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‘Involve the local community in archaeology’

Local perceptions, attachments and knowledge are often not considered in the methodology of archaeology when researching a site, argues PhD-candidate Tomomi Fushiya. She proposes a broader integration of local perceptions in an archaeological narrative. PhD-defence on December 2.

Tomomi Fushiya’s conclusions are all too clear: often, modern archaeological field work is still influenced by a ‘top-down power structure and alienation between researchers and local people’. This structure took root in the colonial era, when western archaeologists and colonial governments investigated archaeological sites and only used local communities as a workforce. ‘The story of these local workers, and their attachment to a certain site, was never heard’, says Fushiya.

 

Overlooked for decades

Fushiya built the case study for her thesis after travelling to northern Sudan for archaeological site protection and presentation of a site of Amara West, locally known as Abkanisa. Around 1,300 B.C., this was the location of an Egyptian pharaonic administrative town, and was always treated as such by the Egyptian and British dual colonial government and western archaeologists. What was overlooked for decades is the fact that Abkanisa is also considered an ancestral place for Nubians. The Nubian communities now living in the vicinity, still feel a strong connection with Abkanisa. Too often, these communities had to witness artefacts from the site being loaded into trucks, without knowing what was going to happen to these objects.

Amara West (photo: British Museum Amara West Research Project)

Love story

Her area of interest is the integration of local communities and archaeological practice. Besides setting up a community engagement programme, Fushiya also decided to conduct interviews with members of the Nubian community after some interesting informal talks with some of the Nubians who were working on site. Through these interviews, she discovered more about the connection between the current Nubians and Abkanisa. Among other things, she learned of a love story, symbolizing the relationship between the people who once lived in Abkanisa and the Nubians who are now living across the river from the site (the place where the town was located is in the middle of the desert today).  Also, the Nubians told her of a (legendary) tunnel which goes between Abkanisa and the area where they now live. They even showed Fushiya the spot where the entrance of this tunnel was believed to be.

‘Develop mutual trust’

Her thesis is a case study, but addresses a general issue within modern archaeology. Fushiya offers two possible solutions. ‘First, involving the local community when investigating an archaeological site, it should be integrated in the standard methodology. Set up a community engagement programme, and work in cooperation with members from a local community. Secondly, archaeologists need to be more aware of local communities and the social aspect of archaeology. Don’t just ask a community for workers, but build a relationship with local communities, develop mutual trust.’

‘Archaeology is not about the past; it’s a practice going on today’, she concludes. ‘Archaeologists should look at their work in a present context and take up a more active social role.’ Fushiya now is involved in two new projects in Sudan, where she’s trying to put her own findings into practice.

Text: Jan Joost Aten
Images: 
British Museum Amara West

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