, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp 250–268 | Cite as

Futurologists Look Back

  • Kenneth E. SassamanEmail author


The gulf between indigenous and western experiences in the Americas may appear so vast as to obscure the relevance of knowledge about the ancient past to challenges of today. Yet, in imaging alternative futures, people of varied cultural dispositions find experiential accord. As both product of and precedent for social action, materiality provides archaeologists some purchase on interventions of change. In the recursive relationships between place and being, between thing and entanglement, we observe temporalities that privilege historical practice as the locus of social action. Examples from the ancient American Southeast illustrate what form an archaeology of alternative futures might take.

Key Words

Historicism Futures Sea-level rise Intervention 


Le gouffre entre les expériences indigènes et occidentales des Amériques peut sembler tellement vaste que la pertinence de la connaissance du passé ancien pour relever les défis d’aujourd’hui s’en trouve obscurcie. Cependant, lorsqu’ils imaginent des futurs alternatifs, des individus d’obédiences culturelles diverses se retrouvent en accord sur leurs expériences. A la fois comme produit de et précédent à l’action sociale, la matérialité fournit aux archéologues une prise sur les interventions du changement. Dans les relations récursives entre lieu et existence, entre chose et enchevêtrement, nous observons des temporalités qui privilégient la pratique historique comme site de l’action sociale. Des exemples issus de l’Amérique du sud-est antique illustre la forme que pourrait prendre une archéologie des futurs alternatifs.


El abismo entre las experiencias indígenas y las occidentales en las Américas puede parecer tan vasto como para oscurecer la relevancia del conocimiento sobre el antiguo pasado para los retos de la actualidad. Sin embargo, al imaginar futuros alternativos, las personas con disposiciones culturales variadas encuentran un acuerdo experiencial. Tanto como producto o como precedente de la acción social, la materialidad proporciona a los arqueólogos algo a lo que agarrarse en intervenciones de cambio. En las relaciones recursivas entre lugar y ser, entre cosa e implicación, observamos temporalidades que privilegian la práctica histórica como el centro neurálgico de la acción social. Ejemplos del antiguo sudeste americano ilustran qué forma podría tomar una arqueología de futuros alternativos.



I am grateful to Martin Wobst by showing through example and generous mentoring that archaeology can and should be the locus of critical self-reflection, and with that, a means to better, alternative futures. My gratitude also goes to Kimberly Kasper, Bob Paynter, and Broughton Anderson for organizing this tribute to Martin. Along with the comments of two anonymous reviewers and Tim Pauketat, their thoughts on an earlier version of this paper were very useful in clarifying my intent and approach.


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Copyright information

© World Archaeological Congress 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA

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