From Embodied Regulations to Hybrid Ontologies: Questioning Archaeological Bodies
Until very recently, and still most of the times, when archaeologists refer to the body, they almost always mean the human body. No other body is explicitly invoked in the various treatises that study ‘the body,’ although various bodies serve as Other for the human body to emerge as a matter of fact, out of our concern (Latour, 2005). Most importantly, the body, which means the human body, is almost always considered in relation to personhood, subjectivity or agency, that is to attributes peculiar to humanity, even if under certain circumstances they seem to be bestowed upon Others as well, but only as secondary traits, still emanating from the Other’s relation to humanity. This seems strange, given the fact that the body has served as the underside of humanity, a side that purportedly touches upon an essence that needs to be overcome. This very essence then is still peculiar to humans: it’s not only that we possess something higher than mere nature, but that our natural substrate is again idiosyncratic. The study of the human body in archaeology goes as far back as the discipline itself, as analysis from the
beginning focused especially, almost exclusively, on representations of the body, in stone, metal or clay, and on actual remains of bodies (Rautman and Talalay, 2000: 2). However, its thematization and consequent theorization took a long time to ﬁnd wide currency in the discipline (Joyce, 2005: 140). The body had not emerged as an explicit object of analysis, although a concern about e.g. the ideal body types in classical antiquity was always forefront in the research agenda. As with many other themes, the body (re)entered the theoretical arena of archaeology along with feminist issues and the discussion around gender identities. This resulted in an inextricable association among these subjects and the consequent focus on gendered bodies and especially female bodies (Crossland, 2010; Gilchrist, 1999; Hamilakis et al., 2002; Joyce, 2004). Notwithstanding this late objectiﬁcation, nowadays the body stands rather high in the research agenda of
the discipline. That said, it should be also stressed that the interest in the body is not invariably pursued along the various sub-ﬁelds. Depending on the disciplinary, or even wider, history of each sub-ﬁeld, questions about the body and the way the body has and is being approached vary considerably to the point that each sub-ﬁeld has grown along with its own bodies (much as various disciplines have grown with their own, see Mol, 2002). This means that although this chapter is purportedly about the body in archaeology,
there are many bodies as well as many archaeologies, sometimes not easy to reconcile with each other and this text can only present and account for a partial entry into the ﬁeld, unashamedly invoking simultaneously a unifying umbrella of sorts. Yet, it should be clear that this text is not a review of the ﬁeld (for which see Joyce, 2005) and its hegemonizing generalization is more of a call to consider some aspects of the issue at hand that seem important to the author. To begin answering questions like ‘what triggers our interest in the body?’, ‘how it becomes a matter of
concern?’, we certainly have to take into account the prominency of various discussions that explore the political aspects of bodies being held hostage, tormented, moved, exiled, given or denied citizen status, etc. (Agamben, 1998; Butler, 2004; Mbembe, 2003; Turner, 2008). Present issues certainly guide our questions for the past and the status of bodies in our life is no exception. Feminism, gender and queer studies continue to add to these discussions and gendered bodies are still a hotly debated issue in archaeology (Geller, 2009; Joyce, 2008a). However other aspects have come to be recognized as equally important and a growing number of archaeologists have started to foreground the inextricability of gender from other aspects of one’s identity (for an early call to consider this inextricability, see Meskell, 1999). Discussions on ethics and the way we should study and handle bodies have also increased in recent years,
again to a great extend emerging from contemporary issues (Meskell and Pels, 2005). The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) has just had its 20 years anniversary and there are still issues unresolved and contested (see Anthropology News vol. 53, issue 1, March 2010, and Meskell, 2009), while new cases of bodies of contested identity or which themselves contest identities (national, personal, moral, scientiﬁc or other) continue to emerge (Mitrovic´, 2008). What perhaps all these examples bring into view is a preoccupation with the materiality of the body, its
actual remains, a remainder, to use a diﬀerent terminology, that in a certain way has come back from a repressed place to haunt us. With a breadth that crosscuts various disciplines (sociology, anthropology, archaeology, philosophy), as a counteract to some notion of social constructionism that still left untouched the basic tenet of an intellectual (= cultural, social) superstructure upon a material (= natural) infrastructure, the physicality of the body is returning forcefully to the theoretical arena. It remains to be seen whether this resurgence of the material will successfully deal with all the issues that have been raised in the meantime in other disciplines (see e.g. Fausto-Sterling, 2000; Latour, 2005; Mol, 2002) and particularly whether this discussion will have any bearing upon the very ontological status of the body in archaeology, both as relic and as evidence (Crossland, 2009; Leighton, 2010). In this chapter, after a short excursus over some trends in the discipline during the last decade or so, I am going to touch upon some of these issues.