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Value and significance in archaeology

  • Kathryn Lafrenz Samuels
Abstract

The concept of value increasingly fills archaeological debates. An examination of how value works within the diverse practices of archaeology (reconstructions of the past, heritage management and self-reflexive critique) provides an integrating factor to these debates. Through a genealogy of value in the management of material heritage, I highlight how ‘significance’ has been institutionalized from contingent forms, and the ‘the past’ rendered an object. Moreover, I follow the translation of these management procedures from the national to the global stage to highlight the emergence of economic significance in international heritage management. Providing an alternative approach to significance, the anthropological work of Weiner and Graeber locates value within practices that manage material heritage. These theories provocatively suggest that archaeological practice and heritage management are one and the same, both capable of producing value. This requires archaeologists to reconsider their discipline, and the contemporary contexts and situated ethical conditions of their work.

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Archaeological Dialogues
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