Legacies of Space and Intangible Heritage: Archaeology, Ethnohistory, and the Politics of Cultural Continuity in the Americas

Legacies of Space and Intangible Heritage: Archaeology, Ethnohistory, and the Politics of Cultural Continuity in the Americas

by Fernando Armstrong-Fumero, Julio Hoil Gutierrez

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Legacies of Space and Intangible Heritage is an interdisciplinary exploration of the intersections between the study and management of physical sites and the reproduction of intangible cultural legacies. The volume provides nine case studies that explore different ways in which place is mediated by social, political, and ecological processes that have deep historical roots and that continue to affect the politics of heritage management.

Spaces of human habitation are both historical records of the past and key elements in reproducing the knowledge and values that define lives in the present. Practices, knowledge, and skills that communities recognize as part of their culture—and that a range of legal statutes define as protected intangible heritages—are threatened by increased migration, the displacement of indigenous peoples, and limits on access to culturally or historically significant sites. This volume addresses how different physical environments contribute to the reproduction of cultural forms even in the wake of these processes of displacement and change. Case studies from North and South America reveal a pattern of abandonment and reestablishment of settlements and show how collective memory drives people back to culturally meaningful sites.

This tendency for communities to return to the sites that shaped their collective histories, along with the growing importance granted to intangible heritage, challenges archaeologists and other heritage workers to find new ways of incorporating the cultural legacies that link societies to place into the work of research and stewardship. By examining the politics of cultural continuity through the lenses of archaeology and ethnohistory, Legacies of Space and Intangible Heritage demonstrates this complex relationship between a people’s heritage and the landscape that affects the making of "place."

Contributors: Rani Alexander, Hannah Becker, Minette Church, Bonnie Clark, Chip Colwell, Winifred Creamer, Emiliana Cruz, T. J. Ferguson, Julio Hoil Gutierrez, Jonathan Haas, Saul Hedquist, Maren Hopkins, Stuart B. Koyiyumptewa, Christine Kray, Henry Marcelo Castillo, Anna Roosevelt, Jason Yaeger, Keiko Yoneda

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781607325727
Publisher: University Press of Colorado
Publication date: 03/01/2017
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 258
File size: 11 MB
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About the Author

Fernando Armstrong-Fumero is an associate professor of anthropology at Smith College. He has conducted research in Maya-speaking communities in Yucatan, Mexico, since 1997.

Julio Hoil Gutierrez, CIESAS Peninsular is a historian with a broad range of experience conducting archaeological, ethnographic, and documentary research and a prize-winning author of Yukatek (Yucatec) Maya literature.

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Legacies of Space and Intangible Heritage

Archaeology, Ethnohistory, and the Politics of Cultural Continuity in the Americas

By Fernando Armstrong-Fumero, Julio Hoil Gutierrez

University Press of Colorado

Copyright © 2017 University Press of Colorado
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60732-571-0



Fernando Armstrong-Fumero and Julio Hoil Gutierrez

Whether on the scale of a household, of a community, or of a much larger regional environment, spaces of human habitation are both historical records of our past and a key element in reproducing the knowledge and values that define our lives in the present. This process of cultural reproduction can be endangered when migration, displacement, or changes in property regimes limit communities' access to sites where they have important historical connections. Around the world, formal legal statutes, grassroots organizations, and local acts of resistance can play different roles in reasserting these connections between people and place. Accordingly, the claims that contemporary stakeholders make on archaeological sites and related landscape features extend beyond the simple desire for conservation or site preservation and include the rights to visit, inhabit, and even alter the physical composition of these spaces.

The essays in this volume are an interdisciplinary exploration of these intersections between the study and management of physical sites and the reproduction of intangible cultural legacies. Some chapters focus on more abstract theoretical insights into societies' relationship to different places and how this relationship figures in the reproduction of cultural continuities amidst processes of social change. Other essays turn to more pragmatic ways in which these insights figure in contemporary negotiations through which different groups seek greater access or control over culturally significant sites and landscapes. As a group, they are meant to provide a comparative body of case studies that explore the different ways in which place is mediated by social, political, and ecological processes that have deep historical roots and that continue to effect the politics of heritage management today.

The close relationship between physical space and more ephemeral manifestations of culture and social organization are a common thread joining diverse currents of anthropological and archaeological research. Since the rise of New Archaeology in the 1960s and 1970s, archaeological research has focused on reconstructing long-term patterns of culture and social structure. Working "up" from the material traces of human behavior, the processualists and their various intellectual successors and competitors have been keenly attuned to the intimate and dynamic relationship between the materiality of space and the more intangible dimensions of human behavior and experience. In cultural and linguistic anthropology, a number of theoretical currencies that focus on the intersections of space and culture gained prominence in the 1990s and 2000s. These range from studies of the spatialization of collective memory that were inspired by the work of Pierre Norá (1989), to linguistic analyses of the intimate relationship between patterns of reference and the social organization of space (Hanks 1990), to studies of environment that focus on the intimate ties between evolving ecosystems and patterns of settlement and subsistence (Ford and Nigh 2015; Gordillo 2004; Wright 2014).

Many of the theoretical currencies that we listed above figure in the essays in this volume. But the case studies presented here are also joined by an overarching concern for stakeholders' access to culturally significant spaces. "Accessibility" becomes a question of crossing boundaries that are defined by regimes of private property, heritage legislation, and the eminent domain of modern nation-states. In this regard, these essays touch upon questions of spatial justice that figure in the tradition of cultural geography associated with Henri Lefebvre (1992), and later Anglophone authors such as David Harvey (1996) and Edward Soja (2011). These authors adapted the dialectical analysis of Western Marxism to explore the dynamic historical relationship between space and the social organization of human labor. Space was never simply an inert material template on which human social processes were enacted but was also a product of and agent in the processes of human history. Thus, landscapes were both a record of previous human interactions with the material world and an ontic component of ongoing processes through which society recreates itself. This dynamic relationship between the social and the spatial had important ramifications for the questions of social justice that were at the heart of this critical human geography. Full enjoyment of what it means to be in the world hinges on the equitable distribution of access to and stewardship over the spaces that define our historical experience.

As the essays in this volume show, these questions of accessibility and stewardship are becoming a guiding political and ethical concern for archaeologists and other scholars studying heritage sites and landscapes. Increasingly, international policy instruments and national legal reforms are granting recognition to the rights that diverse human communities have to preserve and publicly perform elements of their cultural heritage. However, when it comes to the role of designated heritage sites in promoting cultural continuities, researchers, stakeholders, and activists often face a series of legal and political tensions (Aikawa-Faure 2003; Gilman 2010).

Many of these tensions emerge from the fact that different legal principles tend to crosscut the concatenation of material, social, and cultural processes that constitute the heritage of different groups. That is, the formal regimes of property and political jurisdiction that govern the management of heritage rarely account for the intimate relationship between physical space and more intangible forms of heritage that shape the lives of diverse stakeholders. These tensions become particularly evident when scholars and activists try to reconcile statutes for the physical management with a contemporary tendency to view the preservation of intangible heritage as a human right. While the former tend to be deeply rooted in state-sanctioned regimes of land tenure and eminent domain, the latter have a more recent origin in a body of international policy instruments. For our purposes here, it is worth turning to UNESCO's influential 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. It defines "intangible cultural heritage" as "... the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills — as well as the instruments, objects, artifacts and cultural spaces associated therewith — that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage. This intangible cultural heritage, transmitted from generation to generation, is constantly recreated by communities and groups in response to their environment, their interaction with nature and their history, and provides them with a sense of identity and continuity, thus promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity."

Most scholars and heritage professionals recognize that physical access to culturally important places is an essential mechanism for reproducing this sort of heritage. However, turning this recognition into a generalized practice for heritage stewardship can be more complicated. Culturally significant access to a site or landscape can be something as simple as visiting places that evoke different elements of collective memory. In this case, the practices to which stakeholders can claim an inalienable right are not materially different from those engaged in by tourists and other casual visitors. But culturally significant access can also involve transformations of space that range from the practice of traditional agriculture to recycling the architectural remains of previous occupations. While visits to sites that are materially similar to those of tourists are easy to reconcile with the operation of legally protected heritage sites, these latter forms of interaction challenge forms of stewardship that stress the in situ preservation of structures and artifacts with minimal alteration by contemporary human activity.

What emerges from the diverse case studies that we highlight in this volume is that different political and historical contexts provide very different outcomes when it comes to stakeholder communities' interaction with the places that figure in the reproduction of their identity and customs. For example, when compared to most indigenous groups in Latin America, Native American tribes in the United States have a long history of nominal legal recognition of their sovereignty in the management of tribal properties, notwithstanding pervasive impingements by nontribal federal and state governments (Wilkins and Kiiwetinepinesiik Stark 2010). This legacy is evident in a number of legal and political victories that allow tribal stakeholders to control elements of tangible heritage in ways that have few precedents in Latin America. For example, the application of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act has led to the repatriation of human remains and accompanying artifacts to native communities, who, in some cases, bury or otherwise steward these materials in ways that preclude future study by academic institutions. In this case, the protection of indigenous ceremonial practices and notions of the sacred can trump the preservationist mandate of secular heritage institutions. Likewise, as in the case discussed in this volume by Maren P. Hopkins et al. in chapter 3, sacred sites that meet the criteria of tangible cultural heritage remain under the jurisdiction of tribal political entities or are granted special status that limits their use by public or private development.

This poses a sharp contrast to most parts of Latin America. Few indigenous ethnic groups in Latin America have as long a history of formally recognized political and territorial jurisdiction as do tribes currently located within the United States. In most of these countries, the protection of heritage sites ranging from pre-Hispanic ruins to colonial churches is treated as an eminent domain of federal agencies whose authority usually trumps that of local groups who seek greater access to or control over sites. Cases in which federal heritage agencies in Latin America have tried to make archaeological sites accessible to descendant communities underscore the precedence of state-sanctioned heritage practice over local forms of intangible heritage. In the early 2000s, for example, Guatemalan heritage authorities made a concession to pan-Maya cultural activists by creating spaces in which rituals could be performed in the ancestral ruins of Iximché. But these activities are restricted to specially designated areas that were built with this purpose in mind by state heritage institutions on the periphery of sites, and required forms of official licensing that many traditional ritualists found to be too restrictive (Frühsorge 2007).

Seen within a larger temporal context, the state-managed formalization of indigenous ritual at Iximché highlights a fundamental tension between the legal protection of tangible heritage and the historical formation of intangible heritage. In pre-Hispanic times, ritualism at Maya sites involved continuous construction activity through which earlier structures were eventually dismantled or covered by newer ones. Colonial churches that figure in the syncretic religion of modern Maya people were likewise often built on or with the ruins of pre-Hispanic structures, and other forms of architectural recycling are fundamental to patterns of landscape use that have largely defined Mayan peoples' relationship to their territory. These intimate links between the reproduction of cultural heritage and the material transformation of space are ultimately irreconcilable with attempts to compromise between tangible and intangible heritage that segregate the materiality of space from a presumably "immaterial" living culture.

Developing alternative approaches poses both a pragmatic challenge for heritage professionals and stakeholders and a more general conceptual problem for theorizing culture and heritage. Are there separate substances that exist in physical objects and human practices that justify their being treated as qualitatively different forms of "heritage"? Or, following authors such as Bruno Latour (2004), can we think of heritage as a political terrain constituted through a more dynamic interplay of human and nonhuman actors? There may be no single answer to these questions that applies to all cases in which the reproduction of living cultural legacies comes into conflict with the physical preservation of sites and artifacts. But a closer examination of the different kinds of relationships between human beings, objects, and the reproduction of cultural legacies is useful in thinking through this complex theoretical and ethicopolitical terrain. This sort of comparative analysis is the ultimate goal of the diverse case studies presented here.


The case studies presented in this volume are not only a diverse sample of distinct regional experiences, but also reflect a range of different temporal and geographical scales on which societies' relationship to territories and landscapes unfold. Although a number of possible arrangements of the case studies were possible, we have chosen to present the chapters under four rubrics that illustrate different moments in the complex relationship between local communities, spatialized identities, and state-sanctioned regimes for the management of property and cultural heritage. Chapters 2 and 3 explore the state of the question, with two case studies of present-day negotiations between state-sanctioned heritage institutions and communities that seek to exercise more control over sites that figured in migrations that shaped their livelihood and cultural heritage. Chapters 4 and 5 explore the roots of displacement, focusing on the immediate aftermath of the historical traumas that distance communities from the places that define their collective identity and experience. Tracing different processes of continuity and adaptation, chapters 6 through 8 examine how marginalized peoples have adopted different legal frameworks, notions of territoriality, and elements of culture that have been imposed on them from above as a means of reproducing their own control and perspective on space. And finally, a pair of chapters that we characterize as expanding the boundaries of heritage look to models of stakeholdership that expand the temporal and spatial scale of territorial identities far beyond the intimate environs and local histories of closely bounded communities.

We open with two chapters that highlight how distinct historical, political, and legal contexts shape the encounter between state-sanctioned regimes of heritage management and descendant communities' relationships to ancestral landscapes. Based on examples from Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula and the southwestern United States, chapters 2 and 3 focus on two different indigenous communities that seek to preserve livelihoods and identities that have been affected by histories of migration and displacement. However, the distinct legal contexts of indigenous politics and heritage management in the United States and Mexico yield very different outcomes to the communities' attempts to establish claims on culturally significant territories and practices.

In chapter 2, we document how governmental institutions that seek to preserve archaeological sites and artifacts find themselves at odds with the practices through which local communities have used the same sites and objects. Yucatec Maya-speaking subsistence cultivators today share a knowledge of the regional landscape that includes thousands of named sites, the locations and features of which have been transmitted orally during hundreds of years of ecologically and politically motivated migrations. This process of cultural transmission is intimately tied to the physical labor of agriculture, which includes activities that federal heritage authorities consider to be a threat to the survival of archaeological sites. In the specific examples that we highlight, Yucatec Maya communities have relatively few formal mechanisms with which to advance claims that can successfully contest the preservationist mandate of federal heritage institutions.

In the case of the Hopi Tribe, which is discussed in chapter 3 by Hopkins et al., there is a more congenial relationship between the intangible heritage of living tribal members and the work of federal authorities. Working with archaeologists, members of the Hopi Tribe have enjoyed a number of key successes in securing protected status for sites outside of tribal lands, whose cultural role is documented in oral histories and ritual activities. In the Yucatec Maya case, the state's mandate to preserve antiquities with minimal alteration is understood to trump territorial claims made in the name of more localized identity groups. In the Hopi case, federal intervention for the preservation of sacred sites becomes a viable means of reproducing the collective identities and value systems that Hopi people associate with their historical landscape.


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Table of Contents

Contents List of Figures List of Tables Chapter 1. Introduction / Fernando Armstrong-Fumero and Julio Hoil Gutierrez Chapter 2. Settlement Patterns, Intangible Memory, and the Institutional Entanglements of Heritage in Modern Yucatán / Fernando Armstrong-Fumero and Julio Hoil Gutierrez Chapter 3. Hopisinmuy Wu’ya’mat Hisat Yang Tupqa’va Yeesiwngwu (Hopi Ancestors Lived in These Canyons) / Maren P. Hopkins, Stuart B. Koyiyumptewa, Saul L. Hedquist, T. J. Ferguson, and Chip Colwell Chapter 4. Designs on/of the Land: Competing Visions, Displacement, and Landscape Memory in British Colonial Honduras / Christine Kray, Minette Church, and Jason Yaeger Chapter 5. Cultivating Community: The Archaeology of Japanese American Confinement at Amache / Bonnie Clark Chapter 6. Indigenous House Plans and Land in Mexico City (Sixteenth Century): Reflections on the Buying and Selling, Inheritance, and Conflicts Surrounding Houses and Land / Keiko Yoneda (translated by Hannah Becker) Chapter 7. The Archaeology of Place in Ebtún, Yucatán, Mexico / Rani T. Alexander Chapter 8. Names, Naming, and Person Reference in Quiahije Chatino / Emiliana Cruz Chapter 9. A Culturescape Built over 5,000 Years, Archaeology, and Vichama Raymi in the Forge of History / Winifred Creamer, Jonathan Haas, and Henry Marcelo Castillo Chapter 10. Interpreting Long-Term Human-Environment Interaction in Amazonia / Anna C. Roosevelt Contributors Index

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