Identity Politics: Ethnicity, Nationalism, Globalization

Jan Turek (University of Hradec Králové)


Archaeology as a subject dealing with past and ancient societies is seemingly apolitical. This may be the feeling of some archaeologists who have never experienced ideological obstacles in their work or do not have direct experience working under restrictive particular ideologies.  In reality, archaeology has often been used in creating background for political propaganda emphasizing the historical roles of a particular social class, ethnicity, or religion over others. In this theme we would welcome sessions on the political experience of archaeologists working under different circumstances of past or current political regimes. How is current archaeology contributing towards the shaping of national, religious and social identity? How is archaeology involved in constructing the current political agendas and how has archaeological knowledge of past experience influenced the current discussions on the future of the humanity? How does archaeological interpretation of the past shape the current social reality and ideology (and vice versa). How is our reading of the past formed by current ideologies and social/political orders?

We would also like to hear the stories of archaeologists working under totalitarian regimes and their experience with limitation of academic and political freedoms, as well as, methods of abusing archaeological knowledge for political propaganda.
How have archaeologists responded to these issues?

  • Restrictions of academic texts and representations of the past
  • Restrictions of other academic liberties
  • Restrictions of other rights such as political and religious freedoms
  • Segregations of ethnicity, race or nationalities


Slave heritage and identity in western Indian Ocean

Herman O Kiriama (ACHM, Australia)


Though the western Indian Ocean slave trade was as important as the Atlantic slave trade, it has not been given as much prominence as the Atlantic one. This session is meant to bring together scholars who are now working in this region so that the intricacies of the slave trade and slavery in this region can be highlighted.

The theme will address the history and archaeology of the Indian Ocean and Red Sea slave trade and its legacies. It is envisaged that a number of researchers will present papers on different aspects of the slave trade and its legacies today. The theme will take a multi-disciplinary approach which will enable us understand how the slave trade operated and its impact on the populations of this area.

The theme is looking to attract a wide range of researchers who will include but not limited to historians, archaeologists, sociologists and anthropologists who have studied different aspects of the slave trade in the two regions.

Papers addressing the following themes will be welcomed:

  • Oral memory and slavery
  • The archaeology of slavery in the Indian Ocean and Red Sea
  • Slavery and migration
  • Slavery, memory, heritage and identity
  • Slavery heritage and tourism


The Healing Past: retrieving lost identities

Jane Hubert (University College London, United Kingdom); Beverley Butler (University College London, United Kingdom)


Throughout history, cultures, communities and individuals have had their pasts appropriated by others. The cultural histories of Indigenous peoples have been denied, their material culture destroyed, and their ancestral remains removed to museums and laboratories across the world. Repatriation has helped to retrieve the lost identities of Indigenous people as individuals and cultural groups. In Australia the destruction of Aboriginal communities, and the institutionalisation of Aboriginal children, are further examples of the appropriation of the past by others.
In Palestine, the archaeological, historical and cultural pasts continue to be appropriated by more dominant political powers. Archaeologists and anthropologists have a vital role in substantiating and revealing Palestine’s own heritage and cultural history.

Individuals deemed to be mad, bad or socially unacceptable are also deprived of their pasts, and of their individual and social identity, by segregation from society in institutions. Ethnographic work with instititutionalised and marginalised people can help to retrieve these lost identities and individual pasts.

This session will examine concepts of loss, identity and powerlessness in the context of social and political destruction and appropriation of the past, and the means by which reparation and restoration of the past can restore cultural and individual identity and well-being.


African Archaeology, Identity and Ethics in Conflict

John Giblin, (University of Western Sydney, Australia); Benjamin Smith, (University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa); Rachel King, (University of Oxford, United Kingdom)


This session concerns the ethics of archaeological practice and interpretation, and the dissemination of archaeologically created ‘knowledge’, during and following periods of extreme physical and/or structural conflict.

Archaeology, like heritage, is a dissonant practice because it’s selective and thus inherently biased. However, at times of extreme social stress, due to poverty, disease, warfare or oppressive governance, the politics and ethics of this selective discipline become intensified.

Under these circumstances archaeologists must become more than just familiar with ‘the politics of the past’ and engage reflexively with the consequences of every aspect of their work because their activities have serious implications for the construction, negotiation, expression and contestation of regional, national, local and professional identities.

Thus, this session asks archaeologists working under these conditions to reflect on the ethics of their undertakings and to discuss their responses to their surroundings and the implications of their work for the identity politics of the communities in which they work.

The papers in this session will highlight the sensitive role of archaeologists as political and emotional actors within conflict contexts, who not only uncover but also create ‘the past’, and thus will continue to further the development of a dynamic archaeological ethical discourse.


Archaeology under totalitarian regimes

Jan Turek, (University of Hradec Králové, Czech Republic); Magdalena Turkova, (University of West Bohemia in Pilsen, Czech Republic)


Archaeology as a subject dealing with past and ancient societies is seemingly apolitical. This may apparently be the feeling of archaeologists who never experienced ideological obstacles in their work or perhaps fear from the loss of their position, job or even freedom. Archaeology was often used in creating background for political propaganda serving to emphasize historical role of particular social class, ethnicity or religion. In this session we are going to discuss the political experience of archaeologists working under the totalitarian regimes, as well as, to set an agenda how to defend the freedom of plural discussion in future archaeology. Freedom in reading, reconstructing and presenting our past is one of essential human rights. The variety of totalitarian restrictions influenced world archaeology throughout 20th Century. Archaeology was used in creation of ideological propaganda and some archaeologists were taking an active part in creating ideologically biased narratives of the past. The political oppression of academic liberties occurred when society is under dictate of totalitarian government, fundamentalist religious rule or national and racial segregation. However, the agenda of archaeological explanation is always set by the contemporary socio-political conditions and this is requires particular responsibility of specialists in reconstruction and interpreting the past.