Keynote Addresses

The Right to World Heritage?

Lynn Meskell, Director, Stanford Archaeology Center, Stanford University

This year marks the 40th anniversary of UNESCO’s 1972 Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. It remains the only international instrument for safeguarding the world’s heritage. This presentation takes UNESCO as its centerpiece and asks how are emergent rights to the past being presented, promoted and prevented by particular actors internationally? Specifically I draw from recent developments involving UNESCO’s recognition of Palestine, the ensuing United States financial withdrawal, the crisis in Mali, and the continued challenges to indigenous authority by State Parties on the World Heritage Committee. One of UNESCO’s millennium challenges was the very issue of sovereignty in an increasingly transnational world and in the face of indigenous claims and rights that often conflict with nation states. While UNESCO was forged on the liberal principles of diplomacy, tolerance and development after the devastation of WWII, today statist agendas have come to eclipse substantive consideration of both global heritage and local communities.

As archaeologists we typically presume that the power to confer heritage rights and recognition largely resides with UNESCO’s Paris Headquarters. However, as an inter-governmental body and part of the United Nations, signatory states are the in fact most powerful decision makers in the world heritage arena. States Parties have most to gain in the geopolitical machinations and voting blocs that have emerged in the last few years. Not only do nations garner international and national prestige, financial assistance and benefit from heightened public awareness, tourism and economic development – they leverage heritage for strategic economic and political trade-offs for military, religious, and geographical advantage. The structural failures to foreground minority rights, indigenous perspectives and to implement change within the World Heritage system are underwritten by nation-state desires, colonial alignments and new imperialisms.



The Different Dimensions of the Praxis of Archaeology in South America. The Legacy of Peter Ucko.

Gustavo Politis, INCUAAO:CONICET, Universidad Nacional del Centro de la Pcia. de Buenos Aires, Argentina

The praxis of archaeology in South America in the last decades has developed many dimensions, some of them inspired by the pioneer ideas of   Peter Ucko and the stimulus of WAC. At the same time, South American archaeologists have been deeply involved since the very beginning of WAC and, in fact, the second WAC Congress (WAC-2) was held in Venezuela. With these incentives, South American archaeologists have developed a new relationship with indigenous peoples, who are asserting their rights to determine the future of the human remains of their ancestors.  This new kind of interaction with indigenous people has been grounded in respect for them and for their rights.  Issues surrounding “repatriation” and “reburial” are now central to the archaeology of the region.  As a result of this, many museums in the region no longer exhibit human bones and bodies and some of them have repatriated human remains (including returning remains to other continents). However, conflicts and mutual misunderstandings between archaeologists and indigenous people have been frequent and there are still some points of conflict that need to be addressed. A few examples from South America will be presented in order to illustrate these themes and to reflect upon them.

Other dimensions of archaeology in the region have emerged in the last decades as a result of the state terrorism of previous dictatorship governments. Archaeologists from different countries of South America have embarked on recovering the bodies of people who, after being killed, were buried in clandestine graves, becoming “disappeared”. This unexpected dimension of archaeology involves many researchers who, along with other disciplines, have created a new dynamic field of studies.  This new field is loaded with moral and ethical implications and has transformed archaeology, as Peter Ucko always envisioned, into a more useful and socially embedded discipline.


From Bronze Age World System to Bronze Age Value system: the role of travels, trade and interaction during the 3rd and 2nd millennium BCE.

Kristian Kristianson, Department of Historical Studies, University of Gothenburg, Sweden

During the third millennium BC we see the formation of a new social and economic order in large parts of western Eurasia. However, it is not until the second millennium BC that these regions are truly linked together through the regularity of metal trade. These new forms of connectivity at land and sea were based on the formation of new institutions linked to warrior aristocracies and their role in trade. Centres of civilisation in the Near East and the East Mediterannean entered into a closer economic relationship with the non-urban or proto urban societies of Europe. Towards the close of the 2nd millennium BCE it led to a partial collapse in the eastern Mediterranean due to invasions from their closer peripheries. In this the Bronze Age exemplifies the formation of a new world order that was to persist.




Archaeological Complicity in War and Peace

H. Martin Wobst, Professor Emeritus, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, USA

Archaeologists usually look for order in things that generate lines in space and time. Such lines make it easy to imagine societies as really bounded. Once imaginable or imagined, cleavage lines facilitate mobilization within, and minimize social fission and underwrite hostility across them. Archaeology, thus, creates templates that make war possible. The very same things lend themselves to orders that document continuities in space and time, independent of the lines people (or science) may believe exist, thus, easing tension and facilitating peace. Archaeologists, thus, may accomplish futures in stark contrast to the ones that warmongers, racists, and nationalists want to generate.


When it made sense to be lazy: rethinking the Concept of “Tropical”

Eduardo Góes Neves, Museu de Arqueologia e Etnologia, Universidade de São Paulo

The earliest evidence of plant domestication in the Americas comes from tropical settings. Likewise, the earliest pottery found in the whole continent was produced along the banks of the Amazon river. Archaeological data from places wide apart from in lowland South America show that ancient local populations successfully managed the complex biodiverse ecosystem of this wide area. Yet, nothing ever approaching the State ever happened in the Amazonian tropics. Scholars have looked at this pattern and interpreted it as a sign that there was something deeply lacking in such past: full-scale agriculture, the state, social complexity (whatever this means). As a consequence, the concept of “tropical” became very much similar to the concept of “oriental”, denoting backwardness, exoticism, insalubiriy and so forth. This presentation will argue that ancient Amazonians choose not to become full-scale farmers and neither subjects of state societies, and that backwards indeed have been the way scholars have tried to understand their past.



Dr Hisham Khatib, Historian and Collector of the Heritage of the Holy Land

In spite of its very old rich archeology and unique features, the area East of Jordan (modern Jordan) has been ignored by travelers, due to its sparse population and lack of security. The beginning of the nineteenth century witnessed a slow but growing interest in this region, pioneered by the work of Seetzen and Robinson. Increasingly explorers and cartographers visited the region and documented its antiquities and topography. These were followed by few photographers  and painters who were mainly interested in Petra and to a lesser extent by Jerash. The Dead Sea, because of its harsh environment, provided a special challenge to exploration, with the early explorers paying by their lives. The researchers of the Palestine Exploration Fund, and few other devoted explorers like van de Velde and Alois Musil were more successful in recording the region. So were few painters like Laborde, Roberts, duc de Luynes and Lear; also photographers like Frith, Good and the American Colony of Jerusalem. Their work is valuable, due to its scarcity, compared to the abundant available work on west of the Jordan (Palestine) and more so Egypt.