(January 12, 2016)—This Thursday night in Tucson, the 15th biennial Southwest Symposium opens. The Southwest Symposium has always been one of my favorite archaeological conferences, as archaeologists working in the Southwest United States and Northwest Mexico gather to discuss new research, new theories, and new ways of doing archaeology in organized paper and poster sessions over two days.
This year, I am helping to co-organize the event with Patrick Lyons (Director of the Arizona State Museum) and Kelley Hays-Gilpin (Chair of the Department of Anthropology at Northern Arizona University). We are organizing sessions around the theme of Engaged Archaeology, which, to us, is a practice of archaeology that crosses borders. It is an archaeology that engages with modern communities, including descendant communities and local stakeholders. It engages with other disciplines, as well, whether the other fields of anthropology like ethnography and linguistics, or the sciences. It is a way of doing archaeology that recognizes that people’s material remains are just the beginnings of our understanding, and that seeking new methods and different voices will help us understand the past better and heighten its relevancy.
More than 175 authors and co-authors will explore the history of the region, looking at the contributions of NAGPRA-related research, explorations of Athabaskan Identities beyond anthropology, the intersection of archaeology and ethnography, interdisciplinary approaches to Mesoamerican research, archaeology conducted with descendant and local communities, Mexican and American collaborations, and bioarchaeology. Among the presented posters will be a series by students from Archaeology Southwest’s 2015 field school reporting the results of their own community engagement projects in Gila and Mule Creek, New Mexico.
Because we want to engage, the Southwest Symposium is also conducting something of an experiment this year—we’ve organized a talk, open to the public in downtown Tucson at the Scottish Rite Temple (160 S. Scott Street) from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m., on Thursday, January 14. 2016 marks the 50th birthday of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), a law that has changed archaeology and historic preservation from something solely within the academic domain to the public. With this act, the federal government acknowledged its responsibility to protect America’s past places. It is a law that greatly expanded the amount of archaeological work conducted in advance of construction and development projects.
To celebrate this law, Lynne Sebastian, who describes herself as a “historic preservation enthusiast”—a term that fully recognizes her enthusiasm but doesn’t fully recognize her international authority as a leader in the field, has created the Making Archaeology Public Project. She has used her phenomenal powers of persuasion to encourage archaeologists in all 50 states to tell state-based stories on web-hosted videos about archaeological discoveries and insights that might never have been known without NHPA-required work.
This seemed like the perfect project to celebrate Engaged Archaeology, and we have invited Lynne Sebastian to host our event. This will be the second opportunity in the United States to see the first among these videos as they roll out over the next several months (The first was the Society for Historical Archaeology meetings in Washington, D.C., last week).
Every state archaeological council that joined the Making Archaeology Public project was asked to vet ideas within the archaeological and interested community to pick the most compelling stories resulting from NHPA projects. After exploring ideas at their 2014 conference in Phoenix, the Arizona Archaeological Council identified the story of the earliest farmers in the Southwest as one of national significance.
Archaeology Southwest is working with the Arizona Archaeological Council to create a video about how archaeology conducted under the Act simultaneously refined our understanding of ancient desert farmers even as it cleared the way for construction of the Interstate Highway System and the growth of southern Arizona communities. The astonishing yet systematic uncovering of villages, canals, and farming systems, some dating as far back as 3,500 years, is teaching us much about how communities formed and endured in this arid land.
Please join us on Thursday evening to see a preview of Arizona’s video, as well as those of a few other states. I hope to see you there!
This event will be held at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, January 14, 2016, at the Scottish Rite Temple in downtown Tucson, at 160 S. Scott Avenue and is open to the public. The Scottish Rite Temple has two parking lots immediately north and south of the building, with the south lot the larger. Please obey parking restrictions and do not use spaces 13, 40, or those with signs that say “Royal Elizabeth Bed and Breakfast.” Metered street parking is available within one to two blocks, and the venue is one block south of the Modern Street Car route.