Archaeological Practice and Political Change

Transformations in the Use of the Past in Nationalist, Neoliberal and Indigenous Bolivia

My PhD was supervised by Dr.Marie Louise Stig Sørensen and has been now been approved!

Feel free to download a PDF of the whole thing here. Find a snippet below!


Politics, Archaeological Resources and Archaeological Practice in Bolivia

1.1 Objectives

In this study I will explore how major governmental changes in Bolivia affected both archaeological practice and the socio-political use of archaeological resources. Spanning the years between 1979 and 2010, and contextualised by a complete analysis of archaeological law passed since 1906, this dissertation will present a broad discussion of changes within Bolivian archaeology and politics and will follow targeted aspects of archaeological practice and governmental use of the past during several distinct periods in Bolivia’s history. Through this, I will clarify how changes in the national politics of Bolivia have affected the use of archaeological resources by governments, citizens and descendant groups. I will also identify how these political shifts have affected archaeological practice.

1.2 Relevance

A significant body of scholarship over the past few decades has been devoted to the role of archaeology in politics and the role of politics, particularly identity politics, in archaeology. We have come to understand that the collective or competing motivations of nations and states, of Indigenous people and descendant communities, of imperialist powers and international organizations, and of archaeologists themselves have an impact on how the past is studied, interpreted and used by people in the present. We archaeologists have no choice but to work within existing power systems. Indeed, if we wish to continue practicing archaeology as it has come to be defined, we must continue to clarify our role in this struggle for personal, national and political rights to the past. Despite this large body of recent work and the need for archaeologists to relate properly to the environment in which we practice, the landscape is complex and still largely ill defined: timely investigations of unique or significant case studies are needed. Furthermore, any significant change in the balance of power with respect to control of the past warrants academic investigation, not only because of ethical and theoretical concerns, but because such a shift may have an immediate and severe effect on practical and logistical aspects of the practice of archaeology.

A shift in the balance of power has recently happened in Bolivia and we now have a new piece of the puzzle to work with. An Indigenous-led government has gained control and is interpreting concepts of the past in its own way for its own purposes. While there is a long history of scholarly inquiry into the ways in which how archaeology and the past have been used and interpreted by political states, and there has been significant discussion of how archaeology has been used by Indigenous groups, little has been written about the archaeological consequences of Indigenous groups gaining actual control over their political environment. In Bolivia an Indigenous-focused government has gained control over the state, giving us a rare glimpse at the confluence of state, national, nationalistic and Indigenous archaeologies.

The dust has yet to settle and Bolivia remains a state in transition. However, the question of how changes in the national politics of such a dynamic country as Bolivia over the past three decades have affected archaeological practice is not only timely, it is pressing. While the particulars of modern Bolivia may seem unique, archaeologists are working within a world much changed since our discipline was institutionalised and defined. When faced with assertions of state, national or Indigenous ownership of the past, archaeologists have struggled to clarify their own role, their own legitimacy. We encounter more and more situations where the future of our discipline appears uncertain. To understand the complicated forces at work within Bolivian archaeology is to gain a better understanding of archaeology in various countries and political situations.

1.3 Dissertation Structure

The relevant background and context of this dissertation is presented in Chapter 2 and Chapter 3. In Chapter 2, I will discuss aspects of archaeological heritage studies by introducing relevant cases from throughout Latin America. Concepts of ownership and control of the past will emerge as aspects of Latin American identity politics. Chapter 2 provides regional and thematic context for the Bolivian case study. In Chapter 3, I will present a detailed sketch of Bolivia’s social and political history as it pertains to archaeology and archaeological practice. Chapter 3 identifies several turning points in archaeology and in the use of the past in Bolivia and discusses the political and social environment in which these shifts took place. These key shifts will serve to structure the analysis of later chapters.

Chapters 4, 5, 6, and 7 are the analytical core of this dissertation and through them the question of how major governmental changes in Bolivia affect both the socio-political use of archaeological resources and archaeological practice is explored. In Chapter 4, I present the methodology used to approach the Bolivian case study. Here I define a three-pronged approach to uncovering various indicators of socio-political influence on Bolivian archaeology that are expanded upon in subsequent chapters. In Chapter 5, the first of three results chapters, I provide an in-depth discussion of over 100 years of Bolivian archaeological law. Set against the backdrop of social and political change discussed in Chapter 3, this chapter provides perhaps the first complete discussion of chronological and progressive legal change in Bolivian archaeological law. Moving on to the disciplinary output of the archaeological process, Chapter 6 presents the results of a textual analysis of Bolivian archaeological documents. Using a unique methodology involving custom word-frequency analysis, this chapter looks at trends within the corpus of Bolivian archaeological texts. Structured by the periods identified in Chapter 3 and supported by the legal analysis of Chapter 5, this textual analysis is intended to identify ways in which Bolivian social and political changes have consciously or unconsciously altered the content and focus of archaeological work.

Chapter 7 is a discussion of how Bolivian archaeology is experienced. Reaching beyond the more formal lines of inquiry presented in Chapters 5 and 6, Chapter 7 is a multifaceted investigation into how the less tangible aspects of archaeological heritage and practice have been affected by Bolivian politics and social change. This chapter is focused mainly on archaeology ‘on the ground’, and how the most recent political changes in the country have played out in the archaeological sphere. Drawing upon various sources, including archaeological literature, popular media, and a targeted survey of Bolivian archaeologists, this chapter is focused on four related issues: the changing nature of the Aymara New Year ceremony at the site of Tiwanaku, archaeological tourism, the very recent controversy over the management of Tiwanaku, and the future of archaeological practice. Finally, in Chapter 8, I relate the results of the various lines of analysis to the broader aspects of heritage and archaeology presented in Chapter 2. Here the implications of this research for the wider field of heritage studies are discussed and recommendations for the further study of the influence of contemporary social and political change on the discipline of archaeology are made. In this chapter, modern Bolivia is presented as a potential model for the types of use and reuse of the ancient past seen in a rapidly changing, globalised but not necessarily Westernised world.

1.4 Original Contribution

In the narrowest sense, this research will identify how major political shifts affect both Bolivian archaeology and the use of the past in Bolivian identity politics. Few in-depth historical analyses of Bolivian archaeology have been produced and none of these have the benefit of incorporating the actions of the current Indigenous-led administration. This is the time that all historic Bolivian archaeological laws have been collected, analysed individually and evaluated collectively for evidence of long-term trends. Also, this project represents the first time that word frequency analysis tools have been used to gain information about a large body of Bolivian archaeological texts. The information gleaned from this study can be used to better inform the formulation and continuation of archaeological projects within Bolivia.

In a broader sense, this project demonstrates the effectiveness of a new methodology through which significant changes in a particular state, national or international archaeology program can be evaluated over time. Moreover, the Bolivian case study, being clearly defined, can prove to be a significant comparative model to which other situations involving modern Indigenous issues, nationalism, identity politics and archaeology can be related. This work is of particular importance in Latin American countries with large, politically active Indigenous populations and major archaeological sites, such as Perú, Ecuador, and Guatemala. However, due to the worldwide economic realities of archaeology-based tourism and the effectiveness of past-based political rhetoric, such research is necessary if we are to continue to practice archaeology in a modern globalised context.