Aisha Ghani is a Ph.D. student in Anthropology at Stanford University. In 2011 she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘Conflated Identities: ‘Muslim’/’Terrorist’ and the Difficulty of Producing a Genuine Discourse about Terrorism,’ supervised by Dr. T. M. Luhrmann. We chatted with Aisha over e-mail to learn more about her fieldwork in the courtrooms of U.S. domestic terrorism trials and the role that legal proceedings play in shaping national terrorism discourse.
Tell us a little about the project that you’re working on.
Through observation of courtroom proceedings and case material in domestic terrorism trials and Guantanamo and Bagram detainee litigation, I examine how the Global War on Terror (GWOT) is imagined, articulated, challenged and reinforced in various kinds of U.S. Courts. I ask how the state’s “foundational” discourse in the Global War on Terror has 1) shaped and limited the nature of legal challenges that can and have arisen in courts, and how the discursive limits of the litigation have 2) worked in determining the kinds of ‘terrorist’ subjects who are called upon – and can call upon – the law. A crucial element of my research involves observing the ways in which ideas about Islam — including the Muslim sociality and subjectivity of accused terrorists– enters into legal spaces. What is the work of these socio-religious claims, and how do they relate to the legal and political claims being articulated in and through these cases? How do accused men, if and when given the opportunity to speak, choose to situate themselves in relation to the explicit and implicit legal and political claims of the state in the GWOT?
Outside of courtrooms, my research involves ethnographic interviews with family members of accused and convicted men, as well as interviews with lawyers and civil rights activists involved in litigation and/or advocacy efforts around particular cases and broader national security law and policy issues after 9/11. In engaging with these different kinds of people, I attempt to understand the ways in which their narratives of experience and public advocacy efforts, destabilize and nuance the meta-narratives of the state with respect to what Islam is, what terrorism is, and who accused men are, in ways that cannot perhaps be achieved through the language and processes of the law.
This upcoming August will be a busy month for the Wenner-Gren Foundation’s conference program, with two conferences taking place on two continents. Find out more below!
Africa, Anthropology and the Millennium Development Goals
August 13-14, 2012
This meeting of the Pan-African Anthropological Association will turn an anthropological eye towards the so-called Millennium Development Goals, sets of development benchmarks set by the United Nations in 2000 with the aim of addressing widespread problems of extreme poverty, education, and social inequality in all 193 member nations, with a special focus on Africa and the developing world. Nearly a decade and a half later, it has become apparent that the intended goals of the MDG’s have not be achieved in Africa, and in fact the continent has backslid in key areas such as infant mortality and HIV prevention rates in sub-Saharan states. Whereas the MDG targets are clear, there are underlying forces which drive human behavior and which, if not taken into account, have the potential to derail the achievement of these goals. The conference will thus seek to examine how anthropology and anthropologists can address the cultural factors affecting the attainment of MDG targets and how they have so far engaged other disciplines and policy makers to provide solutions.
The EAA’s annual conference aims to bring together archaeologists from all parts of Europe, the United States and other parts of the world to exchange ideas, develop partnerships, and to stimulate academic debate in a variety of archaeological fields, and to coordinate and enhance the management of cultural resources and the development of the archaeological profession, especially in the new democracies of Eastern Europe. These goals are acheived by dividing the conference into three major thematic blocks: Managing the Archaeological Record & Cultural Heritage; Archaeology of Today: Theortetical and Methodological Perspectives; and Archaeology & Material Culture: Interpreting the Archeological Record. The information shared at the conference will be reflected in future installments of the EAA’s publications, European Journal of Archaeology and The European Archaeologist.
Haagen Klaus is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Utah Valley University. In 2010 he received a Post-Ph.D. Research Grant from the Wenner-Gren Foundation to aid research on his project ‘Escaping Conquest: Human Biology, Ethnogenesis, and Indigenous Engagement with Colonialism in Eten, Peru’. Recently we spoke to Dr. Klaus to learn more about his excavations in Peru’s Lambayeque Valley, and the unexpected turn his research took there.
Why did you choose the site that you did? More specifically, what is significant about the Lambayeque Valley and why did you select that particular church?
Several factors influenced the careful selection of Eten for this study. Ten years ago, I chose to dedicate a large part of my career to working in the Lambayeque valley of Peru’s desert north coast. Lambayeque was the center of key and influential pre-Hispanic developments from at least 2500 BC – most of which are incompletely understood but are vital to reconstructing the odyssey of human history that unfolded in ancient Peru. My research questions and methodology unite bioarchaeology and mortuary archaeology, so the usually excellent preservation of human remains and funerary contexts in the Lambayeque valley makes it almost a natural laboratory to explore all sorts questions regarding ancient health, disease, social organization, lifestyle, diet, economy, ideology, ecology, adaption, violence, microevolution, and cultural change in ways that few regions of the Americas can provide.
Eten was chosen as the setting for my project’s second stage of investigating European contact and colonization of what came to be known as Peru. Eten featured two church ruins and the remains of its town under the seaside dunes that preserved the site for more than 250 years. Even at the outset, the combination of architectural, mortuary pattern, skeletal biological, settlement pattern, dietary remains, and ecological data present in Eten seemed hard to beat regarding our research design which sought to develop the most holistic reconstruction to date of society, life, and death in this region of Colonial Peru.
Your excavation at the original site lead you to discover something far more interesting – and valuable. Can you tell us about what you found, and how you adapted to such an unexpected change at the site?
During our second and third field seasons at Eten, attention turned to the second of the two church ruins at Eten, which was constructed around A.D. 1776, not long after the colonial town was abandoned. We aimed to document a small number of Late Colonial burials to augment our very basic knowledge of burial patterns and human biology during this later era. Indeed, we encountered such contexts under the brick floor and I think they represent the most exquisitely preserved burials ever found in Lambayeque.
But as we excavated deeper into the site, we found ourselves digging through a fairly hard clay-like layer of fill that was not natural to local geology. We then identified a second, simple earthen floor nearly two meters below the surface, and then, below that, a hyper-dense cemetery. As we expanded outward, it became clear that what we found were the walls and floors of second church within and under the other church. The deeper we went, the more indications from the burials, the architecture, construction techniques, burial styles, and even grave goods indicated the deeper buried church was very old indeed, and clearly dated to the Early Colonial era. It is probably the mission church described in local oral histories founded by a Franciscan missionary in the 1530s. It was abandoned and fell into ruins when a much larger church was constructed in Eten in the 1600s (which was excavated over five months in 2009). When the final church was built in 1776, it appears to have been placed on top of the ruins of the abandoned mission in a recycling of sacred ground.
Finding this completely unexpected mission church and its cemetery took us all off-guard. However, it took little time to realize what it meant – we quickly shifted to adding a whole series of new questions to the work, especially about what life and society was like immediately following the Conquest, and how indigenous Andean survivors of contact and the first few generations of their descendants dealt with their cultural reality and social order being turned upside down.
However, some of the native people in Eten did not survive the experience. Among the 254 burials we documented, there were at least six mass graves, the largest containing 22 people. Whatever killed them was acute, and did not leave any marks on their bones. These mass graves point to the likelihood of epidemic disease driving aspects of mortality patterning in early Colonial Eten. However, this appears to have been one kind of health stress functioning on a very particular episodic or acute level. When we examined more than a dozen markers of childhood and adult health that are recorded in the bones and teeth of the people of Eten, it was clear they had lived lives characterized by generally good health and nutrition. This is very different from our previous study in nearby Colonial Mórrope (2004-6), where we found extremely high levels of stress and disease. So, while episodic impacts of European diseases may have been unavoidable, Eten in general had evidently “escaped” many of the negative chronic health consequences of living in the 16th century colonial world. They were quite healthy overall. The native people of Eten actively adapted to and buffered against the negative impacts of conquest, no doubt aided by the fact that Eten was located in a region rich with nutritional resources and other favorable ecological conditions.
You consider “the grave” and mortuary patterns in general to be a unified “datum point” where biological and cultural anthropological concerns can meet and play off each other. Why are graves particularly well-suited?
As a number of my colleagues have stated in the past, burials are by far the most information-packed kind of deposit in the archaeological record. I can only echo that vision with conviction and passion. But it’s not only the quantity of information about the past that can be gained by such an approach – it the quality, and what it tells you. The rituals that human beings weave around death, and the traces that are left in or around a grave, are exceptionally rich windows to begin building a holistic understanding of an extinct society and their ideas and understandings about themselves. The human remains in a grave provide direct evidence about the social ways people lived their lives. All forms of archaeological evidence are important, but burials are particularly vital to an archaeology that is humanized, and whose purpose is to explicitly tell a part of the story of the human experience.
I would argue that an integrated approach towards burials in anthropology is necessary, logical, and just makes sense. It can be something that erases the traditional boundaries between mortuary archaeology and bioarchaeology, which I think is an important theoretical and methodological development that is beginning to emerge among some anthropologists. It is a particularly vital perspective and conceptual “toolbox” to bring to Andean archaeology, partially due to the nature of the archaeological record, burials, and human remains that still await discovery here.
Your work eschews the popular colonial contact model of “collapse” for a more complex outlook. In your view, what is wrong with the former paradigm, and what would you like to see change in popular understandings of postcontact Latin America?
The former paradigm was built on earlier ideas, and as time, evidence, and science has progressed, anthropological understandings of contact and collapse have shifted from universalist and positivist perspectives to one guided by the last 25-30 years of evidence (especially bioarchaeological evidence) that shows contact was such a dizzyingly complex phenomenon. Contact was fundamentally something that unfolded differently everywhere, especially on local levels, as our work shows. This means we have to abandon preconceived notions about contact and conquest. It was also a foundational event and process in the formation of our present world, culture, and patterns of modern human biology (which are not simply limited to the effects of demographic collapse on indigenous genetic variation, as is often assumed).
For me, one of the most intriguing elements about conquest deals with the meeting of disparate cultures and peoples. Rather than one society overwhelming or annihilating another (as is so often imagined by our popular culture), archaeology and biological anthropology are in increasingly telling us that fledgling, constantly transforming, hybrid societies emerged from the so-called “collision of worlds.” Such social formations are born through the negotiations and tensions of colonial settings, creative forms of native resistance, the ambitions and agendas of the colonizers and the colonized, local ecology, other factors leading to a kind of fragile and tentative “in-between-ness.” I am speaking directly to the concept of ethnogenesis: sustained colonial encounters tended to create new societies, new kinds of cultural realities, and new kinds of people that never had existed before, and in some cases such as Eten, exist no longer. These were the bridges between pre-Hispanic worlds and the one we live in today.
What’s next for you and your research? How do you see this project developing in the future?
With the conclusion of the past three years working in Eten, the first order of business is to finalize the analysis of a broad spectrum of archaeological, bioarchaeological, zooarchaeological, paleobotanical, and biogeochemical data. By the end of 2013, I aim to have a major monograph manuscript completed describing our findings along with several other related writing projects.
However, the findings from Eten generate nothing short of an entire spectrum of new questions about the Early Contact period in coastal Peru. About a week ago, I believe I have possibly located the buried ruins of one of the earliest and most important colonial settlements in this region of Peru — a town called Lambayeque Viejo — which was abandoned around 1578. I think Lambayeque Viejo has the potential to provide an exquisitely detailed snapshot of the initial colonial conjunction here, and provide vital new perspective about the nature of cultural change, religious conversion, indigenous resistance, health, epidemic disease, and mortuary practices that emerged just after the conquest. This may well be the setting in the next stage of our investigation.
After that, I have a tentative list of Colonial and pre-Hispanic sites in the Lambayeque region to excavate over the next 25 years… But how exactly that will unfold is yet to be seen. Field archaeology can be unpredictable and lead one in unanticipated and exciting directions!
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