Cambridge Archaeological Journal

Special Section: Animating Archaeology: of Subjects, Objects and Alternative Ontologies

Animating Archaeology: Local Theories and Conceptually Open-ended Methodologies

Benjamin Albertia1 and Yvonne Marshalla2

a1 Department of Sociology, Framingham State College, 100 State St, Framingham, MA 01701, USA; Email:

a2 Department of Archaeology, University of Southampton, Avenue Campus, Highfield, Southampton, SO17 1BF, UK; Email:


Animists' theories of matter must be given equivalence at the level of theory if we are to understand adequately the nature of ontological difference in the past. The current model is of a natural ontological continuum that connects all cultures, grounding our culturally relativist worldviews in a common world. Indigenous peoples' worlds are thought of as fascinating but ultimately mistaken ways of knowing the world. We demonstrate how ontologically oriented theorists Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Karen Barad and Tim Ingold in conjuncture with an anti-representationalist methodology can provide the necessary conditions for alternative ontologies to emerge in archaeology. Anthropo-zoomorphic ‘body-pots’ from first-millennium ad northwest Argentina anticipate the possibility that matter was conceptualized as chronically unstable, inherently undifferentiated, and ultimately practice-dependent.

(Received April 01 2009)

(Accepted May 20 2009)

(Revised July 30 2009)

Benjamin Alberti is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Framingham State College, and also lectures at the Universidad Nacional de Córdoba, Argentina. He has published on sex/gender, masculinity and anthropomorphism in both South American archaeology and Bronze Age Crete. Currently, he is researching anthropomorphism and notions of materiality in northwest Argentina.

Yvonne Marshall is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Southampton. She has conducted archaeological research in New Zealand, Fiji, British Columbia Canada and is now starting a new research project on Paiwan archaeology, southern Taiwain with colleagues at National Taiwan University. Her wider interests encompass the archaeology of the Pacific Rim Region generally. She also has a longstanding interest in the application of feminist theory to archaeology and is currently exploring the archaeological heritage of the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camps in Berkshire, England, and writing abook on feminist theory and archaeology.