Guiding Ideas and Questions for FTP:
What is community archaeology?
We are often asked what we mean by community archaeology: what constitutes community archaeology? How do we define it? Community archaeology is also referred to as indigenous archaeology, outreach, community-based, collaborative archaeology, participatory archaeology, postcolonial archaeology, or most often public archaeology. Can we define it? How do we practice it? Is there a template, a guide to best practice, a standard set of principles? Are there as many types of community archaeology as there are archaeologists?
Figure 43: Tomato Boxes, Ghor es-Safi, 2011
Generally community archaeology can be defined as archaeology by the people for the people. But sometimes defining the “people” (community) is incredibly challenging. For instance, what happens if there is more than one community? How do we know who belongs, or doesn’t, in a community? How is a community constituted and how is it defined? Communities involve all kinds of people who come together for all kinds of reasons – jobs, schools, a nice place to live, to be close to relatives – the causes are endless. Because so many different people make up a community they can’t always come to a consensus on various issues that confront them. This is why we try to talk with as many people from the various communities associated with the Dead Sea Plain in Jordan. We want to include as many voices as possible in trying to understand how people interact with the landscape and the pots.
Archaeologists, especially historical archaeologists have been working with communities for years, but for those of us who work in prehistory it is a fairly new practice. For an excellent example of groundbreaking work in the area of public/community archaeology at a Neolithic site is at Çatalhöyük in Turkey, under the direction of Ian Hodder [http://www.catalhoyuk.com/]. Talking to people about their interactions with the Early Bronze Age objects and landscapes is integral to a holistic approach to understanding the archaeology of the region.
We think that a key element of community archaeology is listening to local partners. We spend a lot of time drinking tea and coffee with people, listening to the stories of their childhood, their families, their neighborhoods, and the changing landscapes. The communities associated with Follow the Pots, are not just people from the Mazraa, es-Safi, and Fifa area, although they are our closest communities and they are the people who have had the longest associations with these landscapes. Our communities also include the archaeologists, collectors, dealers, government employees, heritage experts, lawyers, middlemen, museum professionals, students, and tourists – anyone with an interest (academic, artistic, economic, and/or professional) in the pots and the landscape of the Dead Sea Plain, Jordan.
How can archaeology serve the community in which it occurs?
We are often asked why anyone would agree to speak with us or why they would tell us about the sometimes illegal acts they are engaged in (looting, moving/selling/buying illegally excavated artifacts). What’s in it for the communities associated with these pots and landscapes?
It has been an eye opening experiences for us – when we started this research we were amazed to find that people love to talk about themselves, their lives, their histories, and their places. Are part of our research into local interaction with the landscapes of the dead we are interested in coming up with strategies that will allow people to connect with landscape in a way that doesn’t involve illegal digging and removing pots. We are trying to understand “why looting matters” – if it matters because it is a source of income we, in collaboration with locals, want to think about how the landscape might generate a different kind of employment, perhaps through environmentally sustainable heritage tourism.
Figure 44: Looted Early Bronze Age cemetery at en-Naqa
Who can/should/must own (and control) the past? (archaeologists as stewards/experts/authorities; nation states and regional governing structures; local community members and landowners)
There is no easy answer to the question of “who owns the past”? The answer might seem obvious, since every cultural object usually has an owner. However, things may get complicated as a result of various turns of history, when we factor in colonial enterprises, current law, and local practice.
In approaching our project we first defer to the national antiquities laws (1976, 1988, 2003 amendments) in place in Jordan. Under Article 5 of Law no. 21 of 1988 “ownership of immovable antiquities shall be exclusively vested in the state”. But the question of “who owns the past” is more than just the legal definition, particularly when it comes to displaying, interpreting, and displaying the past. There is some urgency in examining this question due to the accelerated rate of destruction of archaeological sites and artifacts through unbridled development, illegal excavation, and a growing awareness that cultural heritage is an endangered non-renewable resource that must be protected and promoted for the general good of present and future generations. Beyond deferring to the law, we don’t really have an answer to this question but we do try to take into consideration all those who claim to own the past.
Figure 45: Looter’s holes at en-Naqa
Despite two governmental amnesty-buyback programs (Bisheh 2001; Politis 1994, 2002) local and foreign archaeologists and Jordanian government officials continue to struggle to stem the tide of looting. By making the connection between poverty and archaeology explicit, examining how both archaeologists and residents value and use these heritage resources, and by encouraging dialogue between area looters, non-looters and archaeological officials, Follow the Pots recognizes that the way humans use material culture links to the past and to the present. We approach this difficult situation with empathy and openness to ensure that local voices are heard, and realize that not everyone is a “bad guy” in this scenario because humans use and value material culture in many different ways. Our ultimate goal lies in the application of our anthropological research to address the problem of looting on the southeastern Dead Sea, an activity entangled with poverty. It is hoped that the results of this research will provide the necessary data and grounding to assist in devising practical initiatives for ensuring that the area’s archaeological heritage resources are available for future generations, however they value the past.
How and why can objects have more than one life?
Much of our research into the various lives of pots from the Early Bronze Age cemeteries along the Dead Sea Plain is informed by the influential work of Arjun Appadurai (1986) on the social lives of things. We are fascinated by the lives the pots have lived as:
- Grave goods buried with various Early Bronze Age individuals
- Excavated archaeological artifacts that were part of scientific excavations.
- Looted artifacts that are highly prized by individuals – visitors to the area, tourists, contractors etc…
- Collected objects – on a mantelpiece, in a museum exhibit, or in the classroom as an educational tool.
We consider all of these lives of equal interest.
Figure 46: Bab adh-Dhra’ pots on display at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, 2012
Figure 47: Fifa pots from the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, 2012