Recursive Archaeology: An ontological approach to anthropomorphic ceramics from first millennium CE northwest Argentina: ARF Spring Lecture

Lecture: ARF Special & Workshops | April 4 | 5-6:30 p.m. | 101 2251 College (Archaeological Research Facility)

 Benjamin Alberti, Professor, Framingham State University

 Archaeological Research Facility

The question driving this talk is how to understand anthropomorphism in archaeological material, particularly in three-dimensional artefactual form. A “recursive” archaeology starts from the premises of ontological pluralism, by which I mean that peoples’ truths and experiences of reality vary. Archaeological materials carry the residue of ontological difference. The goal is to recognize and feel the impact of that alterity latent in our materials, which can then form the basis for analysis and conceptual innovation. Recursion occurs when concepts developed locally from the encounter with alterity are allowed to stand against archaeological ones, such that the latter are transformed by the former.

What anthropomorphism means in a given context, therefore, depends upon the nature of underlying ontological commitments. Typically, anthropomorphism in artefacts is understood as a result of scheme transfer in which meanings associated with the human body are transferred to other materials. Alternately, it is understood as a representational practice in which cultural narratives are played out in material form. It may even be understood as an externalized cognitive process. These approaches rely on specific concepts of “body,” “representation,” “materiality,” and so forth. A recursive approach, in contrast, puts into question these concepts by working with our material in a way that maximizes the potential for ontological difference to emerge. By way of example, I develop an alternative theory of anthropomorphism in relation to a series of anthropo-, zoo- and biomorphic ceramics from first millennium AD northwest Argentina.

 Reception to follow