Putting Down Roots: Student Insights into a More Responsible Future for Archaeology

Session Hosting Format: 
online session
Saturday, May 6, 2023 - 1:00pm to 2:00pm
Virtual Room
  • The CAA Student Committee:
  • Susannah Clinker, University of Toronto
  • Liam Wadsworth, University of Alberta
  • David Blaine, Athabasca University
Contact Email: 
Session Description (300 word max): 

As we begin to reimagine the role of archaeology in the contemporary world, students and early-career professionals must evaluate the relationship between their research and the broader society with which it articulates. To follow the conference theme of “Gathering Perspectives,” this session is aimed primarily at students and early-career researchers who are interested in gaining more presentation experience and who wish to share their voice with the archaeological community.  Presentations for this session can involve a research project that has preliminary findings, the results of an honour’s thesis or independent project, a research proposal, a story from the field, a short history of your favourite object, a book review, or a tasty field recipe- the only catch is your presentation must be given in 5 minutes!

The presentations will be given synchronously using an online format to accommodate those who are not able to attend the conference in person for personal or public health reasons. Please submit an abstract using the Abstract Submission Form on the CAA website to secure a slot in the session. Abstracts should provide a general description of your topic and should be no more than 250 words. Presentations of similar topics will be grouped together. Visual components for presentations from accepted presenters will be limited to only 1-3 slides and will be requested prior to the presentation date to allow for compilation and smooth transition between presentations. A synchronous question-and-answer period will be offered at the end of the session. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to caa.students@gmail.com. We look forward to your submission and hearing your valuable perspectives and insights!


01:00 PM: A Cracking Hegemony: Scientific Racism as an Ideological Response to New Immigration at the American Museum of Natural History at the Turn of the Twentieth Century
Presentation format: Online - pre-recorded
  • Alyssa Cohen

The wave of immigration at the turn of the twentieth century had significant repercussions for America’s nativist racial hegemony. According to Jean and John Comaroff (1991), hegemony and ideology exist along a continuum of beliefs, ranging from the dominant and imperceptible (hegemony), to the discernable and debated (ideology). Before the 1890s, two related nativist assumptions were implicitly accepted as part of America’s hegemony: race is biological, and northwestern Euro-American dominance is natural. When millions of southern and eastern Europeans immigrated to the US around the 1890s, these hegemonic assumptions were called into question, and gradually moved into the realm of the ideological. To maintain their privilege, nativists used the ideology of scientific racism to argue that their northwestern European racial biology made them superior, thus situating their dominance in immutable nature. The American Museum of Natural History, which was run by men of northwestern European descent, is an important site to study the country’s cracking hegemony. Through its collections and exhibitions (consisting mostly of unethically-sourced human remains and cultural artifacts), the museum participated in the ideological production of scientific justifications to keep various groups, such as immigrants from “lesser” races, on the nation’s periphery or out of the country altogether.

01:05 PM: Better Engagement, Better Archaeology: current Ontario CRM and Indigenous Engagement
Presentation format: Online - pre-recorded
  • William Boily - University of Toronto

The current guidelines in the Ontario Engaging Aboriginal Communities in Archaeology bulletin is insufficient in current regards to Indigenous engagement. By rewriting the policies laid out here, including Indigenous engagement from stage one to post-stage four will create better relationships between CRM firms, relevant Indigenous groups, and the Ontario Ministry of Tourism and Culture, as well as create a more involved and ethical practice in consultant archaeology. The focus of this study will be to analyze the current state of the policies and to synthesize previous critiques and provide case studies and examples of Indigenous engagement in CRM elsewhere in the world. Indigenous engagement in stage one could allow for the incorporation of Oral knowledge and history to better understand geographic areas and the potential sites and their functions that could be present. Engagement in stages two and three via a more public archaeological approach could allow for greater crew size to work through projects and to have a more engaged practice. Engagement post-stage four would allow for self curation by Band offices and relevant groups to combat Ontario's current curation crisis. Better engagement with Ontario Indigenous groups in CRM will lead to more ethical and better informed archaeological practice.

01:10 PM: Crypts or Cubicles? The Implications of Archaeological Interpretation at Chan Chan, Peru
Presentation format: Online - pre-recorded
  • Kendall Sneyd - University of Toronto

This presentation discusses how the interpretations of the u-shaped structures in the ancient city of Chan Chan, Peru have naturalized the secular, capitalist state. Archaeologists have characterized the U-shaped structures, called audiencias, as secular, office-like accounting stations akin to modern cubicles based on both their appearance and evolutionary models of the state. Typical of the processualist movement, the archaeologists affiliated with the Chan Chan-Moche Valley project of the 1970s and 80s legitimized their interpretations by framing them as the result of objective, scientific inquiry. A review of the evidence suggests instead that the audiencias functioned as mausolea for communities subjugated by the Chimu Empire. Not only does the cubicle interpretation dismiss ethnohistoric evidence, it projects a post-industrial phenomenon into the precolumbian past, making cubicles, and their associated modes of production seem natural, inevitable, and even desirable. This case study demonstrates the importance of examining the ideological underpinnings and implications of archaeological interpretation for more socially responsible research. 

01:15 PM: Decolonizing by Contextualizing: Bringing Collecting Histories in Museum Exhibitions
Presentation format: Online - pre-recorded
  • Anne-Julie Robitaille - University of Toronto

The postcolonial turn that began in the late 20th century encompasses a plethora of perspectives and strategies to make archaeology more self-reflexive of its colonial roots and inclusive to the voices of the ones who were long marginalized by Western values and ways of knowing. In this presentation, I will argue that as students in archaeology, anthropology, museum studies, or other related disciplines who may work in or collaborate with museums in the future, it is crucial to pay particular attention to the provenance of the artifacts that we study and to recognize the socio-political contexts and peoples of the past that contributed to building these collections. By drawing from existing museum exhibitions, I will then shift my focus by suggesting how museums can concretely decolonize their display methods, and more specifically through the visual display of the multi-layered stories about the ways in which museums’ archaeological collections were acquired in former colonial contexts. This presentation does not have the pretension to claim that it has the right answers but rather aims to offer a space to think out loud about how the next generation of archaeologists and museum professionals – our generation – can embrace postcoloniality.

01:20 PM: Lighting Up the Night: Experimental Replication and Use of Dorset and Thule Inuit Soapstone Lamps
Presentation format: Online - pre-recorded
  • Max Goranson - University of Toronto

Indigenous inhabitants of the Canadian Arctic developed numerous technologies to adapt to the Arctic’s extreme seasonal variations in temperature and sunlight. Such innovations include sea mammal oil-burning soapstone lamps—essential tools for the Inuit and their ancestors, as well Dorset peoples of the Paleo-Inuit tradition.

Small “handlamps” are emblematic of Early and Middle Dorset periods, but how Dorset peoples used these lamps remains unclear. Inuit lamps contain “wick edges” where wicks can be easily manipulated, but no analogous structures exist on Dorset handlamps. How were Dorset peoples able to use these lamps as effective sources of heat and light, and how well do they measure up against Inuit Qulliqs in terms of light and heat production?

I investigated these questions through a series of experiments performed on replicated soapstone lamps, including an Inuit qulliq and an Early/Middle Dorset handlamp. Using the qulliq as a “control”, I tested the heat and light production capabilities of the Dorset lamp by employing different wicking strategies within its interior. Results suggest that Early/Middle Dorset handlamps may match some of the functional capabilities of smaller Inuit qulliqs, and that some wick placements may have clear advantages over others in heat and light production.

01:25 PM: Resisting to Laugh: Tips for Engaging with Alternative or Pseudoarchaeological Viewpoints
Presentation format: Online - pre-recorded
  • Christie Fender - University of Saskatchewan

In a world of widespread, easily accessible misinformation about archaeology and anthropology, those within our fields often find ourselves dismissing pseudoarchaeological thought as laughable and irrelevant. On the contrary, many alternative theories can be incredibly problematic and encourage racist or colonialist ideas that are harmful. Dismissal of those with such ideas often creates an environment of distrust and resentment towards professional and academic archaeology. This presentation will explore how to have honest discourse with those who support misinformed and problematic theories within archaeology.

01:30 PM: The Importance of Political and Social Context in Archaeology: Case Studies from South Asia
Presentation format: Online - pre-recorded
  • Sophie Manfredi - University of Toronto

It is well established that archaeology, as a field, is all about context. Analysis of any find has to take into account where in the stratigraphy it was found, the other finds that were near it, and where in the trench it was located, among other things. Context is always talked about in terms of the excavated material, but rarely is it talked about in terms of the circumstances surrounding the excavation itself. When looking at previous analyses of archaeological data, part of being critical of other people’s work is taking into account the political and social context of the writer. Despite assumptions that modern archaeology is more empirical and less susceptible to forces outside of modern scientific methods than early archaeological work, this is not necessarily the case. By looking at Cunningham’s archaeological surveys under British colonialism in India and more modern excavations at Ayodhya, I will explore how context has shaped the presentation and analysis of archaeological data in South Asia.

01:35 PM: Thoughts on a Healthier and More Accessible Field School
Presentation format: Online - pre-recorded
  • Amy Fox - University of Toronto

The field school is a unique university course. Instead of grading students strictly on matters of the intellect, the body is needed. This situation creates immediate access concerns for those of us with nontraditional or idealized bodies, wide-ranging access concerns that are going to look different for everyone. The very nature of field school as a physical activity can be a deterrent to student participation, leading to serious equity issues within our discipline. Here, as a course instructor of a field school, I introduce the Health and Safety model I designed to support retention of students and address the equity issues mentioned above. My model states that field archaeologists must prioritize their health and physical well-being above all else in order to respect the work we are doing, the archaeological record, and the quality of scientific information we are stewarding. Explicitly, based on this model, any student regardless of physical ability will be able to participate in field school and will be accommodated for without stigma or adverse grade effects. In this short presentation, I welcome discussion and feedback about my attempts at equity and inclusion in the field.

01:40 PM: Transitional Belongings: A Look into the Role of Objects in University Student Bedrooms
Presentation format: Online - pre-recorded
  • Emily Henry

Across time and space, humans have been shaped by and inextricably linked to our access to and creation of material things. However, the analysis of the role of material culture during life transitions is a surprisingly underdeveloped field of inquiry. When “emerging adults” choose to attend university, they undergo a threefold rite of passage, involving the distinct phases of separation, transition, and incorporation. This presentation argues that objects present during the university rite of passage are an integral aspect of how the students involved curate, exhibit, and reflect on their identity transformation. Through studying and comparing six university bedrooms at a predominantly undergraduate university in Nova Scotia, belonging specifically to first-year and fourth-year students, this research explores the intersection of secular ritual, identity, and youth, providing an understanding of the significance of material culture in a part of the life course that is frequently overlooked. Using visual methodologies, including photography, a cultural inventory, and spatial analysis, accompanied by interviews, this research explores how objects in domestic spaces change to reflect and facilitate identity creation during this period of emergent adulthood.