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  • Collaboration in Archaeological Practice: Engaging Descendant Communities
  • Joe Watkins (bio)
Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh and T. J. Ferguson, eds. Collaboration in Archaeological Practice: Engaging Descendant Communities. Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press, 2008. 317 pp. Paper, $34.95.

Defining "collaboration" as "a range of strategies that seek to link the archaeological enterprise with different publics by working together" (1), the editors have put together a collection of essays that offers a wide "range of strategies." Most of the twelve chapters discuss North American situations, but others include African and Australian examples. And, while the collaborations are between archaeologists and descendant communities, not all are Indigenous groups: in this volume, "descendant community does not strictly refer to biology so much as to a self-identified group of people in the present that link themselves—socially, politically, economically—to a group of people in the past" (2).

The first chapter by Michael Adler and Susan Bruning focuses on collaborative research as people and groups involved "constitute and apply the concept of 'cultural affiliation' in present-day understandings of the past and present" (35). While "cultural affiliation" may be considered to be "a relationship of shared group identity between two or more groups" (36), that linkage between past and contemporary groups requires an acknowledgment of "identity" that must somehow be "discoverable" by the archaeologist. Identity, as many (most?) anthropologists will agree, is fluid, and yet questions of cultural affiliation imply a rigidity that probably does not exist. This often becomes a formality rather than a reality as archaeologists try to extend group identification into the past. One outgrowth of their research program, according to the authors, is that it "provided an effective means for us and for our research partners to create value that can benefit the descendant communities as well as the discipline of archaeology and the larger public" (52).

Larry Zimmerman's chapter discusses the very real disservice that arises when archaeologists respond inappropriately to people who don't believe the "pasts that archaeologists construct for them . . . no matter how well reasoned the archaeological arguments are or how solid the evidence" (55). While using the Kensington Runestone as an example, Zimmerman's chapter can (and should) be applied to the peoples' "beliefs . . . and how they affect collaboration between archaeologists [End Page 187] and communities" (56). One of the primary foci of the text is the very real difference in application of terminology scientists take for granted, including "hypothesis," "truth," and "validity," and the very real issues created when scientists conflate "hypothesis" for "truth," and confuse the differences between the search for "truth" with that for "validity."

Norm Sheehan and Ian Lilly's chapter looks at "approaches to the integration of Indigenous and archaeological theory by considering how an understanding of contemporary Aboriginal perceptions of the landscape can affect the ways in which archaeologists find, excavate, and interpret sites of past human activity." In addition, it looks at ways that "the physical landscape appears to Aboriginal people—its visual organization or structure—reflects spiritual aspects of the organization or structure of the landscape that constrain people's behavior" (88). Their discussion of Indigenous knowledge and the very different way it operates from Western knowledge is useful for archaeologists struggling to come to terms with the call for more "indigenization" of the discipline. They close with a deceptively simple phrase, but one that resonates throughout the entire volume: "One learns to collaborate by doing it" (107).

In her chapter, Dorothy Lippert discusses what it is to be a "Native American person who wishes to work in repatriation [who] frequently walks a tightrope between what she believes to be true and what she can demonstrate archaeologically" (121). By discussing the difference between "responsibility" and "authority," she makes it clear that Indigenous participants in archaeology operate with a perspective often unlike that of mainstream archaeologists: while our training may give us the "authority," it carries with it a "responsibility" to the people whose remains we study (or are entrusted with caring for).

Meskell and Masuku Van Damme examine the sorts of issues that arise when heritage environments change as a result of social and political upheavals, focusing on "sets of relationships between descendant communities and a...


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pp. 187-191
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