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Posthumanist or new materialist tools, positions and conversations contain some useful ideas for archaeologists to think with, but others that I find deeply problematic. In this opinion piece, I organize my thoughts around three posthumanist ‘turns’ to objects and materials, relations and assemblages, and non-human animacy. I appreciate how some strands of Posthumanism can help us think more creatively and thoughtfully about relations between humans and non-humans, but I argue against non-anthropocentrism, flat ontology and symmetrical archaeology. Animacy and perspectivism can help remedy colonialist and late-stage capitalist destructive forces, but archaeologists should take care not simply to appropriate, patronize, or re-colonize non-western thinkers. Ultimately, I argue, we should not need continental philosophy to remind us to care about one other, all living creatures and the well-being of our shared planet. What is needed today are ethics, not convoluted turns toward objects.
Phenomenological archaeologists and GIS scholars have turned much attention
to visibility—who can see whom, and what can be seen—across ancient
landscapes. Visible connections can be relatively easy to identify, but they
present challenges to interpretation. Ancient peoples created intervisible
connections among sites for purposes that included surveillance, defense,
symbolism, shared identity, and communication. In the American Southwest,
many high places are intervisible by virtue of the elevated topography and
the open skies. The Chaco phenomenon, centered in northwestern New Mexico
between A.D. 850 and 1140, presents an ideal situation for visibility
research. In this study, we use GIS-generated viewsheds and viewnets to
investigate intervisible connections among great houses, shrines, and
related features across the Chacoan landscape. We demonstrate that a Chacoan
shrine network, likely established during the mid-eleventh century,
facilitated intervisibility between outlier communities and Chaco Canyon. It
is most likely that the Chacoans created this network to enable meaningful
connections for communication and identity. We conclude that the boundaries
of the Chaco phenomenon are defined in some sense by intervisibility.
One of the strengths of the archaeological discipline is our ability to examine social transformations over the course of centuries or millennia. However, we rarely think about the ways in which temporal scale affects our interpretations of these processes. Transformative social changes look different when seen from the perspective of the longue durée, a human lifespan, or a single day. Although they clearly result from human actions, long-term, major social changes cannot be understood simply as additive concatenations of short-term shifts.
The monumental architecture of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico was constructed to convey, reinforce, and challenge ideas about social, ritual, and cosmological order. The concept of social memory can help clarify how architecture was employed in the transformation of Chacoan society at the beginning of the Late Bonito phase (A.D. 1100–1140). During the preceding century, Classic Bonito phase architecture expressed basic tenets of a Chacoan worldview—directionality, balanced dualism, and the canyon as a center place. At the beginning of the Late Bonito phase, confidence in the Chacoan ritual order was shaken by environmental and social developments. Leaders sought to re-formalize Chaco as a center place by instituting a new building scheme. Six new great houses were positioned on the landscape in a patterned, nested series of oppositional relationships. This re-formalization of the Chacoan landscape was legitimated through direct alignments and indirect architectural references to the Classic Bonito past. The new buildings were meant to bolster confidence in leaders and to attract followers by offering a combination of the familiar and the novel.
Space syntax analysis is a popular method for investigating social processes by quantifying the relationships among architectural spaces. Identification of spatial patterns is straightforward, but interpretation is less so. In this study, segregated spatial patterns were assumed to indicate the presence of social inequality. A space syntax analysis was conducted for Guadalupe Ruin, an excavated, outlying Chacoan great house with three well-dated construction episodes. The study investigated great house function and social context. Results seemed contradictory until room function and pueblo layout were incorporated into the interpretation. The great house can be understood as an group of separate but equal household units accessible primarily through the roof and plaza. Analyzed as a discrete entity, Guadalupe Ruin appears to have been a domestic building rather than an administrative or ceremonial facility. However, topographic restrictions and other differences with the surrounding community of small sites need to be explored through an expanded study at the community level. Comparison of the Guadalupe study with other great house space syntax analyses supports the recognition that Chacoan great houses varied considerably across time and space.
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