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Decolonizing Indigenous Histories

Exploring Prehistoric/Colonial Transitions in Archaeology

Maxine Oland

Publication Year: 2012

Decolonizing Indigenous Histories makes a vital contribution to the decolonization of archaeology by recasting colonialism within long-term indigenous histories. Showcasing case studies from Africa, Australia, Mesoamerica, and North and South America, this edited volume highlights the work of archaeologists who study indigenous peoples and histories at multiple scales.

The contributors explore how the inclusion of indigenous histories, and collaboration with contemporary communities and scholars across the subfields of anthropology, can reframe archaeologies of colonialism. The cross-cultural case studies employ a broad range of methodological strategies—archaeology, ethnohistory, archival research, oral histories, and descendant perspectives—to better appreciate processes of colonialism. The authors argue that these more complicated histories of colonialism contribute not only to understandings of past contexts but also to contemporary social justice projects.

In each chapter, authors move beyond an academic artifice of “prehistoric” and “colonial” and instead focus on longer sequences of indigenous histories to better understand colonial contexts. Throughout, each author explores and clarifies the complexities of indigenous daily practices that shape, and are shaped by, long-term indigenous and local histories by employing an array of theoretical tools, including theories of practice, agency, materiality, and temporality.

Included are larger integrative chapters by Kent Lightfoot and Patricia Rubertone, foremost North American colonialism scholars who argue that an expanded global perspective is essential to understanding processes of indigenous-colonial interactions and transitions.

Published by: University of Arizona Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

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1. Finding Transitions: Global Pathways to Decolonizing Indigenous Histories in Archaeology

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pp. 1-15

Since the 1990s, some archaeologists have argued that Indigenous histories get arbitrarily divided and lost between the disciplines of “prehistoric,” “precontact,” or “precolonial” archaeology, and historical archaeology (e.g., Lightfoot 1995; Rubertone 1996, 2000; Scheiber and Mitchell 2010).1 These problematic Eurocentric categories place Indigenous peoples in a temporal framework in which colonizers ...

Part I. Beyond Dichotomies and Colonial Categories

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2. The Rest Is History: Devaluing the Recent Past in the Archaeology of the Pueblo Southwest

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pp. 19-44

Archaeologists are fond of pointing out that “history” (in the general sense, meaning the study of the human past) does not begin with the advent of writing. People have always led dynamic, event-filled lives, as much so in nonliterate times as in those documented by texts. In the popular imagination, however, peoples and eras not recorded by scripts are frequently characterized as static, ahistorical, and homogeneous. As a result, archaeologists ...

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3. The Discovery and Decolonization of Xaltocan, Mexico

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pp. 45-65

The productivity of historical work on colonial Latin America is testament that documents are a rich source of information on historical events, society, culture, economics, and other aspects of daily life that are of interest to social scientists and to contemporary populations. Still, scholars working on issues of colonialism are interested in aspects of daily life that often fall outside ...

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4. Rock Art as Historical Sources in Colonial Contexts

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pp. 66-85

In December 1975 the Indonesian army occupied East Timor. Timorese people fled their villages for distant locations to hide from the military. In a remote rock shelter near the village of Sorocama in Eastern Timor are painted the words “FRETLIN 28-1-1977 GAC” on the limestone wall. This is a recent use of the shelter for rock art, which probably dates back to at least ...

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5. Decolonizing through Heritage Work in the Pocumtuck Homeland of Northeastern North America

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pp. 86-109

For nearly two centuries, the early colonial era was seen as the time when Native peoples of the New England region of northeastern North America “lost” their “traditional” cultures or “disappeared” entirely. Randall McGuire points out that the “Vanishing Indian” myth endured in public policy and popular sensibilities because it was believed that Indians had to assimilate and “cast off their primitiveness to join the melting pot of US society” (1992:822). ...

Part II. Scales of Transitions

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6. Between the Longue Durée and the Short Purée: Postcolonial Archaeologies of Indigenous History in Colonial North America

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pp. 113-131

Archaeologists who study Indigenous cultures in the context of European colonialism are frequently caught in a conundrum of temporal scale. How do we represent, render, and interpret Indigenous practices and peoples in ways that not only respect the complexities of the colonial world and their actions therein but also situate their lives in the context of their own unique short- and long-term cultural histories? ...

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7. Lost in Tradition, Found in Transition: Scales of Indigenous History in Siin, Senegal

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pp. 132-157

Historical writing in Senegambia has generally been structured around a series of temporal and geographic distinctions: between oral, written, and material sources; between prehistory, protohistory, and history; between local tradition and global transformation; and so forth. These demarcations are artifacts of colonial modernity that assign different valences to peoples and places, and their position in relation to world history—valences that ...

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8. When Does History Begin? Material Continuity and Change inWest Africa

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pp. 158-177

For historians the question “When does history begin?” elicits a variety of responses, ranging from 13 billion years ago (according to advocates of so-called Big History, who begin with the Big Bang; Christian 1991), to the emergence of modern humans some 200 thousand years ago (Northrup 2003), to the more canonical response that history begins with the earliest written texts from the ancient Near East. As amply recognized today, the ...

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9. Lost among the Colonial Maya: Engaging Indigenous Maya History at Progresso Lagoon, Belize

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pp. 178-200

Traditionally, archaeologists have divided time and materials into precolonial and colonial periods, categories that carry de facto connotations about those who shape history, and those who are shaped by it (see Hart et al., this volume; Lightfoot 1995; Rubertone 1996, 2000). Interpretations created by such a schema often situate Indigenous people as the creators of their history before the arrival ...

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10. Andean Households in Transition: The Politics of Domestic Space at an Early Colonial Doctrina in the Peruvian Highlands

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pp. 201-229

The peoples of the ethnic polities that made up the complex political mosaic of the Central Andean region experienced two major “transitions” in the span of just three to four generations during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries: first, their incorporation into the Inka Empire, and second, their incorporation into the Spanish Empire. Long-dominant narratives ...

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11. Hidden Transcripts, Contested Landscapes, and Long-Term Indigenous History in Oaxaca, Mexico

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pp. 230-263

The Spanish colonial enterprise in Mesoamerica is often described as a singularly devastating experience for Indigenous peoples and Indigenous ways of life—one that completely (and rather instantaneously) altered settlement strategies, modes of economic production, trading partnerships, social organization, and religious beliefs. What these descriptions fail to consider, however, are the complex ...

Part III. Reflections: Found in Transitions

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12. Archaeologies of Colonialism in Unexpected Times and Unexpected Places

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pp. 267-281

Writing about the colonial experiences of Indigenous peoples in ways that communicate complexities, complications, and ambivalences presents enormous challenges. How do we portray colonialism’s global scope, intensity, and pervasiveness, yet question claims about its inevitability? How do we call attention to its brutalities, displacements, and alienations, but also to the diverse experiences of Indigenous ...

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13. Lost in Transition: A Retrospective

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pp. 282-298

The purpose of this chapter is to examine how the contributors to this volume are advancing archaeological practices and the study of colonial encounters and colonialism. My participation in the original American Anthropological Association symposium as a discussant, and then reading the final drafts of the papers, provided me with an opportunity to reflect upon the significant progress that has been ...

About the Editors

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pp. 299-300

About the Contributors

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pp. 301-304


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pp. 305-312

E-ISBN-13: 9780816599356
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816504084

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2012