The Archaeology of Isolation

Date/Time: 
Saturday, May 18, 2019 - 9:00am to 12:00pm
(ADT)
Room: 
Ste-Foy
Organizer(s): 
  • Lisa Rankin, Memorial University of Newfoundland
Contact Email: 
Session Description (300 word max): 

The term isolation conjures images of remote populations, separated from neighbours and the outside world by great distances, challenging environments and even physical barriers, unable to interact with others. Contemporary archaeology acknowledges that there is really no such thing as an isolated society and that all human communities depend on interaction –however infrequent - with others for their biological and cultural variability . Yet isolation remains a valuable, if ambiguous, concept to investigate the socio-cultural ramifications resulting from different levels of connections and separation that existed between and within populations. This session invites papers which use the concept of isolation to discuss the archaeology of people who live parts of their lives in relative isolation from other groups, or, perhaps more commonly, phenomena of isolation within communities - both of which can be powerful catalysts for social change and differentiation. Participants may also want to address issues arising from undertaking archaeology in isolated places, or from doing archaeology alone.

Presentations
09:10 AM: Geographical Isolation as a Catalyst for Social Change Among the Labrador Inuit
Presentation format:
Author(s):
  • Lisa Rankin - Memorial University

Inuit arrived on the northern coast of Labrador by the middle of the 15th century, exploring, and settling the coastline as far south as the Strait of Belle Isle over the next 150 years.  Archaeological evidence suggests that certain parts of the coast became substantial settlement areas, used as part of a seasonal round that eventually included trade with European fishers and whalers, and ultimately settlers. Inuit who settled in southern Labrador were separated from their northern kin by vast distances, and their closest neighbours were likely Europeans.  Maintaining connections with Inuit in northern Labrador, however irregular, would have been significant for Inuit in the south to sustain their cultural traditions and identity.  At the same time, isolation also offered potential for southern Inuit to develop new relationships, and establish new traditions.  This paper will examine two important events during the 17th and 18th centuries when geographical isolation provided southern Inuit a new context and impetus for cultural development that would ultimately transform Inuit cultural practise throughout Labrador. 

 

09:40 AM: Isolation and Islandness: Settlement in Saint-Pierre et Miquelon during the Colonial Era
Presentation format:
Author(s):
  • Meghann Livingston - Memorial University of Newfoundland
  • Mallory Champagne - Memorial University of Newfoundland
  • Catherine  Losier - Memorial University of Newfoundland

At first glance, the French archipelago of Saint-Pierre et Miquelon may seem like a very isolated place. Situated almost 4,000 kilometres away from the most westerly tip of France, and about 3,000 kilometres away from the next nearest French overseas territory in the Caribbean, these small islands are the only piece of Colonial New France that remain under French governance today. France maintained possession of these islands to help guarantee their “ancient right” to a fishery in and around the waters off Newfoundland. The great distances separating Saint-Pierre et Miquelon from France and the other Outre-mer are juxtaposed by the archipelago’s proximity to Newfoundland and mainland North America, including other former French territories like Acadie and Québec. As a result of the historic salt cod fishery, the archipelago could actually be considered a very well-connected place. Saint-Pierre et Miquelon has always been connected with its immediately surrounding region, and with extensive, complex networks, the rest of the Colonial Atlantic World as well. Nevertheless, notions of “isolation” and “islandness” remain valuable terms which help us understand the variety and extent of connections that existed throughout the islands’ history. This ongoing research and paper explores Saint-Pierre et Miquelon’s colonial ties within the encompassing North Atlantic in order to help us understand it’s role within the historic salt cod fisheries and its contributions to the greater Atlantic World.

10:30 AM: Inuillisimasoq - An Indigenous perception of archaeological fieldwork in remote places
Presentation format:
Author(s):
  • Kirstine Møller - Memorial University of Newfoundland

An Arctic landscape encompasses a sense of monumentality, vastness and perhaps even loneliness. Scattered in the landscape are sites of memory and human practice, sites we document during archaeological surveys and sometimes excavate on a later date. Many of these sites have long been forgotten but the human practices associated with living there are vibrantly present in the cultural memory of many Indigenous peoples.  

With the melting snow a yearning for the mountains and the sea awakes in many Indigenous communities. As archaeologists, the promise of fieldwork in remote places of Greenland makes the almost biological urge liveable.  However, come summer the experiences of fieldwork might vastly differ from those coming from outside of Greenland.

In this paper I will highlight how perceptions and expectations can shape the experience for motley crews conducting archaeological fieldwork in Greenland. Through my personal narrative, I will outline some of the issues, challenges and opportunities that present themselves during the months of isolation.

11:00 AM: Communities of one: isolation as an opportunity for integration
Presentation format:
Author(s):
  • Jennifer Campbell - City of Kingston

Throughout my career I have worked in varying states of isolation. In each case my seeming isolation has been imposed by the constraints of method, geography, or social practice. Paradoxically, each seeming act of academic, methodological, or professional isolation was sought out as an act of increased integration. This paper will reflect on the value of isolation – in method, in field location, and in academic and professional settings as an integrating mechanism that has been essential in my practice as an archaeologist and I believe provides lessons to those pursuing non-traditional career paths and perhaps even to the sustainability of our discipline/field. In order to develop this idea, I will work through aspects of Durkheim’s concepts of organic and mechanical solidarity – proposing that when archaeologists work in seeming isolation it can lead to highly integrated and sustainable social systems, whereas it is equally possible that when archaeologists work in spaces of technological, ideological or methodological homogeneity it can create redundant or self-replicating knowledge systems that are at risk from variances and collaborative innovation in the broader social/economic worlds. Contemporary archaeology acknowledges that there is really no such thing as an isolated society – extending this contemporary archaeologists can realize that strategic isolation can actually lead to deeper integration and a more nuanced and productive field of practice.