What’s the use of theory in future archaeology/archaeology of the future?

Room:    Large meeting room
Time:      10:45–12:30
Format: Standard paper session
Organisers: Marko Marila (University of Turku) – Liisa Kunnas-Pusa (University of Helsinki) – Panu Savolainen (Aalto University)

In recent years, archaeology has become prophetic, meaning that the discipline is no longer only aimed at understanding the past – distant or recent – but also oriented towards anticipating the future. For archaeological theory, understood here in the widest sense of the term, this has meant, for instance, the preference of speculative to explanatory theories. As a connected phenomenon, many of us have witnessed firsthand the hasty abandonment of old theories, especially those deemed anthropo- or logocentric. We argue that this logic of dismissal is at odds with the attitude of slowness often highlighted in prophetic theory.

We welcome short provocative speculations – discursive and performative, however unfounded – on possible uses of theory in future archaeology/archaeology of the future. In addition to wild speculations, we would like to see attempts at recycling and reclaiming old theories. We therefore welcome contributions that are not only speculative but also deeply rooted in the history of archaeological theory. For instance, what might be the use of evolution theory or the hypothetico-deductive method in future archaeology? Counterfactual fabulations on unrealised histories of archaeological theory, as well as speculative future-oriented case studies making use of old and new theories, will be particularly appreciated.

1. Do we need an atomic archaeology?

Author(s): Joel Santos (NOVA University of Lisbon) and Tânia Casimiro (HTC-IAP – NOVA University of Lisbon)

One of the key aims of archaeology nowadays is interpreting relations performed by different agents, whether human or non-human. Presently these interpretations draw on theoretical frameworks provided by philosophy or social sciences. But what will happen in the future? What kind of theories will be used and will archaeology gain from enlarging its theoretical interdisciplinarity even in areas which are completely out of archaeological work? This paper’s objective is to make a provocation on how completely different theoretical approaches using concepts and principles developed by quantum mechanics, and the atom itself, can be used in the interpretation of relations in archaeology, creating the means to evaluate how different sites and contexts generate different types of relations. Seldom archaeology uses theoretical frameworks outside social sciences, thus we aim to stimulate new paths of inspiration for archaeological future theory, going beyond the usual social sciences approaches. To fulfil this purpose, we use two distinct archaeological examples: a local 20th century market in Lisbon and the global spread of Portuguese ceramics in the 17th century.

2. Archaeologia magistra vitae

Author(s): Panu Savolainen (Aalto University)

The famous idea of history as Magistra Vitae by Cicero engages the relevance of history as an instructor for the present day and the future. Similarly, archaeology may inspire our societies in order to construct a resilient and sustainable future. My paper tackles the questions related to the research of still load-bearing medieval timberwork simultaneously as building archaeology and means of understanding long-lasting and sustainable construction. In Scandinavia and Finland, there are over one thousand medieval roof constructions dating back even to the 12th century. These structures, and understanding their material properties and maintenance, are exceptional material for medieval archaeology, but also for present-day constructional innovations. The paper identifies the possibilities and problems of using archaeological material as a source of innovation for today’s and tomorrow’s architecture.

3. Archaeology as Archaeophilia

Author(s): Jeff Benjamin (Columbia University)

Over time, one could surmise that the ever-expanding imperative of critique (and theory) has the capacity to supplant and displace the originary impulse of research and study, which is love. This paper seeks to offer evidence that archaeology, the study of the old, is — quite necessarily — the love of the old. As a case study for this, we will examine a rapidly disappearing cognitive artifact and assemblage: the book and the (personal) library. A common feature of many dystopian visions of the future (such as the one in which we are currently living) is the library. The messy, dusty “old” library — replete with arcane and obsolete remnants of past research — becomes a haven, a source of strength and a reprieve from the incessant and unforgiving push towards automation. The used bookstore featuring potted plants, roaming and purring cats and stacks of newspapers shines like a beacon of hope and serves as an antidote to the sterility and totality of the digital transformation. Archaeology is — after all — a rather bookish discipline. In this paper I will offer an historical exploration into the many ways that archaeology has engaged with the book, and how — as humanity enters a new chapter — the book serves as a guide and a metaphorical partner.

4. Writing a manifesto for the archaeologists of the future: The rise of Anti-tree Nationalist archaeology in “Depdeoland”

Author(s): Leila Papoli-Yazdi (Linnaeus University)

Depdeoland ’s independence will be announced in 2381 A.NO, and it will be registered in BA-UN in the same year. The nation will be formed by groups of immigrants from different countries that have disappeared due to the sea level rising. It is of note that some of these people believe that trees are toxic.

The ”Anti-tree” community will be identified with the heroic acts of their ”Anti-tree” parents. So, they will achieve more success, and one day, they will find out that, to justify their own superiority, they need an institution whose existence has been recorded in some random archives from the late 1990s AD: MUSEUMS. 

The archaeologists will start to excavate the sites where there is any evidence of “Anti-tree” race(!). Now, society is completely divided into different classes, well-off anti-tree status, the middle class who are working at anti-tree-based institutions but at the same time believe that the world needs more trees, and the lowest class who are marginalized and labeled “fans of trees”.

In a conference in June 2496 A.NO, a group of archaeologists decide to discuss how the rise of the Anti-tree party reinforces Anti-tree nationalist archaeologists’ dominance on museums and universities. These archaeologists need our recommendations.

The current presentation is about the future of Nationalist-biased archaeology. We will allow our imagination to depict a world where today’s criteria of being “privileged” does not work anymore. But there are still other productions of archaeology which help the political systems to strengthen their dominance. The participants and the author will discuss together the possibilities of transforming the difficult situation in Depdeoland. Finally, we will collect our tips and advice in a manifesto for the anti-Nationalist archaeologists of Depdeoland.