Acts of History: Ritual, Landscape,
and Historical Archaeology
in the U.S. Southwest and Northwest Mexico
Recent archaeological study has been transformed by practice oriented method and theory (e.g., behavior, practice, agency). Accompanying this transformation has been an expansion of variability recognized in patterns of deposits, artifacts, and architecture. In wake of a retreat from high-level theory, history has assumed an increasing explanatory role. The importance of the past as inscribed in monuments, memories, oral traditions and historical documents is fast becoming a center stage of archaeological interpretation. To explore these themes, the 10th Southwest Symposium will focus its sessions on studies of ritual, landscapes, and historical archaeology, and the intellectual and practical connections among them.
Practice oriented theory offers insights into the relationship between people and artifacts, and brings into focus new directions in material culture studies. Whether described as performance characteristics, the dimensions of practice, or the secondary agency of objects, the possible inferences concerning how people make, use, think about, and remember artifacts are razing walls between archaeology, ethnography, history and anthropology. This convergence is readily seen in the archaeology of prehistoric ritual and landscapes in the Southwest and elsewhere. It is also clear that historical archaeology and prehistoric archaeology are united by the material nature of action.
If we let practice theories guide our endeavors, then we can see that the world of objects (people, artifacts, architecture) is brimming with unanticipated relationships and conceptual renderings. The study of the ordering and meaning of ritual objects and deposits was once deemed impossible. The materiality of action has radically changed this. We no longer ask, can we identify ritual site formation processes? Instead we wonder how they may have resulted from past concepts of animacy, personhood, or the agency of pit houses, platform mounds, kivas, water jars, or Kayenta colanders.
The implications of practice for prehistoric landscapes in a world where the relationships between people and objects are as complex as are the records of past and present ritual. Spaces become places of action. They are constituted by acts and transformed by activity. Through time, successive interactions among people, place, and supernatural forces imbue landscapes with history. The history of action is, in fact, written in the landscape.
Finally, historical archaeology and prehistoric archaeology have been estranged for too long. Action oriented theory, particularly that which unifies ritual and landscape, past and present, makes apparent the centrality of historical relations between Southwestern people and objects and the punctuated and contingent changes this relationship has undergone.