A Case For Collaboration

According to some researchers, collaborating with the residents of the communities in which archaeologists work makes for better science.

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Tooru Nakahira (left) and Anna Shishido (center), two former internees at Amache, point to a diagram of the barracks where they were once confined. The barracks have been reconstructed (background) based on historical and archaeological evidence. Credit: Nancy Ukai
Tooru Nakahira (left) and Anna Shishido (center), two former internees at Amache, point to a diagram of the barracks where they were once confined. The barracks have been reconstructed (background) based on historical and archaeological evidence. Credit: Nancy Ukai

Spring 2018: By Julian Smith.

In 2016, Bonnie Clark of the University of Denver was running an archaeology field school at the Granada War Relocation Center, a Japanese American internment camp in southeast Colorado, when a student found a flat piece of rusty metal. It looked like it had been made from the base of a large can, and it had dozens of small holes punched in it.

Also known as Amache, the site was the smallest of ten government-run “relocation centers” in the country, housing slightly over 7,000 people at its peak in 1943. Clark did three years of community consultation before starting the field school in 2008. Since then, she and her students have been engaged in a collaboration with living survivors of the camp or their descendants to help understand daily life in Amache. It was the only ethical way to do the work, she said, and important to show Japanese Americans with a connection to the camp that she wasn’t going to “take the data and run,” as she put it. “I needed their input and blessing.”

Some people shared memories and photographs, while others volunteered on the project, worked in paid internships, or helped interpret artifacts. When one member of the community saw the rusty metal, she suggested it was a homemade grater used to shred daikon radishes to make a kind of Japanese relish. “Now her cultural expertise becomes a working hypothesis I can test through residue analysis,” Clark said.

“There is absolutely no doubt in my mind” that collaborative archaeology results in “better science,” said Clark, who co-organized a symposium on the topic at the 2017 Society for American Archaeology (SAA) meeting in Vancouver, B. C. with Meredith Chesson of the University of Notre Dame. Archaeologists have been partnering with groups who have personal connections to sites for decades, she noted. But it is happening more and more often, whether in the form of local communities that spearhead projects themselves, or researchers who teach residents archaeological techniques and share publication bylines.

Excerpt.

Read More in our SPRING 2018 Issue of American Archaeology, Vol. 21 No. 1.             Browse Content of this Issue: Spring 2018 .

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