Institute of Archaeology



Archaeologies of Marginality | Mon Dec 16 13:30:00 | Room 784

The study of marginalized groups and individuals is gaining increased attention in archaeological research. Archaeologies of Marginality will address past inequalities by looking at social stratification and growing social complexity in deep history, with a focus on the multidimensional facets of social exclusion and their intersectional aspects. In this session, we discuss the development of appropriate theoretical and methodological frameworks to investigate marginality in the past to promote marginality studies in archaeology. Topics of interest include, but are not limited to:

● dynamics of resistance and the agency of the socially excluded;
● violence and coercive power;
● poverty and marginality in relation to socio-economic status; warfare and war crimes, migration, forced labor and slavery
● disease and disability
● gender, personhood, age and the life course; marginality and social exclusion in relation to motherhood, pregnancy and childhood neglect;
● marginality in times of collapse, crisis and environmental stress;
● marginal landscapes, peripheral regions and ethnic marginality;
● material culture and technology between deprivation and elite consumption;
● anomalous burial rites, funerary deviancy and marginal burial;
● bioarcheology, ancient DNA analysis and science-based approaches to past marginality;
● marginality and social exclusion today; marginality in academia, epistemology; accessibility, inclusivity and diversity;
● Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) and the safeguarding of marginalized people's endangered cultural heritage.

Session timetable
13:30 | Session organisers


13:40 | Anna Bloxam, UCL

Accessing marginal practices, peoples, and identities in prehistory

This paper presents new evidence about the burial practices of the Beaker phenomenon and the implications of this for the study of marginal practices, peoples, and identities in prehistory.
Though traditionally viewed as being homogenous and standardised, I present evidence that the funerary rites of the Beaker period (c.2450-1950 BC in Britain) were actually highly variable, with diverse minority practices occurring throughout. My research into funerary diversity was initially intended to access minority peoples – the indigenous insular Late Neolithic groups who appear, on the basis of genetic data, to have been replaced by incoming groups from continental Europe. However, in exploring the ways to access this marginal group, the evidence has presented varied avenues for accessing neglected people and identities within groups during this period. Women, children, and individuals without ‘high status’ burials are revealed, as is evidence for divisible or dividual personhood. I explore how studying diversity and variability can help break typologically-driven assumptions about prehistoric culture change and allow us to access people (and peoples) that have traditionally played a marginal role in our narratives.

14:00 | Floor Huisman, Cambridge Archaeological Unit

Souls of sedge in a marginal marsh? The role and place of ‘fen slodgers’ and the former East Anglian Fens within the wider landscape

Wetland landscapes, including bogs, marshes and fens, are generally categorised as marginal landscapes because they are unsuitable for agriculture. Often, the communities using or inhabiting these landscapes are equally side-lined. In the former East Anglian Fens for instance, historic sources describe a group of local Fenlanders who lived of hunting, fishing and gathering the Fens’ many wild resources. These ‘wild’ and uncivilised ‘fen slodgers’ were a marginalised group, clearly different from surrounding ‘civilised’ dryland folk. Yet these wetland people cared deeply for their wetland world and way of life, as reflected in their sabotage of distant landowners’ drainage efforts of the Fens’ ‘watery wastes’ in the 16th century.

This evidence demonstrates the subjectivity and complexity of marginality. We cannot assume a continuous marginality for this former wetland and its people. Instead, we need to examine the changing role and place of the Fens, and those exploiting and inhabiting this wetland, within the wider landscape and through time. This paper will present the results of a large comparative study which did so by examining how people interacted with the wet Fens and surrounding dryland areas between c. 4000 BC-100 AD. It will outline five phases of wetland interaction, which demonstrate the often intimate relationship between people and this supposedly marginal landscape. By tracing people’s changing interaction with this dynamic wetland environment and examining its effects on their identities and social relations, this paper explores the subtle and multifaceted nature of environmental marginality and its social outcomes through time and space.

14:20 | Richard Kendall,  University of Edinburgh

Scholars can’t be Choosers; Homelessness in Pre-Christian Rome

As a position defined by a lack of architectural and material possessions, it is easy to dismiss the archaeological investigation of homelessness as an exercise in futility. Without textual testimony, it is difficult to definitively assert even their existence historically, let alone their experiences. Even in contemporary societies, the study of homeless individuals and culture is a relatively recent development, despite the almost universal presence of destitution in modern cities.

Such simple dismissal, however, is inadequate. As archaeologists, it is incumbent upon us to study past societies in their full scope; while the specific elision of the homeless from historical discourse contributes to a dialogue of individualised blame that fails to recognise long-standing features within societies that impact on the treatment of its destitute. It also fails to challenge the often incomplete picture presented by literary sources.

In this paper, one such society’s treatment of its homeless is examined. The common understanding of ancient Roman homelessness in the early Empire is of utter social disdain and short, painful lives for those in this situation. This contrasts tellingly with the charity and support provided by the Church in Late Antiquity. Utilising non-textual sources, particularly artistic representation, however, a more balanced picture can be uncovered. The homeless, while hardly celebrated, were nevertheless recipients of greater beneficence than previously established; and the extreme image presented in literary sources of the shift between pagan and Christian notions of morality somewhat undermined. The importance of recognising the homeless from an archaeological perspective is thus demonstrated.

14:40 | Jake Weekes, Canterbury ARCHAEOLOGICAL Trust

The Empire of History

Prehistory never ended. From c. 50BCE in Britain, for example, elitists, and then a competitive middle class, dabbled with creole Gallo-Roman popular culture of material, ritual, and some inscription and statuary, and collaborated with the imposition of a Roman historical context, announced by biographies and portraits on coinage, and milestones along the new roads of a revised geography. Romans dragged barbarians on to the margins of Roman history, which narratives spawned the idea that prehistory had ended, the idea taken up by later British imperialists as the basis for a chronology that tacitly backed their own colonial mission. The end of Roman Britain was still seen by British historians as a decline and fall, a descent into the “dark ages”. A new documentary culture in the medieval period only recorded certain people and aspects of life in laws, taxes, wills and records of punishments, the history of the Establishment and its economy. Even printing and enlightenment left most lives largely ‘prehistoric’, unnoticeable except through the archaeology of their material residues. In these post-medieval empires slaves were named by history, and the census quantified and qualified the working classes, but only partially. The Empire of History still defines and rules as it lists and narrates, and holds sway over constructions of “the past”, yet still knows little of actual lives, which remain ‘prehistoric’ until recorded by accounts or licences, or when we transgress. The ideological hallmarks of historical society nevertheless hold sway: myths of shared destiny, obsession with biographies, idealised images of the powerful who made history.

15:00 | Canek Huerta Martinez, UNAM, Mexico

“Vecindario Tlailotlacan: An Archaeology from the edges”

The Barrio Oaxaqueño, named by Millon (1967), Fowller and Paddock (1975) and Rattray (1993), also known as Tlailotlacan (Spence, 1989), settled on the southern slope of Cerro Colorado Chico, between the 300CE and 650CE. It is located three kilometers west of the Calzada de los Muertos of Teotihuacan. According to the most recent studies it was an enclave of migrations (mainly from what is now known as the western states Oaxaca and Michoacán), which could have given the Teotihuacan urban center a unique dynamic and singular vitalization during the Classic Period (Ortega, 2014).
Paradoxically, this neighborhood is completely buried and outside the protective polygon within which lies the monumental core of the city of Teotihuacan. Nowadays, from the skirts of the Colorado there is a suburban landscape with an irregular urban layout, houses and precarious streets: Ruins of the ruins: A residual space demolished and eroded. The policies of abandonment and exclusion (governmental and civil), have fixed in the imaginary of the population the colonial buildings and the pyramids as the only reference of a historical and archaeological past.
Focusing on digging in photographic images and in the fragments of the archaeological record, I visually reconstruct the privileged perspectives towards the Pyramid of the Sun and the Temple of Quetzalcoatl which were set from Tlailotlacan and the roots of a model apparently planned in multiple Latin American cities during the XX century: a hierarchical exclusion of non-monumental spaces.
* Canek Huerta Martinez is currently a Ph.D. Candidate in the Mesoamerican Graduate Studies Program (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, UNAM)

15:20 | BREAK
15:50 | Rosamund E. Fitzmaurice (Rosie), UCL

Ethnohistory and “Slavery”: to what extent can we use ethnohistory to understand indigenous dependency in Precolumbian central Mexico?

Slavery is a term often associated with the US Antebellum South, the ancient Mediterranean, and with feudal serfdom, but is it an appropriate way to understand disenfranchised peoples of Precolumbian central Mexico? The majority of our knowledge, pertaining mostly to the years CE 900-1521, of indigenous “slavery” comes to us from Spanish accounts of ritual “slave-bathing”, “slave” markets, and gambling pastimes.

This presentation will outline the consistencies and inconsistencies of the Spanish chroniclers and other evidence with which we can test the veracity of their claims. For example, can we use archaeology to “ground-truth” the information provided by the chroniclers, or are dependent peoples invisible in archaeology? I will lay out methods that the chroniclers used to gather their information, describe examples of “slavery”, and examine the terminology pertaining to ‘slavery’ itself. I will also discuss the biases and influences over the work of the chroniclers, including the effect of emic and etic viewpoints present in their work. Finally, I will outline the overall benefits and limitations of using such conquest and post-conquest accounts to reconstruct indigenous history from conquering peoples.

16:10 | Oscar Toro Bardeci, UCL

From bordering to marginalised. The process of incorporation of pehuenche groups to the chilean state in the 19th century

The Pehuenche are indigenous people of Andean South America who became incorporated into the Nation States of Chile and Argentina. Until the 19th century Pehuenche Territory was beyond the Spanish-indigenous border of the Biobío River. They practiced transhumance between the high valleys of the Andes and Pampas and became commercial intermediaries for goods and resources moving between indigenous and Spanish settlements. However, between 1862 and 1884 their home territory was invaded by the armies of recently independent nations of Chile and Argentina who wished to achieve a ´better economic exploitation´ of these territories. Pehuenches were re-allocated to ´reductions´ -piece of lands assigned by the Chilean state- and were also divided into ´indigenous communities´, causing their social and physical marginalisation.

How did Pehuenche groups transition from being considered as mainly allies by Spanish and Chilean authorities until mid-19th century, to becoming excluded groups in the margins of Chile and Argentina frontier from the 1860s? Is this change possible to analyse through the material culture of these groups?

I have studied several types of writing documents from mid-19th to the beginning of the 20th centuries (e.g. expeditionary diaries, military reports), focusing on information regarding the state policies and data related to the ways of life of these former bordering groups and the description of changes in their material culture as a consequence of such state strategies. This work contributes to develop a methodology for the interpretation of the process that lead to the marginalisation of ethnic groups within a state and helps to explain current political struggles.

16:30 | Lan CoCo Shi, UCL

Marginalised intangible culture in Wanjian Village

This paper investigates the marginalised heritage in Wanjian Village located in Anhui, China. Modernisation and migration has caused huge social changes in the village. Through the contact with cities, city lifestyle has influenced the village’s traditional cultural values.The Qing dynasty building used for ancestral worship for the Yang Family has gradually lost its daily role as a place to gather. Ethnography was carried out to study the relationship people have with local forms of cultural activities. The opera stage located in the ancestral building is becoming marginalised by local villagers and only used occasionally by outside performers. The community who inherit the traditional operatic skills are often the elderly, who are limited financially and see pursuing this form of art as a burden for their children. Without the support from the core members of the village community, the intangible heritage of local opera is facing the danger of disappearing completely.

16:50 | Session organisers


17:00 | END