Affective archaeology – theory and practice

Room:    Auditorium 2
Time:      09:00–12:30
Format: Standard paper session
Organisers: Andy M. Jones (Stockholm University) – Ing-Marie Back Danielsson (Uppsala University)

This session poses the simple question: what is the use of archaeology? We answer this question by arguing that if archaeology is to be useful, it must also be affective.

Affect is an object of study in several academic disciplines. They have produced concepts such as vitality affects, sticky affects and affective dumping, in order to broaden and deepen our understanding of the intricacies of how humans, animals, things, and other entities intra-act, and how these bring about certain phenomena. Affect has also been described as an animate form of pedagogy, and as connected to knowledge production, through the movement of affect. The study of affect is multitudinous. However, archaeological responses to the topic have tended to narrowly conceive affect in terms of the emotions or senses. We argue that the study of affect has much more to offer archaeology, in terms of both theory and practice.

A few recent works have explored affect and its application within studies of the past, including discussions of its relation to encounters with archaeological art. We want to go beyond such studies, and delve deeper into questions of how other things are affective. Theories of affect are an essential component of the relational ontologies of new materialisms; affect has been discussed as a component of relational assemblages. Theories of affect emphasise, for instance, the entangled processes of a variety of becomings, which reproduce intense affects. Encounters with bodies, both human and non-human, produce a variety of affects.

The session thus aims to explore the potentials of discussing affect in the study of the past in order to expand the dimensions and capabilities of affect theory and the capabilities of archaeology as a disciplinary practice. We also welcome contributions that discuss the potency of affect in pedagogical practice, in higher education or at museums.

1. Affected by the past in the Viking Age

Author(s): Julie Lund (University of Oslo)

This paper aims to explore how the affectivity of material culture may cross time through two examples of reuse of the past in the Viking Age: the use of kerbstones on a group of Viking Age burial mounds, and of antiques in Viking Age hoards of precious metal objects. Kerbstones on roman Period mounds were being reused as well as referenced in the Viking Age. The affective affordances of the kerbs will be explored including their temporal dimensions. Further, the acquisition, collection, maintaining of specific objects through centuries and the effects and affects of hoarding them in the Viking Age will be examined. Traditionally, the use of the past in the past has been treated as merely a power strategy. In this paper, these traditional notions of power will be challenged by exploring affectivity in relation to material culture. By examining how these objects work and how they affect humans and social settings the ambition is also to move beyond the agency debate and to gain insight into the entanglements of affects.

2. The affectiveness of small finds – magic sharms of daily life and the process of becoming urban

Author(s): Annika Nordström (Uppsala University)

What does a lead cross engraved with runic inscriptions of the kabbalistic acronym Agla gala laga gala laga – Deus meus – agla gala laga agla (roughly: Thou, O Lord, art mighty forever), found in a secondary filling (dated to the early 14th century) underneath a medieval town’s council square, tell us about medieval life in a small town by the Baltic Sea in Sweden? Most people would argue that the context in which an artefact is found is of crucial value for how to interpret both the item and the context itself, but in this case the context is of minor interest since there is no way of knowing who the owner of the cross was, or how the cross ended up in a filling underneath the square. What we do know is that kabbalistic acronyms and runic inscriptions often served as magic charms during the period. In this paper I will explore social, cultural and religious aspects of emotion through small finds, and how these items can be used to shed light on the variability of daily life in a medieval small town and what role they may have played in the ongoing process of becoming urban.

3. A sleep-like death, an affective reading of Late Iron Age bed inhumations in Europe

Author(s): Astrid Noterman (Stockholm University)

Burial practices represent a key source for understanding Late Iron Age populations, opening valuable windows on ancient ways of life, customs and beliefs. Some of the most spectacular findings of the period are funerary beds known from around fifty graves from southern Germany to southern Scandinavia and England, and dated from the 6th to the early 10th centuries CE. Mainly identified through the discovery of rare well-preserved cases or the recognition of elements used in their building, wooden beds in early medieval graves have surprisingly been little studied.

In this presentation, I will explore the system of relations that the presence of this impressive furniture within graves creates. In particular, I will question the assumption that would like to interpret beds as an emotional respond of the living community to death. The aim will be to go beyond the simple archaeological remains in order to initiate a discussion on the real significance of this object within Late Iron Age mortuary practices and beliefs. It is quite common in archaeology to address affect in terms of emotions and senses. Gestures associated with death rituals have commonly been approached as emotional expressions of the living towards the dead, but and also towards themselves. In this paper, I will follow Andrew Jones’ (2020) comments on affects and argue “while [they] can be emotive they need not always be so”.

4. Layers of practice, layers of affect. On ritual, experience and (p)retention in         the Scandinacian Iron Age

Author(s): Meghan Mattsson McGinnis (Stockholm University)

In archaeologyrepeated, structured depositions are typically considered evidence for ritual, and places where these deposits occur identified as ‘cultic’ or ‘sacred’ sites. Sites which are in turn often discussed in connection with issues like place-making, tradition, legitimacy, religious change, et cetera. And it is not my aim here to contest such interpretations per se, but rather to highlight another level to the dynamics of the ways in and reasons for which such sites were used and came to be which has not received sufficient attention. Namely, how concentrations of recurrent ritualized acts and their concomitant accumulation of physical traces also entails an intensification of affective power. Thus, making every subsequent participant an active part in an ongoing, emergent pattern of practice formed out of interactions between the place, their own movements and emotions, and those of prior worshippers. Using the phenomenon of the deposition of iron amulet rings at rock faces and large stones in late Iron Age Sweden as an example, in this paper I will explore how considering such layers of affect, and the processes of their creation, can provide new insights into the lived experience of people in Nordic prehistory…and how their rituals were not only concerned with making a link to their past, but also reaching out towards the future.

5. Objects as curricula: rethinking the capacities and affects of blackfoot   material artefacts

Author(s): Christine Clark, Ian Dawson, Danielle Heavy Head, Andrew Meirion Jones, Josie Mills, Louisa Minkin, and Melissa Shouting (Mootookakio’ssin project team)

The late Frank Weasel Head, a Blackfoot Elder, observed of Blackfoot artefacts held in museum collections worldwide that these were not merely objects, but curricula. This paper will discuss the Mootookakio’ssin/Distant Awareness project, which together with members of the Blackfoot Confederacy, has been involved in the digital capture of Blackfoot artefacts in UK museum collections. This paper asks what capacities were supported and permitted by the process of digital imaging, and what is the affect of considering material artefacts as curricula?

Over the last twenty years or more, material culture studies have become an intellectual battleground, with competing accounts of the proper way to study material artefacts debated; from symmetrical archaeology and object oriented ontology, to new materialism. All of these accounts have been influenced by metaphysics, while some of them have also been influenced by, often unacknowledged, Indigenous accounts. Rather than merely giving Indigenous accounts lip service, this paper asks what happens if we take Indigenous philosophies seriously? How does this affect our practices and interpretations? How do we now describe Blackfoot artefacts, and what capacities do they have to affect us?   

6. Who, how, how long? Teaching “archaeology, the basics” in the context of rapid changes and conflicts

Author(s): Omran Garazhian (Freelance archaeologist)

I started to teach ”Archaeology, the Basics” to undergraduate students from 2005 to 2019 in multiple universities in Iran. To teach these modules, my primary considerations were 1) to present understandable and intelligible components. 2) to remain updated 3) to affect the students.

During the years of teaching, I practiced various methods such as lecturing in an attractive way (2005) and creating dialogues with students(2006- 2008) as well as performing and using the modern and original archaeological objects (2009- 2019).

All of the practices and experiences were designed to consist and scrutinize case studies for the students from different cities and villages of Iran where nationalism has a strong root and Islamism dominates through propaganda. Due to these parameters, challenges in everyday life, high rate of changes, and conflicts between nation and state are visible in the cities where the students are originated from.

The above-mentioned basic modules presented in the first semester, including “Archaeology the Basics,” are supposed to encourage the students to continue studying archaeology. if not, they may use other options to cancel their submission as archaeology students, which rarely happens.

In this paper, based on the information I have collected from my former- archaeology student informants, I would like to open a novel debate on three sets of questions: What were the effects of the modules? Who was affected the most, and for how long?

7. Affective interventions in the Viking Age

Author(s): Ing-Marie Back Danielsson (Uppsala University)

This paper presents how affect, as a compulsory component of power relations, has been discussed by researchers from different academic disciplines, foremost political philosopher Chantal Mouffe. Changes of power relations are the result of negotiations, or rather agonistic political processes, argues Mouffe. In these processes, power struggles are analysed through the recognition of a hegemony and a counter-hegemony, or relational other. In the agonistic negotiations the hegemony’s relational other will, according to Mouffe, counter the dominant hegemony by making the conflicts visible and confronting the oppositions. Such confrontations require arenas of some sort, where material culture and its affective dimensions have a pivotal role to play. Adapting Mouffe’s thoughts and concepts to the transitional period of c. the eleventh century in Sweden, when both Christian and non-Christian beliefs were at hand, runestones form the basis for the discussion. Specifically, what has been interpreted as non-Christian runestones are considered to be expressions of the relational other, and they are analysed in regard to their visibility, material(ity), inscriptions, imagery, position in the landscape, etc., or in short in regard to their affective styles and affective affordances.

8. Rethinking medieval grave monuments – style, iteration and exclusion in sandstone monuments from the 12th and 13th centuries

Author(s): Anna Nyqvist Thorsson (Västsvensk arkeologi)

Grave monuments made of sandstone showing rich imagery were made to a remarkable extent in the area around Lake Vänern during the 12th and 13th centuries. The rich sculptural and pictorial representations on the monuments have mainly been discussed as representations of Christian myths or expressions of style and influences within the field of art history.

With a starting point in theoretical frameworks such as social practice theory and aspects of performance theory, this study uses archaeological research pointing out that aspects such as aesthetics, style, visuality, colours and figures are elements with ability to influence and affect its social surroundings. By considering sculpture, images and inscriptions as active and deliberate choices of style and as social phenomena, the study shows how stylistic elements have been chosen and produced on some monuments, and deliberately excluded on others. By using concepts as iteration and exclusion, practices that either emphasise or exclude the past have been identified. As such, the stylistic features of the monument produced affects that tied some actors with specific sociopolitical positions in the past while the deliberate exclusions of the same stylistic elements and use of others became a way for other collective actors to create social distance and strengthen the group´s internal relations.

Thus, the shaping of the grave monuments worked to strengthen social communities and brought the voices of the various groups into the public discourse. Images, sculpture and inscriptions became operative elements in different social strategies and as such active in social and historical processes.

To conclude, this paper shows how the use of new theoretical approaches within the field of archaeology can provide unexpected and new knowledge of an old and well-known material. Stone sculptures and images were not only representations of iconographic stories, but also entangled in and affected social relations and becomings.