Abstract: The Archaeology of the Intangible: Monumentality in Cameroon
In the first decade of the 21st century the Intangible caught the world’s attention. According to UNESCO’s convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, the Intangible consists of “practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills” and of objects and spaces that are their physical manifestations. If so, the Intangible cultural heritage would be better termed ‘Embodied’. The nature of the embodiment of knowledge and skills is a subject on which there has been much recent interdisciplinary research and thought. The topic is of the greatest interest to archaeologists who, equipped with sharpened theoretical tools, are professionally committed to reveal the intangible, the meanings, embedded in the artifact.
But just how do archaeologists get at meaning? As any student knows, it is far from clear how application of the theory and methods first introduced in Archaeology 101 generate the areal synthesis of prehistory studied in the final year. Exposition obscures process. To bridge this gap, I chart the search for meaning in a unique set of Cameroonian monuments, the DGB sites of the Mandara mountains. I describe the messy (and hermeneutic) process of inquiry that, starting with field survey and excavation, leads through insights and inferences derived from, inter alia, typology, landscape archaeology, ethnoarchaeology and the natural sciences, to synthetic statements regarding the monuments’ use and influence on their builders (their performative affordances and agency).
I have delivered this lecture only twice, at the Universities of Cambridge and of Victoria (Canada). At UVic I also showed my recent film, The 13 Months of Sukur: Africa’s first World Heritage cultural landscape, which allows audiences unfamiliar with the Mandara Mountains to better visualize the cultural context of the archaeological materials described in the lecture. See http://www.sukur.info/sukurfilm.htm for a trailer and access to a relevant website.