Societies News

September 9, 2022

Puget Sound Society Establishes Critical Archaeology Reading Group

This month, we’re delighted to spotlight the Puget Sound Society in Washington and the Critical Archaeology Reading Group they established in the fall of 2020. Tony Usibelli, an active Puget Sound Society Member and a dedicated reading group member, shares the full story with us below.

“We seek to achieve an archaeology that broadens our vision, deepens our understanding, and expands our humanity. Our commitment to this transformation is one step toward addressing injustices of the past and collaborating in a socially relevant archaeology for the future.”

AIA Statement On Archaeology And Social Justice, June 3, 2020

“The AIA’s 2020 Statement on Archaeology and Social Justice helped inspire the Puget Sound Society to develop their Critical Archaeology Reading Group. The virtual group came together in the fall of 2020 with the goal of reading and discussing works that critically examine issues of social justice, equity, diversity, and inclusiveness in the context of archaeology. Over the course of the last two years, we have had active participation from a range of academic archaeologists, classicists and historians, graduate and undergraduate students, and non-academic AIA members. Each of our online meetings was facilitated by one or more of the Society’s board members, were held roughly every two weeks, and lasted for 60 to 90 minutes. Once the group had finished each major selection, we charged ourselves with action steps inspired by our reading and reflection. We used shared online documents to exchange ideas and references during each session, and to anonymously report our action steps ranging from further reading and reflections to relevant donations to direct action.

Many of the members came to the reading group with backgrounds in the classical world. We tried to select works that would not only build on that knowledge base but would expand our understanding and stretch us into areas of archaeology, and even anthropology, beyond the ancient Mediterranean.

Our initial selection was Chip Colwell’s Plundered Skulls and Stolen Spirits: Inside the Fight to Reclaim Native America’s Culture (University of Chicago Press 2017). Colwell’s book examines the treatment of indigenous remains and artifacts under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). It challenged us to more closely examine the roles and responsibilities of museums, the benefits and limitations of legal frameworks to address social justice, and the fundamental rights of indigenous peoples.   

For our second selection in the spring of 2021, we chose Daniel Orrells and Gurminder Bhambra, eds., African Athena: New Agendas (Oxford University Press 2011) and read the chapters of Orrells, Bhambra, and Roynon; Rankine; Mitter; Malamud; and Young. Our discussions of these works helped us to understand and confront racially biased interpretation of historical and archaeological evidence.

The fall of 2021 had the group reading Lee Panich and Sara Gonzalez, eds., The Routledge Handbook of the Archaeology of Indigenous-Colonial Interaction in the Americas (Routledge 2021) and focusing on the chapters of Gonzalez and Panich; Thoms, Vasquez, and Martinez de Vara; Kretzler and Gonzalez; Lippert; and Haakanson, Jr., Barker, and Gonzalez. These chapters asked the group to consider the role of indigenous knowledge in archaeology and the essential role that native populations can and must have in the development and conduct of field research.

Our most recent selection, in the spring of this year, was Whitney Battle-Baptiste’s Black Feminist Archaeology (Routledge 2011). Battle-Baptiste’s work blends the personal and the theoretical as she develops her theory of black feminist archaeology in the context of her personal and academic journey. This approach generated lively discussions around issues of what archaeology is and what it is for.

The Puget Sound Society is looking forward to continuing these lively, provocative, and important discussions with new selections in the future. We would be pleased to consult or share more details with any other AIA Societies that might want to consider creating similar groups.”

Thank you, Tony, for sharing the details of the Critical Archaeology Reading Group with us! It’s tremendous what the Puget Sound Society has been able to accomplish with the establishment of this group and we hope other AIA Societies are inspired to start similar programs. To learn more about the Puget Sound Society, visit their website and Facebook page. Society Officers and Members can email them at for more information on how to start a reading group of their own.

Finally, Sara Gonzalez, editor of The Routledge Handbook of the Archaeology of Indigenous-Colonial Interaction in the Americas that the Critical Archaeology Reading Group read last year will be our AIA Virtual Lecturer in April 2023. She will give AIA Archaeology Hour lectures on With, For, and By: Doing Archaeology in a Grand Ronde Way on Tuesday, April 18 at 7 pm PT (register) and again on Wednesday, April 19 at 7 pm ET (register) in addition to an Archaeology Abridged talk on The Science of Storytelling on Thursday, April 27 at 2 pm ET (register). All AIA Archaeology Hour and Archaeology Abridged talks are free and open to the public. These virtual lectures will also have ASL interpretation and autogenerated closed captions. Learn more and register.

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