Workshop ‘Can science accommodate multiple ontologies? The genetics revolution and archaeological theory’

11-12 June 2018McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research

Organisers: Dr Alexandra Ion (Marie Skłodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Fellow), and Dr Darryl Wilkinson (Leverhulme Early Career Fellow)

NEW: Programme & abstracts are out! Please see here.

The aim of the workshop is to critically discuss the latest key methodological trends in archaeological research, which have had a major impact on the way in which archaeology frames its relation to the past, namely the “genetic revolution”. By starting from the very practical problems—the challenges raised by combining datasets generated inside different kinds of disciplines—the goal is to reflect on the limitations of current interpretative models. The implications of the event go beyond the academy. As Richard III, or the recent Cheddar Man case reveal, hybrid genetic and archaeological narratives have an important impact (accelerated by social and digital media), and draw much interest from the media and the public. In a desire to ” put a face ” onto the past, there is an inevitable impulse to interpret DNA in light of contemporary and highly contentious concerns. What then are our ethical obligations, as archaeologists, given the wider (and always partially uncontrollable) uses to which our research might be put?

In the last decade we seem to witness results coming from DNA or stable isotope analysis, alongside a focus on statistical models and quantification, all of which Kristian Kristiansen labeled in 2014 as the “Third Science Revolution” in archaeology. In particular, the aDNA results seem to reshape the way we are approaching key traditional themes in archaeology: migrations, the Neolithic Revolution, identity and kinship, or even race. The implications are twofold: methodological, and theoretical. . Our premise is that this new trend raises an important epistemic challenge, prompting us to reconsider our units of analysis: what is evidence, culture, agency, change? How are we to navigate between scales of analysis, from big data to site specific narratives? From genes to embodied beings? We take this to be the greatest contemporary challenge that marks our discipline, and thus aim to discuss it for the first time in a dedicated archaeological conference. Ultimately, by taking a critical approach towards the way in which evidence is understood in these interdisciplinary projects, it is our intention to evaluate the ways in which new datasets can shape archaeological interpretations. It is not a simple case of new data being able to better answer old questions, since that same data must change the very nature of the questions we seek to ask.

Thus, it is our goal to explore how the traditional concepts of ‘context’, ‘agency’, ‘materiality’, ‘historicity’ are changed in relation to the development of these new materialistic perspectives. To achieve the goals of the conference we aim to examine the theme from the point of view of different major academic traditions and disciplinary positions from throughout Europe, by bringing together archaeologists, scientific archaeologists, geneticists, and philosophers of science, relevant voices in the field who can add original and thought-provoking insights to this important debate.

Some of the themes we aim to discuss are: (1) are these multi-disciplinary datasets, especially those obtained through the ‘hard’ sciences integrated successfully with historical and cultural contexts? (2) In what ways does the new materialistic turn affect the framing of the discipline, and how do we now conceive of humans as agents of change? (3) This raises the question of how would a truly integrative narrative look like? In what ways do other disciplines (anthropology, genetics, biology, computer science) influence the kinds of questions we ask? (4) Scale of analysis: What are the problems of integrating big data, and quantitative methods at different scales in archaeological interpretation?

Event generously supported through the D M McDonald Grants & Awards Fund.

Registration is free, but required for attendees by 30 May. To register please do so here.

To read more about our previous work on the topic, see: How interdisciplinary is interdisciplinarity? Revisiting the impact of aDNA research for the archaeology of human remains (Current Swedish Archaeology 25).



Copyright cover image: <a href=’’>majcot / 123RF Stock Photo</a>