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Ideologies in Archaeology

Archaeologists not only excavate remains from the past, they interpret them and make such interpretations available to a larger audience. What we write and depict are always fragments of a larger whole that eludes us. In filling gaps and turning fragments into a story, archaeology necessarily becomes ideological. When we invent what we do not know, we do so with our own interests in mind. Archaeologists at Binghamton have been particularly concerned with critiques of the production of archaeological narratives. How do we choose what is relevant or irrelevant among the thousands of pieces of material evidence that constitute the archaeological record? Why do archaeologists think that they have to produce a coherent picture of the past, if we ourselves experience the world mostly as discordant? Does the past have to mirror present concerns? For example, why is it that in times of present conflicts, violence and war become increasingly fashionable subjects in archaeological discourse?

Such themes are explored by Reinhard Bernbeck, who investigates how major museums in New York City, Berlin and elsewhere create monumental narratives that exclude some readings of the past and reinforce others. He is also interested in how historians and archaeologists of the Near Eastern Assyrian empire have systematically silenced the power of women. Siobhan Hart has examined how archaeologists have contributed to and reinforced legal concepts like "tribe," which are central to both federal recognition and repatriation in the U.S and which can have harmful political, social, economic and spiritual impacts on contemporary Native American communities.

Binghamton faculty also investigate ideologies in the past. Randall McGuire has analyzed the architecture and cemeteries of 19th- and early 20th-century Binghamton, examining the ways in which ideologies structure practices of memorialization. At the core of Susan Pollock's work on the Royal Cemetery of Ur are considerations of ancient ideologies and practices that led some people to go to their deaths as part of the funerals of others. She has also examined figurines from Akkadian-period Susa to explore the ways in which archaeologists' tacit adoption of the perspectives of powerful groups in the past have shaped our interpretations of that past. Ruth Van Dyke has investigated the ways Chacoans used architecture and landscape to legitimate religious authority and encourage people to participate in regional ritual events.

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Last Updated: 10/10/12