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The end of the essential archaeological subject

  • Adam T. Smith


Archaeological investigations of identity have successfully challenged traditional accounts of archaeological subjects by splintering social worlds along axes of gender, ethnicity and class. However, in so doing, they have quietly reinscribed an essential archaeological subject as a locus of analysis and as a foundation for contemporary political action. In analytical terms, the crystallization of a limited configuration of social difference constructs archaeological analyses of identity as a tautology in which contemporary configurations are read as universal and enduring rather than as immediate constructions within specific social worlds. In political terms, the tension between a cosmopolitan drive to combat the appropriation of a global human heritage by nationalist interests and an advocative archaeology dedicated to providing subaltern groups with a privileged claim to a sectional past leaves the discipline in an untenable position. The end of the essential archaeological subject requires a closer analytical focus upon the sociopolitical constitution of subjectivity and a stronger resolve to resist all claims to privilege in the present founded upon archaeological pasts. The implications of this move are sketched in relation to the kingdom of Urartu, which ruled the highlands of eastern Anatolia and southern Caucasia during the early 1st millennium B.C.



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The end of the essential archaeological subject

  • Adam T. Smith


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