I am currently working on project number 2 but project number 1 outlines the frame for all current and future projects and therefore it is described as number 1. All projects have a neomaterialistic agenda, but the focus is different in all cases. Since Deleuze’s and DeLanda’s ideas of assemblages are central to these projects the focus is on different scales. Number 1 focuses on the local scale of direct interaction between materials and humans. Number 2 focuses on a regional and global scale of climate and geology. Number 3 ranges from the molecular level to that of oceans. Project number 4 takes the issue of temporality where all these different scales entrain. I also participate in another project run by Per Cornell.
Neomaterialistic Archaeology: Neo-Realist Studies of Materials
The aim of this research is to outline the frames for a neomaterialistic archaeology. This archaeology attempts to take archaeology back to a realist and materialist ontology since I claim that archaeological theory has entered a road that takes us further away from the materials. Despite, or perhaps due to, over twenty years of post-processual theories in archaeology, the discipline is still mainly focusing on what is not available in the archaeological record. The focus is set on a universal past human agent and its associated “culture” which are not available to the archaeologist. The prevailing theoretical approaches attempts to study materiality from a strong humanocentric approach (for example, phenomenology and social constructionism). Humanocentric archaeologists set their focus on memories, subjectivities, cosmologies, etc. assumed to be reached from materials or these categories are used a-priori while studying materials.
Archaeologists therefore claim to study past societies and humans through material remains. For this to be possible, the human or culture must have at least some essential property that is static and remains unchanged from the past to our present. How can we otherwise be sure that past people acted or thought in the way humanocentrism believe they did? This means that archaeologists rely on essentialist ontologies that either are realist or idealist. The main theme in this research is that no such essence exist other than change/temporality/differentiation itself. Humanocentric archaeology is therefore not only a post-processual phenomenon. In fact, the gap between empirical data and theory is widening in all forms of archaeology, no matter what prefix we use.
The first theme and objective is to outline the weakness of the humanocentric paradigm, its emphasis on either natural categories, general laws or transcendent principles that have no connection to the materials archaeologists work with. Once these weaknesses have been outlined the research will develop a neo-materialist and neo-realist ontology for archaeological materials, largely based on three interrelated philosophers: Henri Bergson, Gilles Deleuze and Manuel DeLanda. The ideas from these philosophers are not only the basis for a conceptualization of matter and reality that is largely unknown to most archaeologists, the renaissance of Bergsonian ideas in Deleuze’s philosophy has also created a stream of new perspectives that will affect the very core of humanocentric archaeology; its reliance on hylomorphic explanations (the need for external and transcendent sources to explain changes in “inert” matter). The main theme in the research is that materials are not substances but immanent. Humanocentric archaeology deals with entities or substances taken out of their own duration. Neomaterialistic archaeology attempts not to violate this duration or virtuality of the materials. Change and differentiation do not take place between finished and static products, but in the intensive process concealed by the actual form. processes. Materials are therefore not even seen as symmetrical with humans as is argued in the so-called “symmetrical archaeology” by Olsen, Shanks, Webmoor and Witmore, which is inspired by Latourian ideas. Symmetrical archaeology deals with how materialities affect people, but this is still humanocentric. The symmetry evolves around a centre from where symmetry emerges. This centre is still the human and its culture. Symmetrical archaeology therefore only becomes a difference of degree to asymmetrical archaeology. Neomaterialistic archaeology focus on differences in kind and therefore seeks explanations in the intensive and virtual processes that lead up to the actual and extensive materials all humanocentric archaeologists deal with.
Humanocentric archaeology sees materials as actual multiplicities. A multiplicity is a unit that is multiple in itself. An actual multiplicity has a spatial, metric (Euclidean) and material presence in the present. It is only seen as a substance in an instantaneous present moment when it can be analyzed free from its own becoming. Since archaeology focuses on temporality, we could rather see “materials” as virtual multiplicities, where each state of matter interpenetrates with earlier ones, forming a differentiating continuum. “Material” is then no longer a substance, but a process. The relation between “materials” with duration is called polyagency. This is my concept used to replace the humanocentric concepts of agency and practice. Polyagency lies in-between actual bodies. It is an intensive process that let the virtualities affect polyagents (“materials” with duration) in different directions.
As empirical objects of study I use the five causeways at Ichmul, the five causeways at Yo’okop, the causeway at San Felipe and the causeway at Sacalaca.
Holy Places, Holey Spaces and the Emergent Wholes: Caves and Climate Change in the Maya Lowlands
The so-called “Maya collapse” in southern Mexico, during the Terminal Classic period (A.D. 800-1100), has been given many interpretations. Some of the recent ones emphasize ecological and climate related causes and the “Maya collapse” has been seen as a warning example of how fragile both environment and society are. In light of the contemporary climate debate it is important to show that from a historical/ archaeological context this catastrophism is highly problematic. Although there is evidence that drier periods have occurred, the palaeoclimatic models have flaws and one of them is the lack of socio-political and religious perspectives of past societies. Since the effects of climate changes on society in the Maya area are based on modern and Colonial analogies, it must be noted that the Europeans had a serious impact on the Maya area. This research shall focus on a little known border area of European control (1544-1821). From the indigenous perspective, this border appears to have been fluid, but less so for the Spaniards that were tied to their agricultural strategies they had brought over from Europe. Caves and other karstic features were the crucial nodes in these processes.
Mayanist cave studies are today directed by cosmological models. However, cosmology belongs to a discursive order and as such it does not penetrate the non-linguistic and non-representational understanding of the world. Following ideas developed by the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, the world expresses itself in an anorganic way, independently of an interpreting human agent. The purpose of this project is to show how the caves and sinkholes of the Cochuah region in southern Mexico have become crucial components in various machinic assemblages through 2600 years. In Deleuze’s ontology, a machine is a whole that has emerged from heterogeneous parts. An assemblage is both functional and expressive, these are not dialectical opposites.
The cave sites have not formed stable spaces through time. At certain times they have mainly been used by a non-residential population (smooth spaces) and at other times people lived right next to the caves (striated spaces). The only sites with a more continuous settlement are the ones with permanent water sources (cenotes), like Ichmul. These settlement changes coincide with climate changes detected at nearby Lake Chichancanab. People lived near the caves during droughts and away from the caves during wetter periods. The Spanish conquest drastically changed this fluctuating pattern in the region. During Colonial period droughts the cave sites were not settled as in Prehispanic times. This has partly to do with the strong relationship between caves and the Maya’s cosmologies and identities. The church attempted to break this relationship. The caves turned into places for resistance against the striating force of the Spanish state and the church, they became holey spaces. During the Caste War the caves once again became striated spaces for the talking cross.
Although there seems to be continuity in cave use and cosmology from the Middle Formative to the present time, this continuity is basically found in the cave as a machinic assemblage, its capability to tie different parts together to a functioning whole but with various spatial expressions. Rather than constructing a cosmological model that is more or less intact through millennia as is common in Mayanist studies, this approach sees cosmology as one emergent property among others.
Water as archaeological material
The overall objective is to show the intricacies of materials from a flat ontology of assemblages, where no hierarchies between entities and processes exist. All equally exist. With such an approach it is possible to integrate the hard sciences with social- and humanist research that usually are treated separately. This allows for a better comprehension of the complexities behind historical processes.
More specifically this research will: (1) develop a neomaterialist view on non-linear history that sets material properties in focus and show how these connect to and merge with other material properties in various assemblages that includes people and practices. (2) exemplify this approach with water on multi-scalar levels: from molecules to organisms, objects, architecture, communities, states, oceans and climate systems. (3) show how changes in intensity create various emerging assemblages. Fluid water, vapour and ice have different levels of intensity and hence create different potentials for emergent assemblages.
In order to show the multiplicities of water in timespace, the project will make use of five “plateaus” and “ands” that are linked through the medium of water. The term plateau comes from Deleuze and Guattari’s non-linear history in “A Thousand Plateaus” (1987) and refers to regions of intensities. I’ll also see them as temporal and spatial captures of flows. Hence linear meta-narratives such as culture or ideology will not be used in the project. A common method in earlier research on water is to use one or few local areas and phenomena and from these generalize greater processes by reducing complexities to few driving causes. This is a top-down approach but in this project bottom-up morphogenetic processes are crucial.
Each plateau will emphasize differences in intensity and scale of assemblages. The plateaus shall focus on a particular scale and show how smaller and greater assemblages affect that scale. The assemblages are not just stacked on top of each other. They are linked through entrainment, the way formerly independent assemblages fall into step with each other (Protevi 2009).
The five case studies are: (1) water and the somatic, (2) water and material objects, (3) water and the striating State, (4) water and Earth, (5) water and smoothening processes.
Entrainment of materials, cognition, and gender in the Maya area
In this future project neuroarchaeology will be combined with my old idea of “genderized calendars”, that is, how the Classic period calendric inscriptions reflected gender relations in Maya royal courts. In order to increase the scope of the project I also wish to focus on the entrainment of various temporal rhythms, materials and past activities as known from the iconographic record of the Maya area.
Before I get to familiarize myself with various perspectives of temporalities I will maintain Deleuze’s and Bergson’s monistic ontologies where everything is part of the same emergent whole which means that materials of a certain metric duration, such as the use-life of a building, can be entrained with that of a human life span. Materials and humans thereby form a heterogeneous assemblage. There are virtual processes continuing to work within these assemblages, making them more and more complex and asymmetrical. This takes us further away from the nature of pure duration. When we use these asymmetrical entities (artefacts, post holes, construction fill) to reconstruct temporal processes we can simply not set them in succession, but we must see them as parallel, entrained and nested with various temporal sequences. The traditional chronological table will not be sufficient here. The chronological table will be emptied from all its transcendent cultural content since it tends to constrain our thought into predefined directions established early in our discipline. Thus, instead of seeing the Classic period as a period with Classic period people and culture that did this and that because they were different from Formative people, we should focus on the meshing of various scales of oscillations that has emerged from a non-metric time. It is only the non-metric time that is continuous, not the cultures that have been defined from actual remains.