 2002: 13–14; Snead 2002: 123–125). Extracting collectables from ancient sites occurred, even as the AIA’s stated mission was to acquire knowledge about the objects rather than secure the objects themselves (Allen 2002: 9). These actions contributed to the tribes’ inability to hold onto their cultural heritage—and to Lanciani’s assumptions about the antiquities he offered to the BMFA.
In his easy association of ancient Roman terracotta to wares of Native America, Lanciani echoes, if only faintly, the idea of a psychic unity of mankind, promoted by Adolf Bastian (1826–1905). Carl Jung would later express the notion of a collective mind from which similar solutions to artistic problems emerge, a thought that had resonance in art literature (Campbell 1959: 32). Yet Lanciani was not a scholar to recognise, let alone elaborate on, the sources of his underlying assumptions. He was a lingering part of a fading aristocratic Italy, a highly knowledgeable guide to ancient Roman sites, full of entertaining historical anecdotes, and a popular writer on all things Roman culture (Dixon 2019; Palombi 2006). His motivation for framing the ancient Roman objects in the manner he did was undoubtedly so that he could benefit from an international interest in his informed access to antiquities.
Lanciani’s promotion of this sale caused him considerable trouble when his employer, Italy’s Direzione generale degli Scavi di Antichità, discovered it (Dixon 2016, 4–5; Nagy 2019, 20). Because some of the vessels were unearthed within the ancient walls of Rome (or so Lanciani reported), they were evidence of a previously unknown early Roman history (Barnabei and Delpino 1991: 454). Even though Italy’s cultural patrimony laws were weak (De Tomasi 2013: 151–155), Lanciani’s employers took action against him, eventually forcing his resignation for being involved in the exportation of national treasures.
Lanciani’s sales promotions to an eager American museum market ultimately represent the blitheness with which cultural equivalencies were made. This habit, especially in regard to exposing and marketing material evidence from ancient cultures, was, and is still, problematic. It establishes the conditions to ignore a culture’s chronology and history, which in turn obliterates any arguments in favour of protecting cultural patrimony. The assumptions underlying Lanciani’s comments, and others like it, are destructive.
Department of Archaeology, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Belgrade, RS
Prior to the onset of World War I, Serbia had been an independent country. In the wake of the conflict, it became the default head of the ‘Yugoslav’ multi-ethnic state, known as the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (from 1929, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia). Yugoslav intellectuals of the 1920s and 1930s tried to build a Yugoslav national identity based on anthropology through harmonising three equal tribes (Serbs, Croats, Slovenes) of whom there was one people (Yugoslavs). The core element of unity and homogeneity of the Yugoslav people was expressed through their potential reshaping into the common identity of a dominant ‘Dinaric’ race, consisting of a mostly Serbo-Croatian mix (Bartulin 2014: 71–75). Embedded in early-twentieth-century racial thought, this concept is still implicit and relevant to archaeological communities of the post-Yugoslav space, also rooting itself in the popular beliefs of the general public as folk taxonomy. Long disproven elsewhere, the notion of the Dinaric race currently occupies a chameleonic position in the Balkans.
The Dinaric type was popularised by Jovan Cvijić, a famous anthropo-geographer and pro-Yugoslav diplomat who attended the 1919–1920 Paris Peace conference. In his 1918 work the Balkan Peninsula (Cvijić 1987 ), he viewed the South Slavs as being of multiple ethnicities. A proponent of the Yugoslav political idea, Cvijić advocated its key-bearer be of the Dinaric racial type. Yet Cvijić did not project the Dinaric type into deep time, only addressing it in the ethnographic present and recent past (Yeomans 2007: 90–91). Instead, in 1920, it was the relatively marginal scientist Niko Županić who was the first scholar to introduce the Dinaric race into Yugoslav archaeology. Educated in Vienna, Munich, and Zurich at the beginning of the twentieth century, he was a physical anthropologist who followed that discipline’s German School: one which held the Aryan race higher than any other (Milosavljević 2013: 728), and which heavily relied on anti-humanism to segregate absolutely ‘pure’ ethnic groups and races (Zimmerman 2001: 1–11).
On Cvijić’s 1907 invitation, Županić had come to Belgrade to do physical anthropology in the National Museum. His main synthesis, however, came in his 1920 book The Ethnogenesis of the Yugoslavs (Županić 1920), which concentrated on the racial history and character of the South Slavs, and which was published in the context of establishing the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (Milosavljević 2012: 687–689; Milosavljević 2013: 727–736). Županic argued for a unity of territory, language, and race that he envisioned for all ‘Yugoslavs’, pointing out the heterogeneity of Yugoslavia and stating ‘no European nation as a whole represents one unmixed blood and one pure race (Županić 1920: 140). Županić therefore dug deep into the past to establish the Aryan nature of the Yugoslavs, and then assigned a corrupting mechanism to account for deviations in their appearance (Županić 1907: 561–563; Županić 1920).
Niko Županić strongly supported the idea of Yugoslavism with what he knew best: racial anthropology. Although he was a fighter against so-called ‘Slavic inferiority’ (commonplace in the German School of Anthropology), ironically, he used theoretical-methodological bases similar to those of that School to promote Slavic superiority. His key aim was to determine the character of the Yugoslavs as being distinctly tied to the ‘Aryans’ of the past (Jezernik 2009: 57–61; Promitzer 2009: 105–107; Promitzer 2010: 141–163). These Slav Aryans, he claimed, migrated to the Balkans and mixed with the native peoples already there, which accounted for their later supposed physical deformity. Through this interpretation, he intended to demonstrate that the people of the Balkans were Aryan at their core: a nesting doll with an Aryan centre (Županić 1920: 143).
Vladimir Dvorniković (1888–1956), a philosopher highly influenced by Županić, was more widely accepted and later helped to promote the latter’s ideas. Dvorniković’s Characterology of Yugoslavs (Dvorniković 2000 ) purports that the corruption of original Slavic Aryanism had taken place due to the southwards migration of Slavs, who then merged with the autochthonous Balkan people(s) and the Ottomans centuries later (Bartulin 2014: 77). He termed this process ‘dinarization’ (Dvorniković 2000 : 316). Such deterioration was meant to be a long-lived characteristic of the Dinaric race, meaning ‘Dinaric man’ was perceived to be primitive, rude, and barbaric, yet also virile and noble (Yeomans 2007: 95–98).
After World War II, the continued transmission of the Dinaric race concept occurred indirectly and implicitly, tied to the (then) Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia’s promotion of a ‘Yugoslav’ identity. In this chameleonic shift, the concept of ‘Dinaric man’ lost its explicit racial aspect even as it continued to mark the amalgam of social identity and biological traits connecting the prehistoric Paleobalkan people(s) and modern Yugoslavs (Yeomans 2007: 116–117). Anthropology, meanwhile, was formally reduced to anthropometry and tasked with creating norms for the production of goods in contemporary Yugoslav society (Mikić 1998: 263–269). Nonetheless, since the 1950s (and using skeletal and material evidence), a practice of physical anthropology specific to Yugoslavia has been used to buttress ideology purporting the presence of the early Slavs within the Yugoslav space (Guštin 2019: 20–24).
Following the Second World War, few Yugoslav experts dealt with physical anthropology as understood in more formal terms elsewhere (chiefly, Božo Škerlj (1908–1961), Živko Mikić (1946–2016), and Srboljub Živanović (1933-)). Instead, a physical anthropology developed that approaches skeletal remains through a typology of osteological material, mostly omitting any theoretical connection to evolution or biological science. Yugoslavia thus developed physical anthropology outside of international norms, thereby transmitting outdated ideas without questioning them: the main concept of which has been the Dinaric race. Even as the number of Yugoslav institutions in archaeology grew after the Second World War and a highly divergent range of Yugoslav archaeologies developed, archaeological practices still adhere to the Dinaric concept. It is time to consider why this implicit racial thinking continues.
University of York, GB
Leeds Museums & Galleries, GB
University of Exeter, GB
Archaeology reflects contemporary society and its structural inequalities. The discipline has been used to ‘justify imperialism, the displacement of Native Americans and Indigenous peoples from their lands, scientific racism, ethnocentrism, and xenophobic nationalism’ (Franklin et al. 2020). Who is represented in archaeology and how the discipline’s histories are written has a huge impact on how the past is understood. This article therefore examines how Wikipedia, read more than twenty billion times a month, contributes to constructions of race and identity in archaeology and society. A 2014 YouGov poll revealed that the British public ‘trusted Wikipedia authors more than journalists’ (Jordan 2014). Consequently, the Wikimedia Foundation (which hosts Wikipedia) has a responsibility to address inequalities on its site. So, too, do Wikipedia’s volunteer writers, even though top-down initiatives are not always welcomed and Foundation and writers often have different priorities. At the same time, resolving this issue creates an opportunity for researchers and heritage professionals to engage critically with Wikipedia.
On the English Wikipedia, topics for inclusion are judged against ‘notability’ criteria, ‘those that have gained sufficiently significant attention by the world at large and over a period of time’ (Wikipedia contributors 2020a). This compounds the marginalisation of people who have been historically excluded. Visibility within Wikipedia translates to visibility online, and consciously or unconsciously the platform’s content shapes how researchers understand their field (Thompson and Hanley 2018). When Wikipedia centres whiteness or excludes people of colour and their histories, that action is transmitted globally, as are the connected racial (and gender) biases of editors. A discussion on the ‘Talk’ page of the English country house, Lydney Park, shows how resistant some editors can be to the inclusion of new narratives: in this case the connection between the house and the slave trade (Wikipedia contributors 2020b).
What can archaeologists and other researchers do to help address this situation? First, they can learn to edit, embedding editing time into archaeological practice either as part of the publication process or as part of research project programming. A successful example is the Women’s Classical Committee UK, which is dedicated to the ‘digital feminist activism’ and change achieved through monthly editing sessions (Leonard and Bond 2019). Archaeologists can also create new, accessible content, which can be used on Wikipedia as a reliable source. One successful example of such work is the crowd-sourced website Trowelblazers, which showcases the lives of women in archaeology (Hassett et al. 2018). Wikipedia’s community uses the site as a reference and inspiration for new biographies. The majority of women showcased by Trowelblazers are, however, white, despite recent efforts to include women from Central Asia and Africa. When source material reinforces a lack of representation, Wikipedia’s structure amplifies that imbalance. To counter this issue, Wikipedia’s editing community includes self-organising thematic groups (‘WikiProjects’) who write about particular topics. For example, WikiProject Archaeology has a ‘Women in Archaeology Taskforce’, which aims to counter Wikipedia’s systematic bias against women (Wikipedia contributors 2020c).
University archaeologists, meanwhile, can integrate Wikipedia into taught modules. This approach has been adopted successfully to create changes to articles relating to African archaeology (Grillo and Contreras 2019). One motivator for the adoption of this pedagogical approach is the idea of editing for social equity and that ‘knowledge creation can be a tool for social activism’ (Jiawei and Matthew 2020). At Oregon State University, for example, an edit-a-thon was organised to improve content related to African-Americans from the state, as a direct response to the inheritance of Oregon’s historical anti-Black stance (Bridges, Park, and Edmunson-Morton 2019).
Despite best intentions, however, archaeologists approaching Wikipedia need to be wary of ‘digital colonialism’ (Marwick 2020). In Marwick’s analysis of Cultural Sites on World Heritage Lists and their Wikipedia entries, the majority of ‘heritage is communicated and interpreted by people who are not part of descendant communities’, i.e., the editors are white and Western (2020). Wikipedia editors of colour are in a significant minority. In a survey of Black editors, 74.4% agreed that it was important that content was created by that demographic, with many respondents perceiving Wikipedia as a ‘contested space’ (Ju and Stewart 2019). If archaeologists enter the world of Wikipedia mindful of these issues, useful work can be done to increase representation and challenge misinformation. Wikipedia often constitutes the first literature that many people will encounter on a subject. While writing for Wikipedia is another call on archaeologists’ finite time and resources, it is one which has benefits for the field as well as Wikipedia’s audiences and the world at large.
University of Bradford, GB
Archaeology has roots in racism and colonial violence, both of which, regardless of intent, are inherent in the methods and theories used in archaeological research today. As such, many—particularly archaeologists of colour and archaeologists from marginalised backgrounds—have spent their careers thinking about ways in which we can divest from harmful practice and ultimately ‘decolonise’ the discipline itself (e.g. Odewale et al. 2018). This scrutiny and critical re-evaluation appear to have increased in 2020, notably in the wake of the current global pandemic and the spread of the Black Lives Matter movement (Franklin et al. 2020). But what is the next step forward? How do we move beyond recognition of harm and towards meaningful repair? It is time for archaeology to become actively accountable.
The concept of accountability in archaeology is not new and has previously been used as a means of interrogating the role of whiteness and colonialism in interpretation of the past (Gorsline 2015). There has also been movement towards ensuring accountability within archaeological practice, including increased engagement and closer collaboration with colonised communities (Acabado and Martin 2020; Schmidt 2016), as well as the instalment of (arguably imperfect) legislation such as 1990’s NAGPRA: the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (Nash and Colwell-Chanthapohn 2010). To echo, however, what many have said more recently (e.g. Schneider and Hayes 2020), archaeologists have a moral imperative to take further steps to change our discipline’s practices.
Taking inspiration from the transformative justice movement in the United States, I propose that establishing a more involved accountability process within archaeology is necessary for the discipline to ensure a more ethical practice. This work would focus on two specific iterations of accountability. The first would ensure ‘community accountability’ (The Audre Lorde Project 2010), which emphasises the need for archaeologists to do the work of strengthening relationships between themselves and historically colonised communities through addressing the specific conditions that allowed harm to occur. The second iteration would then promote ‘active accountability’ (Moore and Russell 2011: 31), in which archaeologists are challenged to become proactive in maintaining these community connections in order to avoid future harm.
This focus on community ultimately provides archaeologists with an integration point for accountability practices: community-based archaeology already promises alternative approaches to the research process and could readily adapt to concepts of accountability. For example, an approach such as community-based participatory research allows for the ‘braiding of knowledge’ (Atalay 2012: 27), which enables community knowledge to be just as valued as academic knowledge. Power is arguably much more balanced between the community and outside archaeologists in this situation.
This redistribution of power is already practised within many archaeological projects that occur on Indigenous land, often through increased legal sovereignty by settler governments. For example, the passage of the 1976 Aboriginal Land Rights Act in Australia gave Indigenous elders the ability to restrict certain places from settler researchers as necessitated by their cultural practices. In addition, access may often be granted only with the supervision of an Indigenous custodian (Smith et al. 2019). This redistribution of the power of access is a step in the right direction towards a more accountable relationship between Indigenous peoples and settler researchers, but I would argue that an accountable archaeology can move further. As archaeologists, we should concede our power and overall leadership to Indigenous and historically looted communities in a consistent manner throughout the archaeological process, providing these communities with major decision-making powers at all times.
To imagine what this process could look like, we can turn to the ways in which underlying power dynamics are engaged with within grassroots movements on occupied Indigenous territories in North America. One such example is the basic principle of ‘taking leadership’ (Walia 2012: 241), in which non-Indigenous allies defer to Indigenous leadership on the frontlines. As Walia warns, however, this deferral is not an excuse for non-action; instead, it is a call to remain responsive to the needs and experiences of Indigenous people. Following the example of taking leadership, archaeologists must decentre themselves and their work, and instead place community needs first and foremost. As Smith et al. (2019: 536) conclude, there must be a ‘shift from working with Indigenous peoples to working for Indigenous peoples’. Archaeologists can provide the practical tools necessary for communities to rediscover their histories, but on the communities’ own terms and in their own voice.
To reiterate, an accountable archaeology must be community-led, not just community-based. More specifically, it should be led by the impacted community (e.g., local, cultural, and familial communities associated with the focus of the research). To start, they must be given the initial power to grant access to their lands. The community then informs the archaeological process throughout: by modifying aspects of the excavation and post-excavation process, possessing editorial power over reports and publications, or enjoying the ability to request repatriation of artefacts and remains. By prioritising the needs of the community and giving them the agency to say ‘no’ at any time, archaeologists can redistribute control.
Accountability, both community-led and active, is not meant to erase harm, but instead support the process of healing (Bonsu 2018). Similarly, an accountable approach to archaeology will not undo the violence and marginalisation that the discipline has inflicted as a tool of colonial enterprise. But it will move archaeology from ‘feeling sorry’ to actually ‘doing sorry’ (Shara 2020: 227), enabling tangible action to be taken towards repair and a commitment to real change. Change should be spurred on by responsibility, rather than guilt (Walia 2012). Archaeology needs to move beyond surface-level acknowledgements of harm, and instead become actively accountable.
Heba Abd el Gawad and Alice Stevenson
UCL Institute of Archaeology, GB
The rhetoric of decolonisation has swept Western museums. While this moment is overdue but welcome, for Indigenous archaeologists it can be distressing. Not only can it be patronising to see colonial nations centring themselves in this work, it can also be distressing to see how issues of colonial violence and exploitation against people are diluted into debates over objects. Unless social justice for colonised peoples is at the core of decolonisation, the ‘decolonial turn’ risks becoming a conscience-clearing exercise for the benefit of Western museums and academic careers.
How ancient Egypt is presented and perceived in the West is a case in point. Despite the notion of ancient Egypt being a colonial product and construct, museum displays on the topic remain largely overlooked within decolonisation discourses (Abd el Gawad and Stevenson 2021), and views based on a disconnection between ancient and contemporary Egyptians remain prevalent. Such opinions are not passive legacies which can be undone by returning objects, making institutional statements, or constructing ‘post’-colonial theories. They have a direct impact on Egyptians today. Within Egypt, Western claims that ancient Egypt is an ‘orphaned culture’ (Swain 2007: 293) contribute to the ongoing destruction of non-pharaonic layers of Egypt’s history, disenfranchisement, and even displacement of Egyptians from their heritage and, sometimes, their homes. In a global context, erasure of Egyptians from fetishised displays of ancient Egypt reinforces stereotypes, social injustices, and discrimination against contemporary groups.1
For decolonisation to bring social justice it must be founded on the recognition of communities’ needs and their self-perception (Taylor 1992). Building on the findings of the Artefacts of Excavation project (Stevenson 2019), we developed the Egypt’s Dispersed Heritage (EDH) project to find ways to recognise and respond to Egyptian voices. The project has been co-developed with Egyptian artists, community schools, activists, and cultural enterprises, and gives these groups freedom to express their feelings about export of their heritage using idioms of cultural relevance to them.
To this end, our outputs have taken the form of comics, performances, and storytelling based on information from our UK partners: the Egypt Exploration Society (EES), National Museums Scotland, Liverpool World Museum, Manchester Museum, Petrie Museum of Egyptian and Sudanese Archaeology, and the Horniman Museum and Gardens. These more informal modes of communication created a friendlier context for addressing tough questions, generating an inviting space for dialogue and self-expression (see Abd el Gawad and Stevenson 2021). However, we were conscious that recognition could only meaningfully initiate structural change if it coincides with a transparent dialogue with UK publics.
The EES has recently taken measures to support Egyptian archaeologists by revitalising its Cairo office through lectures, workshops, and training programmes, in addition to offering scholarships for Egyptian researchers at their London offices. Yet the organisation had not begun a dialogue on its colonial history. It is no coincidence that the Society was founded in the same year, 1882, that the British invaded Egypt. To address this, we co-organised with the EES an online public forum on 12 June 2020. Co-production with our partners and audiences has been a guiding principle shaping EDH events and outputs. To further this work, social media users were encouraged to take part in developing and shaping the discussion by sharing archival resources on Twitter using ‘#EESUnpackingColonialism’. Feedback received through Twitter was used by EDH to coordinate participatory multiple-choice opinion polls asking what the audiences understood by ‘Egyptian heritage’ and the role of Egyptians in nineteenth-century EES excavations. Those attending the event had the opportunity to actively participate through these multiple-choice opinion polls. The event was one of the best attended of the 2020 EES virtual public-events series, with 401 attendees from 34 countries. Most attendees were based in the UK (192), followed by 69 in the US, and 23 from Egypt.
The Eurocentrism that still dictates where Egypt’s past ends was the live discussion’s departure point. We displayed a modern Egyptian photograph depicting the Giza pyramids as viewed through a rooftop washing line of clean, male, white underwear in order to disrupt images of ancient Egypt occupying an uninhabited and exotic landscape. A total of 78% of the voting attendees agreed that this photograph could be an effective background image within a museum gallery.
Subsequently, the marginalisation of Egyptians from archaeological knowledge production dominated discussions. Respondents on social media shared EES archival material that captured the contribution of unnamed Egyptians to archaeological discoveries even as well-known Western archaeologists oversaw or gave instructions. Discriminatory, demeaning acts in which Egyptians were used to provide scale or hold cloth backgrounds in photographs were also circulated. However, during the public discussion, when audiences were asked if such marginalisation should be termed as ‘racism’, ‘white supremacy’, or ‘of its time’, the majority (58%) perceived it as ‘of its time’. When asked how Egyptians felt towards being used in these ways, 59% chose ‘happy to secure employment’, 38% chose ‘indifferent’, and 19% chose ‘exploited’. And while 60% of the audience agreed that the Egyptians performed most of the archaeological labour, the majority (57%) believed that Egyptian workforces should not be defined as archaeologists given their lack of formal education.
Some social media responses compared the discrimination against Egyptian workforces with British workers who were exploited by employers during this time. Clearly, some members of the UK public are unaware of the nature of economic exploitation in foreign territories, in addition to the violence of colonial invasion and rule. This cannot be compared to working-class discrimination in nineteenth-century Britain, despite superficial similarities. Archaeological archives, however, contribute to the public’s view of colonialism as ‘peaceful’: while those archives capture discrimination, they frequently hide military presence and the violence of colonialism.
One attendee tweeted during the event that ‘hosting such a difficult and controversial discussion online and in public is a brave move’. Others defined it as ‘powerful’, ‘eye-opening’, and ‘timely’. The relevance of the event to current archaeological practices was noted and seen as relatable to British perceptions of identity amid the #BlackLivesMatter movement (Naunton 2020).2 Others, however, were disappointed that the event did not go far enough, particularly with respect to Afrocentrism and oppression of Nubian communities. Consequently, in partnership with EDH, the EES will convene a focus group both to inform future operations and to plan the society’s specific response to, and support of, Egyptian communities (Graves 2020).
Recognition of colonial injustices and Indigenous needs are not only a courtesy that archaeological organisations owe to source communities today. They are public duties and should be the foundation of any meaningful attempt to decolonise archaeology.
Live event and social media respondents have been made aware that their contributions will be used in further EDH research and publications. All social media comments quoted here are anonymous and in the public domain. We would like to extend our gratitude to Carl Graves and Stephanie Boonstra of the EES for their openness, empathy, unconditional support, and friendship. The EDH project was funded by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), project number AH/S004580/1, and conducted in compliance with UCL’s ethical guidance, project id 14901/001.
The authors have no competing interests to declare.
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