Accepted Paper:

The artifact and the amateur archaeologist: haunting and the settler imaginary  


Andrea L. Smith (Lafayette College)

Paper short abstract:

Through ethnographic research, I explore the meaning of First Nation artifacts to amateur archaeologists in Pennsylvania and New York States.

Paper long abstract:

Collections of First Nations artifacts adorn homes and historical societies across the United States and Canada. Amateur archaeologists collect arrowheads and other items, mount them in frames, and put them on display, and many local historical museums have the management of such collections as their original raison d'ĂȘtre. In this paper I examine the motives of amateur archaeologists and the meanings of their collections. Inspired by the agenda of the "bones collective" (Krmpotich, Fontein and Harries 2010) and settler-colonial theory, I ask what it is about these artifacts that "provokes emotional, political, visceral and intellectual responses from those that encounter them?" (Ibid: 371).

Settler colonialism generates patterned ways of framing the national past (Smith 2011). Through "acts of erasure" eliminating references to colonialism, a "settler imaginary" is created (Kosasa 2008: 196) that generates an "aesthetic of blankness." Settlers are educated not to see colonial practices, creating "a perplexing situation where many settlers are unaware of the existence of colonialism and their participation in it" (Ibid). And yet in many regions of the United States, artifacts are evident across the land, piercing "the fantasy of a tabula rasa" (Veracini 2015:41). Through ethnographic research with collectors and their collections in northern Pennsylvania and southern New York States, I interrogate the meaning of the artifact and the collection process to the settlers involved. While some amateur archaeologists use artifacts to claim indigeneity, others use them to challenge the "blankness" of the settler imaginary and address distortions in the national historical narrative.

Panel WIM-CHAT08
The enthusiastic amateur and cultures of collecting, or why settlers and their descendants take to unearthing First Nations artefacts