Founded in 2009, the “Archaeotopia” project focused throughout the first funding phase of the Excellence Cluster Topoi on the role of archaeological sites in the formation, representation and negotiation of social identities. Within the confines of a set of questions that arose during this first project phase, the project will now explore the role and significance of archeological sites in the formation of historical conceptions, as well as the negotiation, representation and development of those sites in a competitive field full of diverse players.
The creation, acquisition and consumption of archaeological sites and relics is no self-propelled process, but rather a complex, historically evolved and diversely networked field involving a multitude of players – local populations, political institutions, archaeologists, tourists, etc. – in diverse configurations. The resulting spectrum of interests, avenues and goals produces numerous options and considerable tension, all of which conditions the emergence and formation of archaeological sites. The material holdings that ultimately emerge – ruins, reconstructions, excavated surfaces and other archaeologically formed or molded cultural landscapes –determine to a large extent the “image” of past cultures, while also undergoing continuous modification at the hands of various players and against a background of “historical scholarship”, which can be certified as such not only archaeologically, but also culturally and politically in the most diverse ways. The numerous contemporary uses to which archaeological sites are put in the most diverse configurations are an integral part of this process.
The “Archaeotopia” project is dedicated to the question of the significance of archaeological sites in the formation of historical conceptions. To address this question, three analytical approaches have been chosen. The first focuses on the role of the historically “evolving” material holdings of archaeological sites and their substitution in this process. The second analyzes especially volatile configurations in which archaeological sites compete directly with other sociocultural practices and their monuments, e.g. for access to infrastructure development projects at archaeological sites. The third part of the project approaches this situation through an analysis of archaeological practice in the conflict zone between historically “evolving” habitus, best practice concepts and the current dynamic by which access to archaeological sites is being consolidated by the most diverse parties through the negotiation of complex, sometimes even conflicting, sociocultural and political interests.
The subject of the research is a selection of archaeological sites from around the globe which specifically illustrate various aspects of the question at hand. Particular focus is placed on the North Africa region. The current political and sociocultural upheavals make this region an especially virulent research area, one in need of an (analytical) critique of archaeological practice, of the physical results obtained, and of the inclusion of these findings in the formation of historical conceptions and in the unique, sometimes even daily, negotiation of diverse social and cultural interests.