Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory

, Volume 22, Issue 2, pp 512–542 | Cite as

The Legacies of Indigenous History in Archaeological Thought

  • Todd J. KristensenEmail author
  • Reade Davis


This paper examines the dynamics of archaeological knowledge production in the presence and absence of living descendants of indigenous peoples. We utilize Canadian case studies from the Atlantic island of Newfoundland and the Pacific island archipelago of Haida Gwaii. Whereas the modern indigenous Haida play an active socio-political role on the Pacific Coast, the last known Newfoundland Beothuk died in 1829 ad. Anthropological knowledge and archaeological research of the Beothuk has since evolved in the absence of an indigenous voice. We review regional archaeological, ethnohistorical, and ethnographic literatures to demonstrate that archaeological epistemology is heavily influenced by the islands’ divergent histories, in particular, with regards to the power that indigenous people have asserted in the research process. Technological and economic approaches have dominated archaeology of the Beothuk and their ancestors while Haida self-governance, in combination with rich records of historic Haida practices, has fostered more socio-politically, religious-, and/or cognitive-oriented approaches to archaeological thought, practice, and heritage stewardship. Using Haida archaeology as a model, we offer more agency-based interpretations of Beothuk life. We conclude our analysis with a discussion of the broader implications of emic perspectives for pre-contact hunter–gatherer research and its influence on the societal context of heritage studies.


Archaeological theory Indigenous Beothuk Haida North America Human Agency 



We would like to thank the insightful comments of four anonymous reviewers as well as Dr. T. Andrews, Dr. K. Supernant, Dr. M. Klassen, and Dr. S. Acheson for comments on versions of this manuscript. Thank you to the journal’s editorial staff, and thank you to Karen Church for reviewing the manuscript and sharing her extensive local knowledge of Haida archaeology and land management. Thank you to Dr. M. A. P. Renouf and Dr. P. Pope. The following agency provided funding for this project: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (award number 767-2012-1884).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyMemorial University of NewfoundlandSt. John’sCanada

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