Institute of Archaeology


RAC/TRAC Session 35: The Body of the (Roman) Archaeologist

Details of the RAC/TRAC Conference session 'The Body of the (Roman) Archaeologist (or, against ‘Fast-Archaeology’).'

Conference Sessions and Abstracts - Friday 12 April 2024

35. The Body of the (Roman) Archaeologist (or, against ‘Fast-Archaeology’)

Mauro Puddu – Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia

Absent. Silenced. Or, if present, striking an artificial pose on a tidy archaeological site. The body of the archaeologist is often overlooked or presented in the popular press in a superficial manner, either completely static or highly cosmeticised. However, those who work daily on archaeological sites are aware of the physical labour required to prepare the site for study and documentation. This embellished portrayal creates a distorted image, a ‘fast-archaeology’ that neglects the vital aspects of physical and intellectual labour in archaeological research. Surveying, excavating, studying, and interpreting archaeological evidence are engaging yet demanding tasks that deserve recognition. Understanding the conditions under which the past is explored, shaped, interpreted, and politicised requires acknowledging the efforts involved.

This session aims to survey the presence and role of the archaeologist's body in Roman archaeology worldwide, spanning from Britain to the Mediterranean. It raises the following questions: Who contributes to data retrieval in Roman archaeology? What are the working conditions experienced by archaeologists on Roman-age sites? How is the body of archaeologists, especially women, considered and accounted for on these sites? Are the long-term effects of excavation on the archaeologists' bodies being studied?

By focussing on the archaeologist's body, this session emphasises the importance of both physical and intellectual labour at the heart of the relationship between archaeology and modern society. It promotes a sustainable and present-centred understanding of the materiality of the past. The session will be concluded with a roundtable in which all attendees and speakers will be invited to share and discuss their ideas on the presence/absence of the bodies in archaeological fieldwork and research.

Session schedule 

Friday 12 April (PM)              Room 2 - Drama (Level 1)
14:10Entanglement, Embodiment, Ontology: The body as medium for historical narratives (Edoardo Vanni)
14:30Archaeologists Unframed: The Shaping of Perceptions Beyond the Profession (Cecilia Galleano) 
14:50Sexism in Archaeology: ‘illustrating’ the voices of female archaeologists (Rita Gonçalves Pedro Casimiro da Costa)
15:10Archaeological fieldwork for people with long-term conditions: limitations and potential for improvement (Katerina Velentza)
15:30                                               BREAK


 Entanglement, Embodiment, Ontology: The body as medium for historical narratives
Edoardo Vanni – Università per Stranieri di Siena 

This paper offers a perspective on the intimate link existing between theory, practice and the construction of historical narratives. It aims to investigate the specific ways in which the adoption of the body as a medium (as well as of the past or present agent) could be an historical factor for constructing categories and methodological procedures. The body in itself is the interface between different epistemological spheres. It is both a material surface through which archaeologists engaged with the past, and a heuristic barrier between object and subject and at the end the technical tool through which archaeologists construct historical interpretation. Through this paper, I will pay particular attention to the phenomenological approach that seems to cannibalize the debate. Ultimately, I will argue for a vision of the body as a place of asymmetrical relations between human and non-human that cannot be done justice from too strong a phenomenological or materialistic perspective. Even the neo-materialistic collapse of subject and object must be tempered by this idea of ‘asymmetry,’ in which a body beyond the human sphere must be accounted for. It is in this framework that I must consider time and space not only as contextual coordinates but as articulations of one another, with time structuring space and space giving form to time. All of this is done ‘in/with/from the body’; the personhood is neither solely setting nor actor but can be thought of both as a language, a field in which all resides and of which all is composed, and the sign, the contextual manifestations of this field constantly invoking and at play with the whole, a whole that can never be disentangled from its concretization. This paper suggests looking at the body as a new heuristic tool for investigating the past as a whole, and ultimately a totalizing form of political engagement.

 Archaeologists Unframed: The Shaping of Perceptions Beyond the Profession
Cecilia Galleano – Historic Environment, Land Use Consultants

The body of the archaeologist is often represented with distortions. Every archaeologist with field experience is aware that most of the time, the illustrations of archaeologists in action do not accurately represent the reality of the professional experience. Archaeological images primarily depict discoveries that often require a sensational or unique narrative to capture the public's attention. Within these photographs, the archaeologist is mostly portrayed with a brush for cleaning or with materials for recording and drawing. Mattocks, shovels, mud/dust, and physically demanding work are often out of the picture frame. This is not solely a consequence of publication choices; rather, it might derive from the lack of representation of archaeologists as professional figures within the archaeological narrative. The absence can be attributed to two main factors: working conditions and the lack of debate about the body of archaeologists. The working conditions for field archaeologists are still characterized by precariousness, limited career prospects, sexism, and age discrimination. The author will provide case studies based on their field experience in Roman excavations to support the above observations. This reflection on the field experience context has raised the following question: Is it possible to interpret the past anthropogenic remains with a limited but solid level of impartiality when we struggle to effectively communicate the present working conditions and the daily practices of our profession? This question will hopefully spark a debate. 

 Sexism in Archaeology: ‘illustrating’ the voices of female archaeologists
Rita Gonçalves Pedro Casimiro da Costa – Pre-Construct Archaeology

We live in a highly patriarchal society, where women are often regarded as secondary, the ‘other sex’. This bias, unsurprisingly, extends to the field of archaeology. Literature often reflects the narrow interpretation of women's roles, and female archaeologists face regular sexist challenges in their profession. Comments such as "This is not a job for a woman" and various forms of uninvited derogatory comments are common. Other such remarks include catcalling, remarks on physical appearance, sexual harassment, sexual assault, benevolent sexism, patronising attitudes, and disparity of opportunity, to name but a few. This increases in commercial archaeology which intersects with the male-dominated construction sector. Such biases are not limited to external sources; they sometimes come from peers and superiors, indicating a deeply entrenched societal prejudice where this is materialised in a far more discrete and undetected type of sexism. This makes archaeology a hostile and oppressive field for women. This paper intends to delve into sexism in archaeology by addressing pertinent questions: How are women perceived and treated in this field? What are their career prospects, especially in fieldwork? Why is there an evident lack of older female professionals in senior roles? Fieldwork requires female archaeologists to challenge traditional gender norms, a path laden with hurdles. Addressing these issues is complex and won't find resolutions swiftly. However, making our voices heard and taking action is vital. Illustrations can spotlight the struggles female archaeologists face, such as workplace gender-based violence. In our visually-driven society, these drawings become potent tools to communicate these silent battles.

 Archaeological fieldwork for people with long-term conditions: limitations and potential for improvement
Katerina Velentza – Helsingin yliopisto

This paper analyses limitations and solutions concerning archaeological fieldwork for people living with long-term conditions, namely health conditions or diseases that are persistent or otherwise long-lasting in their effects and therefore considered as disabilities. The information discussed is based on personal experiences of archaeologists living with long-term conditions such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, autoimmune diseases, genetic disorders, viral diseases and others. The aim of this paper is to navigate the audience through various obstacles and limitations that people with autoimmune diseases and other long-term conditions might face when trying to participate in academic activities and archaeological fieldwork projects. Travel, weather, working conditions, schedule, accessibility to health services and mental health factors will be some of the topics discussed. While exploring these issues I will propose specific solutions and details that could be taken into consideration when organising a project to make archaeological fieldwork more inclusive and accessible to people with such disabilities.