Making Historical Archaeology Postcolonial
Historical Archaeology and the Study of Colonialism
• What can archaeology
contribute to historical
• How can we study the
past while keeping in
mind that we cannot
judge the actions of
historical peoples based
on our own values and
Back to definitions of historical archaeology
Evidence of encounters: a
study of the spread of
European societies
worldwide beginning in
the 15th century &
impacts on native
Notion of product of
European expansion;
changes brought about
through the “Columbian
James Deetz
Advocated comparative, international perspective, e.g.,
English in Chesapeake vs. English in South Africa
Notion of rehearsals
Distinction between impact & contact
Historical archaeology deals with the unintended,
subconscious, the ‘world-view’ or ‘mindset’
Documents & material culture are unintentionally
Interested in issues of scale
General Themes
Impetus for global expansion/reason for colonization
Types or styles of colonialism
Notion of rehearsals
Characteristics of early colonies/sites
fortification & defense
material culture
Impact on indigenous populations & two-way process of
Kathleen Deagan
University of Florida
Identified food as something archaeologists can learn about (with help
from biological sciences)
Claims that archaeology is democratic, eliminating the bias of written
records, (although the archaeological record, too, is biased)
Unique contribution of historical archaeology:
 understanding colonization, impacts, results
 understanding the physical world of the past
 understanding of health & nutrition
 documentation of disenfranchised groups & illegal or illicit behaviour
(domination & resistance, smuggling, etc.)
How should we interpret evidence of colonialism?
Colonial Encounters?
Gil Stein argues that we should jettison the terms
‘colonialism’ and colonial studies as they carry too
many implied meanings about specific power relations
among interacting groups.
He suggests we should instead use the less loaded
term ‘colonial encounters’
The Archaeology of Colonial Encounters (1995)
An archaeology of comparative colonialism?
We need to think of the
early modern world as a
vast scene of interaction,
not merely a stage for the
transference of Old World
cultures to a New World
We need to realize that
what occurred was a
sudden & harsh
encounter between
several Old Worlds that
transformed integrated
them into a single New
Models of Colonialism
Based on a general
sequence of seafaring,
conquering, planting
Cultural geographers and
others propose that there are
stages as well as styles of
Martin Frobisher’s
first voyage, 1576
Stages of Colonization (1-3)
• Exploration
– reconnaissance, search for basic information,
discovery of possibilities
• Gathering
– Exploitation of obvious coastal resources, such as
fish, ship timbers, salt, by extension of routine
• Barter
– Commercial opportunism, trade with local populations
for exotic goods, testing for further development
Stages of Colonization (4-6)
• Plunder
– Brigandage, military opportunism, forays into the
interior, seizing whatever may have value to
European markets
• Outpost
– Fixing of a point of commercial exchange;
commitment to oversears investment & assignment of
personnel to overseas residence
• Imperial imposition
– Assertion of formal claim & power over territories;
assignment of a governor, soldiers, missionaries, and
other agents of European state & society
Stages of Colonization (5-6)
– Transfer of Europeans as permanent settlers and
initiation of self-sustaining economy
Imperial colony
– Logical development from imperial imposition and
implantation; involves the transfer of the full
complex of institutions, a selected transplant of
European culture tending toward expansion and
divergence from the home county
Postcolonial studies
Edward Said 1978 Orientalism
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak 1985 Subaltern Studies
Homi Bhahba 1994 The Location of Culture
Dipesh Chakrabarty 1992 Postcoloniality and the Artifice of
Peter Pels
Leiden University
‘Think of colonialism in three ways: as the
universal, evolutionary process of modernization;
as a particular strategy or experiment in
domination and exploitation; and as the unfinished
business of struggle and negation’
(Pels 1997:164) Annual Review of Anthropology 26
Chris Gosden
University of Oxford
‘ Colonialism is a particular grip that material
culture gets on the bodies and minds of
people, moving them across space and
attracting them to new values...’
(Gosden 2004: 3) Archaeology and Colonialism
Stephen Silliman
University of Massachusetts, Boston
‘Colonialism in the modern world, although
sharing elements with other colonial times,
operated on ‘fixed orders of racial and cultural
difference’ and resulted from the trajectories of
geographic expansion, mercantilism, and
(Silliman 2005:58) American Antiquity 70
Sarah "Saartjie" Baartman (?1790 – 1815)
Sarah Baartman was a slave of
Dutch farmers near Cape Town.
The Governor General of the
Cape, Lord Caledon, gave
permission for her to be
transported to England for
exhibition. She left for London
in 1810, and died in Paris in
Mixed marriages in colonial Mexico
The Roman Catholic Church went to great lengths to categorize
intermixed races for marital and baptism purposes
‘People Show’ 1928
Re-Thinking Colonial Relations
Silliman stresses the need to explore labour relations between
coloniser and colonised in Spanish and Mexican California
Labour practices were used to exploit natives on the ranchos –
large tracts of land used for cattle raising
Native Californians integrated into the ranches through five
procedures: ‘legislation, indebtedness capture by force, military
alliance, and social incorporation’ (Silliman 2008:35)
Old Lamboo Cattle Station, Kimberley, Australia
In 19th century Aboriginals moves there for a variety of reasons:
•Preference for European goods
•A desire to live in proximity to Europeans for protection from other
•To live near kinsmen
•For the economic ability to trade European goods with peoples in the Bush
BUT – ‘they kept the station at the station and the bush in the bush’
separating colonial landscape from their native landscape.
While working at station they wore European style clothing – but when they
left for the bush they turned in their uniforms and embraced a ‘bush
Rodney Harrison 2004
The archaeology of colonial encounters:
some emerging themes
• The problematic nature of the term “colonization” and its
intellectual baggage
we need more non-Western and pre-capitalist examples…and need
to look at colonies, indigenous host communities, and homelands
• The myth of the colonizer-colonized dichotomy
complex interactions are usually oversimplified giving colonisers
Comparisons with the Classical World and European
expansion post 1500 are problematic
other types of interactions existed
The archaeology of colonial encounters:
some emerging themes
• Colonial Encounters engender the development of new
forms of cultural identity
hydridization is a dynamic process through which new identities are
• Variation in the “colonial programmes” of colonizing
depends on homeland ideologies, but also on what results from
negotiated outcome of interactions with indigenous peoples
• The need to focus on variation in modes of interaction,
rather than on colonial ‘types’
not just a matter of pigeon-holing – which flattens out interpretation
The archaeology of colonial encounters:
some emerging themes
• The non-universality of world-systems theory.
it can be mechanistic, reductionist, and deny local agency
• Colonial interactions change over time
life is never static
The importance of local agency
rejecting the determining role of colonisers and colonialism allows
indigenous peoples to come into view

ARC000321 Lecture 2 Making Archaeology Postcolonial