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ANTH 312: Final Exam - 2007 Take-Home Final...

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me Final Examination subtitle] haeology
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PROMPT ONE: CONTEMPORARY ARCHAEOLOGY The practice of colonialism is one that fascinates archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians—anyone who studies people—because of its immediate and, especially, lingering cultural and political effects. Both colonizer and colonized emerge reshaped, but since the colonizer represents the dominant discourse, the colonized people represent a minority population whose cultural legacy is smothered. Often, they choose to conform as much as they can to the practices and rituals of their oppressors, abandoning their unique heritage and the factors most telling about their personal and political experiences (Scham 195; Matthews 121). This pattern fuels frustration for posterity. Descendants are indignant, even enraged, that not only have their ancestors suffered at the hands of colonization, but also their cultural history has been lost. Archaeology, however, provides a unique opportunity to recover the past. What was never recorded above ground can be inferred and analyzed by an experienced team and their trowels. Minorities and others with the figurative duct tape over their historical mouths have the opportunity to have their stories unfolded. But how far does archaeology’s responsibility to the untold narrative extend? Does the science of archaeology have an implicit sense of moral complicity, to offer data that might be able to bandage the wounds of social fallout from colonization? Most archaeologists take issue with the idea of the uneducated, overtly self-interested public participating in archaeology (Scham 196). Their opinions are, at best, based on summary public school educations and fueled by a desire to create a differential and superior identity, particularly in the Western world. To say that being a descendant of slaves is qualification enough to be consulted for an opinion on a puzzling artifact would be ridiculous and, in the
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words of Sandra Arnold Scham, would add “an element of confusion to an already chaotic world of interpretive schemes” (Scham 205). Giving one’s unfounded opinion about archaeological findings might not even be a particularly appealing option to someone who feels that his heritage has been underappreciated and understudied. Archaeology’s social responsibility lies more within the context of discovering what questions disenfranchised minorities have about their own past and using scientific expertise— as well as the personal and political experiences of minority populations— to answer those questions. It is neither possible nor desirable to remain entirely objective, and trying to “take into account” alternative viewpoints without making direct use of them during analysis introduces a gamut of vague questions regarding the importance of conscience and perspective (Scham 184). Infusing the science of archaeology with the ethnographic memory of the historically stifled people it seeks to understand strikes a balance between excessive inclusion and continuing the tradition of silence.
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