Globalizing Archaeology

Later today, I’m going to give a little lecture in a political science class. The class is on Political Science 120: Global Perspectives. The instructor, one of my mentors and heroes on campus, asked me to talk about globalization and archaeology. There is no reason to expect the students to know much about archaeology. So the lecture needs to be kind of basic. At the same time, they likely already know more about globalization than I do. Needless to say, I’m pretty nervous! 

Apparently, the class has read the Melian Dialogue, so I thought that I’d begin with discussing the other reason that Melos is famous by talking about obsidian and, very briefly, Bronze Age trade. (I’m re-reading the introduction to Sarah Murray’s book even as I write this!).

I figured I would then talk about three main currents of thought that have influenced the notions of globalization in archaeology. (1) Immanuel Wallerstein’s World System’s Theory (hat tip to Nick Kardulias!), (2) Historical Archaeology and Charles Orser’s famous “haunts” of Colonialism, Eurocentrism, capitalism, and modernity, and (3) Fernand Braudel’s notion of the Mediterranean World (and modern contributions to that conversation) with special attention to regions and connectivity.

The idea is briefly to sketch out these concepts before moving into a series of three focused case studies. 

First, I figured I’d talk about how temporary workforce housing in the Bakken oil patch represents a kind of peripheral response to the flow of capital from the center and the flow of oil out of the region. At the same time, I’d also point out how certain aspects of the Bakken – blue tarp, shipping pallets, and ad hoc architecture – are manifestations of its peripheral location. More than that, tensions between the core and periphery shapes the movement of surplus populations either as refugees or as economic migrants. We can play with the idea that transnational capital has a tendency to erode the power of states (and their status as centers) while at the same time relying on dynamic surplus labor pool that thrives at a periphery defined in part by the rules of the center.

Second, I thought that I’d talk about my recent work at the site of Chelmis in the Western Argolid to discuss how various manifestations of modernization intersect with globalization in rural Greece. I will briefly look at the history of the site and its relationship to the state and global political and economic forces. I might not the appearance of both smithed and milled nails as well as the relative lack of material culture from the site’s earliest phases in comparison to the abundance of recent modern trash present. Both examples show the relationship of the site to larger regional and ultimately global consumer culture which at the same time marked the demise of the site as a place of regular habitation. 

Finally, I thought I’d try a somewhat more complicated example of how globalized thinking impacts archaeology at the site of Pyla-Koutsopetria on Cyprus. The site experiences a boom in the 5th-7th centuries that is both due to policies of the Roman state – namely the quaestura exercitus – and the dense network of interregional ties that constituted the Roman Mediterranean. These connections endured despite the challenges experience by the Roman state and by communities across the Mediterranean basin more generally. Recent scholarship has explored that the end of the Roman Warm Period (and the Holocene Climatic Optimum) destabilized the economic landscape of the Roman world and the Roman state. At the same time, the persistent connections between the Mediterranean Sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia introduced diseases to the Roman Mediterranean that Mediterranean society was both socially and biologically unprepared to resist. The collapse of the Roman population after the 6th century plague of Justinian and the disastrous consequences of the 7th century manifest itself both on the regional scale and the very local scale. At the same time, flickers of resilience remained indicating that global events and local life exist in a delicate dance the challenges simple ideas of understanding causality and agency across scale.     

I think I can do this in 30 minutes, but if I can’t I think I can cut the last case study a good bit and still demonstrate how globalization and global perspectives shape our view of the ancient world. 

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