Ruth M. Van Dyke, Susan E. Alcock

Archaeologies of MemoryPublished Online: 25 FEB 2008

From the Introduction:

The papers presented in this collection play out – in very different settings and with very different forms of evidence – the twists and turns of social memory; together, they also offer an instructive overview into current archaeological approaches to tracing commemorative activity and its meanings.

The essays are committed to the notion that archaeology, and in some cases only archaeology, can do much to illuminate how people in the past conceived their past, and perceived their present and future.

It is easiest for archaeologists to access the inscribed, material end of the spectrum of memory practices. Although embodied, performative, incorporated practices are more difficult to study archaeologically, we do see “footprints” left by these activities. We possess four broad, overlapping categories of materially accessible media through which social memories are commonly constructed and observed: ritual behaviors, narratives, objects and representations, and places. To some extent, all of these are elements in the papers to follow, although the last two categories engage the most attention.

Ritual behavior is materially visible through evidence for activities such as processions, mortuary treatments, abandonments, feasting, and votive deposition; Avenues, tracks, and cursuses enable the re-enaction of prehistoric movements that in some cases may have involved ritual processions.

Narratives, stories or other forms of information about the past, may be transmitted onwards either in oral traditions or as more fixed textual accounts.

Representations and objects include such items as paintings, masks, figurines, rock art, and other representational media [including human and non-human bones] that often possess commemorative functions.

Places are spaces that have been inscribed with meaning, usually as a result of some past event or attachment; this broad category encompasses monuments, landscapes, natural features, buildings, tombs, trees, obelisks, shrines, mountain peaks, and caves.

Places, meanings, and memories are intertwined to create what some authors have termed a sense of place. A sense of place rests upon, and reconstructs, a history of social engagement with the landscape, and is thus inextricably bound up with remembrance, and with time.

Emotions and emotional attachments to particular places are also obviously implicated in the construction of memory, and are increasingly sought by anthropologists and archaeologists.

Archaeologies of Memory: An Introduction


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