The Means of Knowledge Production: Towards an Economy of Expertise in Archaeology
Early archaeologists, especially those working in the Near East, have always relied heavily on the skills and knowledge of locally-hired laborers. Even in the present, projects in Egypt and Iraq continue to employ the descendants of the highly capable, insightful, and often innovative men and women employed by archaeological expeditions in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Still, despite their importance for the success of archaeological projects, locally-hired laborers have almost never contributed to the documentation of archaeological sites. In fact, they are rarely even identifiable by name in publications and archives, leaving in question the precise ways in which archaeological excavation has relied on their abilities and information. Ethnography and oral history can help to uncover the contours and contributions of local expertise, but as with any act of uncovering, we may find things we do not anticipate—in particular, the ways in which labor management practices in Near Eastern archaeology have worked to reward local communities for hiding, rather than sharing, their knowledge about archaeological remains. In this seminar, Mickel argues that rethinking how we recruit, pay, and direct workers on archaeological projects will be essential to engaging communities, exchanging expertise, and ultimately learning more about the past.
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