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Archaeology and Performance. Papers from the 2002 TAG Conference, Manchester

Alessandra Lopez y Royo

In 2002 I curated a session on archaeology and performance at the Theoretical Archaeology Group (TAG) conference which took place at the School of Art History and Archaeology, University of Manchester, UK, from 21st to 23rd December. Robyn Gillam, Marcus Brittain, Fiona Campbell, Jonna Hansson, Mike Pearson and myself presented papers on various aspects of what we perceived to be the relationship between these two disciplines. Julian Thomas was our discussant.

The idea of making the papers available online came some months after the conference. Fiona and Jonna were heavily committed to their Contemporary Archaeology project and could not contribute their paper, nor could Mike Pearson, but the other presenters were able to do so. I felt, at that point, that it would be important to include performance researchers not previously involved with archaeology but interested in participating in this ongoing dialogue. Therefore I asked both Anna Pakes, a dance scholar, and Susan Melrose, known for her work on theatre and more generally, performance, to write, offering their reflections and critique of the encounter of archaeology and performance. Anna Pakes did so through examining the work of British choreographer Rosemary Butcher, who had been inspired by archaeology in making The Site (1983), thus offering one of the first interventions in this ongoing interdisciplinary debate.

What we most enjoyed at TAG was the lively discussion that followed the presentations, stimulated by Julian Thomas’ comments as discussant and therefore I asked Julian to act once again as a ‘discussant’ and contribute his commentary (taking into account the new interventions), a kind of post-script.

These papers are not about the archaeology of performance, an emerging disciplinary concern which others are in the process of exploring and which purports to study performance (as spectacle and as ritual ) in the past, through the archaeological record (Coben and Inomata 2004, Sanchez 2002).

We are not attempting to make any claim to leading a new academic agenda – a ‘new’ discipline - and are not setting out to establish what is and what is not acceptable. The views articulated by all the contributors, including the discussant/commentator Thomas, are heterogeneous. Their very heterogeneity represents a moment of critique. The papers do not offer essentialised definitions, do not try to put boundaries in place nor, conversely, do specifically set out to blur them, though this may be one of the outcomes.

The earlier Archaeology and Performance website, which I first created in spring 2002, now part of this website (click on Old Archaeology-Performance in the side menu), opens the discussion with a tentative question: can one study performance archaeologically? The question is not about asking whether we can study past performances, though it does not rule out an interest in performances in the past or of the past. What is being asked is whether archaeology can provide performers with another way of thinking about their bodily praxis. The question can be reversed: can one/does one view archaeology as a performative practice? Or, to put it another way, what can one learn from performance that can enrich archaeological praxis? What can one learn from archaeology that can enrich performance praxis? These are the questions which underpin these essays, bringing together archaeologists and performers (including in this category dancers and choreographers) and asks them to reflect on what archaeology is to perfomance and performance is to archaeology.

The convergence of Pearson and Shank’s Theatre/Archaeology (2001) has resulted in a disciplinary hybridisation, “joint endeavours for which, as yet, we barely have names” (Pearson and Shanks 2001, 132). Rather than being alarmed by it, I would like to view such an hybridity positively and I would like to ask whether there is any way we can begin to explore, critically, the possibilities this opens up, even if it means questioning cherished values and positions. Whatever transdisciplinary dialogue Pearson and Shanks began through their joint effort, it has slowly been engendering a shift in perception, with far reaching transformations in both archaeological and performance praxis, involving whole communities in the process of actively managing their past. By acknowledging contradictions and rough edges and refusing to be locked into polarised positions we can move on and continue this dialogue and perhaps we might catch ourselves digging performance and performing archaeology more often than we first thought possible.

Note: the TAG 2002 conference papers, together with the additional papers written by Pakes and Melrose are attached here as .pdf files. A number of these papers refer to an article by Ian Hodder which can be accessed if you click on Old Archaeology-Performance and then click on site, followed by ritual.


Coben, L. and Inomata, T. (forthcoming) Theatres of Power and Community: Archaeology of Performance and Politics

Sanchez, J. (2002) “Creating an Archaeology of Performance” Old Archaeology-Performance , 17/3/04

Pearson, M. and Shanks, M. (2001) Theatre/Archaeology Routledge: London and New York

gillam .pdf

Lopez .pdf

pakes .pdf

thomas .pdf



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