Week 9 SCRAP Reading Group: Archaeology of the Heart

This week, we started back up with our online reading group following a short summer break. We chose the introduction to the edited volume “Archaeologies of the Heart.” Our conversation, once again, lasted two hours and included 10 members from Canada, US, and Belize. We were so thrilled to be joined by the authors of the introductory chapter (two of the book’s co-editors), Drs. Natasha Lyons and Kisha Supernant. This was an important and, at times, difficult conversation, but we will now definitely be looking to engage a SCRAP Archaeology of the Heart for all our future endeavours! See our summary and discussion questions below.

Lyons, Natasha, and Kisha Supernant. (2020) Chapter 1: Introduction to an Archaeology of the Heart. In Archaeologies of the Heart, edited by K. Supernant, J. E. Baxter, N. Lyons, and S. Atalay, pp. 1-19. Springer International Publishing, Cham, Switzerland.

For the first meet-up following our short summer break, I (Meaghan) wanted to choose an article that would encourage us to reflect on our personal journeys within archaeology, and our current practices and connections within the discipline. I was originally drawn to the book Archaeologies of the Heart because I found the title intriguing. Many of the individual topics addressed in the introduction to the book (see below) have previously come to the fore in conversations among SCRAP members—respectful work/research environments and field schools, social media and open data policies, app development, lidar data, community collaborations/engagement, traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), general outreach activities, local/living histories and socio-political contexts, hiring practices, etc. (frankly, probably the majority of conversations we have on the project…)—though this is the first framework I have seen presented that attempts to weave the many elements together. I also felt that many of the topics addressed were particularly relevant to consider in our eventual return to the field following a pandemic that has and will have had greatly impacted Belize and the communities we work alongside in terms of economics, health, spirituality, etc. (as well as the impacts on our own selves). So, for this week, I have chosen the introduction to the volume for us to discuss, though group members were all given access to the full volume to explore further if they wished.

The authors discuss their intention to create “an archaeology that speaks to the whole person—our intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and physical selves” (p.1); thus, they are directly confronting Western notions of neutrality/objectiveness/dispassion/rationality and contextualizing these ideas within other commonly related conditions, assumptions, and expectations within the discipline. Through “centering of the heart” in our discipline’s practices, they ask us to seriously reflect on how we relate to each other “as people, our students, other archaeologists, community members, and our diverse publics” (p.1). They reflect on the care and love they have experienced beyond the archaeological record itself, to the living people/communities they work alongside, and how they “struggled finding places and ways to talk about this in our professional settings” (p.5). A particularly poignant remark they make is how such thinking and attempts are “more likely to embarrass than to lead the charge; more likely to pin you as feminine and emotional” (p.5).

The framework (heart-centered practice) they propose—building on an ever expanding body of work by Indigenous scholars, participatory researchers, and “ethics of care”/heart-centered discussions taking place in multiple disciplines—attempts to provide a “new ethical space… for thinking through an integrated, responsible, and grounded archaeology” (p.5); thus, an archaeology that cares as much for the living as it does for the dead (and even a renewed call to better consider how we ‘care’ for and perceive the dead in their relationships with the living). The four main elements of this framework are

  • Rigor: Discouraging Western separation of thinking from feeling (thought to promote moral detachment) in a better attempt to adopt standpoint theory and multiple perspectives within our research, teaching, and other relations. We are encouraged “to scrutinize our assumptions and beliefs about emotion-laden issues…and arrive at plausible and rational courses of action” (P.7).
  • Care: Basically, do no harm by bringing “all of ourselves to our practice(s)”(p.7), and “be discerning about the projects we select and how our results are deployed in the world” (p.8). This is discussed by comparing mentalities surrounding “production of people” vs. “production of things.” The element of care also brings into focus discussions of mental and physical health of all involved; issues of “wild west” culture in archaeology; field schools and field contexts; hierarchy; etc.
  • Relationality: Honest, open, accountable, and responsible relationships are key—not just between humans, but also with “other-than-human beings” and “non-humans.” This is where conversations of TEK/worldviews/beliefs come in, as well as diversifying the voices within the discipline (e.g. issues of “whiteness,” eliteness, group think), community collaboration, and experiences (good and bad) with mentors/role models and colleagues. The element of relationality is the “ability to be and speak for yourself at the same time as nurturing relationships to and cooperation with those around you” (p.9).
  • Emotion: This involves archaeology as a labour of love and the creation of spaces for “exploring emotions” of practitioners, stakeholders/rights holders/interest groups, and peoples of the past. A big part of this would be issues of intergenerational trauma and its impact on perceptions of the discipline (e.g. distrust of archaeologists).

Potential Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do we do archaeology in Belize? What are our individual, honest circumstances and motivations?
  2. What Western assumptions exist in how we enact Maya archaeology?
  3. How would an adoption of “production of people” perspective change how we currently do, live, share, and experience Maya archaeology?
  4. What are the complex webs of relations in which we are embedded as archaeologists in Belize? What are our expectations/perceptions of each? Are these webs limited? Can they be expanded?
  5. What are examples of emotional disciplinary debates in archaeology in general and Maya archaeology specifically? Where are we situated (personally and as a group) in such debates and why?
  6. Do the typically hierarchical arrangements of Maya archaeology projects/teams work against an archaeology of the heart? What alternatives exist?
  7. How can (or does) archaeology in Belize aid in the healing process of and/or activism for marginalized/colonized peoples? Can we be a form of “therapy”?
  8. What would a Maya/Belizean (or SCRAP) Archaeology of the Heart look like? Feel like? Sound like? How can it be operationalized?
  9. Where are our “ethical spaces for engagement” when it comes to different ways of knowing and relating to the Maya past? Is there a place for such future conversations about Maya archaeology of the heart in professional settings such as the annual Belize Archaeology Symposium?