Archaeologies from past to present

This theme will be at the heart of the EUR ArChal (Archaeology in the present: global challenges in the light of the past) supported by the University of Paris 1 (2020-2028).

This theme will be at the heart of the EUR ArChal (Archaeology in the present: global challenges in the light of the past) supported by the University of Paris 1 (2020-2028).

1. Socio-cultural trajectories

Archaeologists’ work revolves around the definition of “cultures” and their evolutions, according to an increasingly detailed chronology. They are an essential prerequisite for the identification of real trajectories, through comparisons of biological and social anthropology, history and linguistics. These cultures also more or less implicitly define ethnic groups or peoples, and are often cited in the name of national identities. These constructions enable us to trace migratory movements, network and border dynamics and social interactions, in short, processes that have led to major transformations of societies up to the emergence of forms of States.

Questions concerning neolithization processes (ANR Homes, ANR Cross-Channel, GDRI Caucasus), the emergence of social hierarchies or the formation of the State are central here. And we know that these processes are not always irreversible. When social inequalities are highlighted during the European Neolithic, they do not always seem to be definitive or permanent. Thus, from the fifth millennium onwards, periods marked by the emergence of monumental sites (enclosures, sanctuaries) or ostentatious burial modes (megaliths, tumuli, chariot tombs, etc.) alternate with periods of much less conspicuous structures. These ‘collapses‘ also concern forms of settlement, from the Chalcolithic megasites of Moldavia and Ukraine to the Celtic princely residences of the late Hallstatt (sixth century) or Gallic and Lucanian agglomerations. The causes of this alternation are multiple, and cannot solely be related to environmental or climatic factors. They are also to be found in underlying social tensions, conflicts and political and religious structures. From this point of view, the emergence of the Greek city (polis), usually considered from a classical archaeological viewpoint, entrenched in texts, may be viewed as the conclusion to reflections engaged on protohistoric societies. Far from being the model of modern state societies, it appears on the contrary to be the result of a social process of inclusion and exclusion that began with the collapse of the Mycenaean palaces around 1200 BC.

Questions of socio-cultural trajectories cannot disregard archaeologically visible processes such as differential rhythms of funerary ostentation and the emergence of individuals. The latter obviously raise the question of status, the different roles of individuals in these societies and therefore their identity. Today, it seems unthinkable to approach these issues without taking into account the question of gender in archaeology, and gender issues cannot overlook questions of hierarchy and status. Thus, deciphering ostentatious mechanisms requires a gendered interpretation of data, which brings to light very specific rhythms of the emergence of the feminine sphere on a European scale. These rhythms extend far beyond the European world but similar dynamics are found in in the Mediterranean world (from the Argaric world, through Etruria, to the heart of the Minoan world).

Comparisons with European protohistoric societies constitute an original research path, which highlights the role played by necropolises and sanctuaries, but also by the behaviour of individuals, in the construction of human communities in archaic Greece.

2. Politics and heritage

The need to take into account the political, epistemological and historiographical dimensions of archaeology has been an emerging theme over the past years, and will become increasingly important in the coming years. Archaeological heritage is currently subject to commercial pressures while public authorities retain a certain detachment, yet, at the same time, in France and throughout the world, its importance in terms of identity and its economic implications is increasing. It should be recalled here that the Faro Convention (2005) advocates a broader view of heritage and its relationship with communities and society, encouraging the realisation that the importance of cultural heritage lies less in objects and places than in the meanings and uses that people attach to them and the values they represent.

The four research areas that emerge in this theme are:

– The relevance of the historiography of the discipline for its present and future at both national and European levels. No science can be detached from its historical context. The return of climatic explanations, for example, after two ‘postmodern’ decades is connected to the upsurge ecological anxieties.

– The application of an archaeological approach to the contemporary past (twentieth century). This takes into account wars, disasters, artistic creation, the environment through the artificialisation of the landscape, urban centres through the densification of housing and the disappearance of recent urbanism (where working-class neighbourhoods are the most affected) and certain industrial structures. Insofar as archaeology can be defined as the study of human societies through their material remains, there is no chronological limit to its approaches, as the archaeology of rubbish bins shows. For this reason, archaeology has been directly involved in the analysis of contemporary mass graves, both to identify the victims and to judge the culprits. The recent interest of artists in archaeology is also a reflection on the future of our societies and on the collapse of those of the past, and has led to tangible collaborations with our research unit. More specifically, as part of the laboratory’s involvement in the European alliance UNA Europa, in which cultural heritage is one of the central themes, we will focus on university archaeological heritage (PHOENIX project). Finally, the setting up of Lucanian heritage on a global scale is also part of the project on ancient Lucania.

– The opportunities and limits of cultural mediation and public archaeology. Preventive archaeology has only been able to develop thanks to growing public interest in the past, at a time of profuse questioning, if not anxiety, about the future. It is therefore one of archaeologists’ duties to disseminate and make accessible, not only the results of their research, but also the historical reflections to which they may lead. But this interest is double-edged, in that it can be manipulated for nationalistic and populist purposes. Archaeologists and historians therefore have a heavy responsibility with regard to the uses their work is put to. Researchers in our unit are aware of this and continually endeavour to make such questions explicit (development of CSTI). From this point of view, a reflection will be carried out on the notion of “sustainable archaeology“, which is emerging in the Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian world, but also in Spain and Italy. It aims to shift the focus of attention from cultural goods to people, their relationship to cultural heritage and the environment, by making heritage enhancement an issue in archaeological research (notably through the Pietragalla site).

– The local and global legislative and management issues of archaeological heritage. In addition to questions concerning digital humanities, the unit’s researchers participate in several brainstorming networks on the organisation and regulations of preventive archaeology, notably within the framework of the European Association of Archaeologists (EAA), the World Archaeological Congress (WAC) or ICAHM-ICOMOS (UNESCO). Despite several international conventions, the rate of erosion of archaeological heritage is still accelerating, while legislation is sometimes lagging behind, if not regressing.

This last research theme covers two distinct but closely related areas. The first, “Socio-cultural trajectories”, focuses on questions of dynamics and societal changes over the long term, the approach to which is renewed by the cross-scalar processing of new databases. The second, “Policies and Heritage”, deals with emerging issues around the evolution of the discipline (legislation, scope, heritage).