Dulling Our Senses: Neoliberalism And The Archaeological Imagination

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Alicia Colson

Dulling Our Senses: Neoliberalism And The Archaeological Imagination

Tuesday, February 25, 2020 - 18:45

The pictograph sites are the largest man-made artworks of the Boreal Forest of the Canadian Shield, but occupy a timeless void in Canada’s Grand Narrative as the Great White North. The Narrative is a myth forged and still adhered to by archaeologists. Hardly surprising as Canada’s Nation State was forged at a time when its European settlers characterized the Forest as stark, unforgiving, remote, pristine and lacking civilization, something to be confronted and tamed by industrial activity, railroads, dams and bridges thrown across rivers and mountains at speed by fearless men using huge machines. Inconveniently indigenous peoples have shared this landscape since the Pleistocene with non-human persons, spirits, and animate objects in hunting and gathering, food preparation, consumption and discard, crafting and use of technology, settlement and household organization, caching, burial, and ritual. For these the paintings are not at all mute: their ‘Meaning’ and ‘Intent’ are different: an integral part of their lives. But as far as archaeologists are concerned they are the original Silent Witnesses – ‘Art’ – somewhere else, intellectually malleable. But despite Canada’s slide into its ‘multicultural’ stance this approach where the images are set in a timeless void persists. This despite the existence of a well-honed disciplinary-specific toolbox of theory and methods which can tackle this thorny issue. Even archaeologists’ caught up in the swirl of ‘post-processualism’ prevalent in the 1980s pointedly ignored them. But the Grand Narrative changes, new approaches beckon, different actors take control and indigenous peoples perhaps more attuned to the bankruptcy of neo-liberalism demand that the pictographs speak.

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