Cogut Institute for the Humanities

Writing Global Histories Today

September 16 – September 17, 2022
Pembroke Hall 305

This two-day symposium brought together an international cohort of scholars to discuss the challenges of writing global histories today, including the epistemological difficulties of analogic and comparative thinking and the political implications of such histories for the present and future of global societies. What are the stakes of writing global histories today? Who should write global histories? And how?

The symposium was incited by two recent, ground-breaking publications: David Graeber and David Wengrow’s The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity (Macmillan, 2021) and Alain Schnapp’s Ruines: Une histoire universelle des ruines. Des origines aux Lumières (Éditions du Seuil, 2020). Scholars at the symposium used these texts as a point of departure for reflecting on writing global histories, and each day ended with a conversation with the authors.

Convened by Yannis Hamilakis and Felipe Rojas with the support of the Cogut Institute for the Humanities and the Humanities Initiative Programming Fund, the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World, the Program in Early Cultures, the C.V. Starr Foundation Lectureships Fund, the Native American and Indigenous Studies Initiative, and the Center for Middle East Studies.


September 16

Rewriting the Past, Imagining Alternative Futures

I. (Re)Writing Global Histories Today

Bathsheba Demuth (Brown University) • “Of Ecologies and Possibilities: The Dawn of Everything as Seen from the Yukon River”
Felipe Rojas (Brown University) • Dawns Before Dawn: Ancient Local Histories of Remote Human Origins

Moderator: Yannis Hamilakis (Brown University)

II. The Dawn of Everything and the Evidence from the Americas

Susan Alt (Indiana University, Bloomington) • “Invisible Landscapes: An Attempt to Avoid Euro-fantasies and Add Indigenous Theory to the Cahokia Story”
David Carballo (Boston University) • “Global History and Alternative Systems of Governance: A View from Mesoamerica”
Mariana Cabral (Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais) • “Archaeology and the Imagination of Indigenous Histories in the Amazon: In Which We Contrast Archaeological and Indigenous Narratives of the Past, and Begin to Reconceive the Archaeological Discipline”

Moderator: Eduardo Góes Neves (Universidade de São Paulo)

III. The Dawn of Everything Through a Decolonial and Indigenous Lens

Zoe Todd (Carleton University) • “The Dawn of Everything and Ancient Oceanic Fossil Kin: Indigenous Sovereignty and the Call to Refractive Integrity in Environmental Policy and Decolonization in So-called Alberta Today”
Paulette Steeves (Algoma University) • “Reclaiming and Rewriting Deep Indigenous Histories”
Yannis Hamilakis (Brown University) • “Things Otherwise: Multi-temporality, Deep Histories, and the Politics of Decolonization”

Moderator: Cristóbal Gnecco (Universidad del Cauca)

General Discussion

David Wengrow (University College London)

Moderators: Yannis Hamilakis and Felipe Rojas (Brown University)

September 17

The Past in Things: Ruins, Rubble, Remnants, Resistance

I. Ruins Without Ruins

Eduardo Góes Neves (Universidade de São Paulo) • “When the Ruins Are in the Trees: Tropical Forests as Historical Evidence”
Robert Weiner (University of Colorado) • “Naayéé', Kukveni, and Roads Through Time: A Millenia (or More) of ‘Ruins’ in the U.S. Southwest”

Moderator: Parker VanValkenburgh (Brown University)

II. Ruins Without People

Sarah Newman (University of Chicago) • “Animal Architecture, Animal Ruins, Animal Archaeology?”
Lukas Rieppel (Brown University) • “The Politics of Prehistory and Deep Time Horizon of Extractive Capitalism (Or How the Earth Sciences Ruined Prehistory)”
Adrian Currie (University of Exeter) • “The Present as Record, the Present as Ruin: Design and Idealization in Historical Science”

Moderator: Neil Safier (Brown University)

III. Making Ruins

Amanda Gaggioli (Brown University) • “Historical Earthquakes and the Archaeological Expectations of Ruins”
Alicia Jiménez (Duke University) • “Unruining Black Burial Grounds in the North American South: Geer Cemetery (Durham, NC)” — Co-authored by Adam Rosenblatt (Duke University)
Cristóbal Gnecco (Universidad del Cauca) • “Dialectical Images and the Making of Ruins”

Moderator: Peter Van Dommelen (Brown University)

General Discussion

Alain Schnapp

Moderators: Yannis Hamilakis and Felipe Rojas (Brown University)

Abstracts and Bios

Places in the past are typically evaluated using value systems that make sense to academics; however, I argue, this does not reveal as much about past people as it does about academics and the present. What if ancient Cahokia was about sacred places, not chiefs and redistribution? It has long been known that Cahokian landscapes were associated with water; monuments and habitation zones were interwoven with creeks, wetlands, and swamps. This environmental fact has been viewed as a deficit, with researchers calculating floodable acreage rather than considering that the watery environment could be where Cahokia found its sacred authorization. Even more unlikely from a Western perspective, an entire underground (invisible) landscape of caves and karst features was similarly intertwined with the Cahokian world. Given western values, scholar’s eyes have glossed over these features. Interpreting landscapes and excavated data relying on Indigenous scholarship, philosophy, and science makes possible a different interpretation of Cahokia.


Susan M. Alt is a professor of anthropology and director of the Native American and Indigenous Studies program at Indiana University, Bloomington. She is the author or editor of four books as well as numerous articles and book chapters. Her archaeological research centers on the ancient city of Cahokia with a particular focus on religion, landscapes, and gender. Most recently she seeks to meld archaeological research with Indigenous scholarship, history, and beliefs to expand the ways we understand the past and to try to create histories that better reflect the people they represent.

As a discipline responsible for writing histories, archaeology has historically neglected its own bias and responsibilities towards the people portrayed in our narratives. Graeber and Wengrow’s The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity brings forth the impact of Indigenous sources on the construction of Western modern thinking, as much as it highlights many assumptions we activate while writing other people´s histories. Understanding that one of the challenges of writing global histories is defining who tells the tale, I propose to listen to and follow Amazonian Indigenous knowers and thinkers as a movement of decentering Western perspectives in archaeology. Taking Indigenous narratives of the past as a starting point, I intend to show how archaeological imagination can be challenged into different configurations, and I engage with Indigenous people as a political force, committed to Indigenous claims, rights, and resistance.


Mariana Petry Cabral is a Brazilian archaeologist whose work focuses on Indigenous knowledge and modes of comparison between scientific and Indigenous ways of knowing. Her research and writing aims to develop critical insights into the epistemological and ontological nature of Archaeology, seeking to valorize Indigenous concepts and practices as strong tools to construct and manage narratives about past times. She has been working in the Amazon in the last decade, conducting fieldwork in archaeology and ethnography. Since 2016, she occupies a position of professor of archaeology at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil, teaching graduate and undergraduate courses, and supervising Ph.D. and master’s degree dissertations. Her education background includes a BA in social communication (journalism), a BA in history, a master’s degree in history of Iberian and American societies, and a Ph.D. in anthropology.

The diversity of sociopolitical organization characteristic of the “altepemeh” (“city states”) of the Aztec and broader Postclassic Mesoamerican worlds provides opportunities for examining variability in governing strategies over time and space. Common themes in governance tended to draw from certain sociotechnological realities and shared ontologies of religion and governing ideologies. Points of divergence can be seen in the particular entanglements between political economies and the settings and scales of collective action. In this paper, I review how Mesoamerican polities varied synchronically and diachronically across these axes, and especially in relation to the comparative cases and frameworks marshaled by Graeber and Wengrow in The Dawn of Everything. I consider how groups and individuals strategized in how they approached resource dilemmas, fiscal financing, the strength of corporate groups versus patron-client networks, and what forms of rulership were deemed legitimate.


David Carballo is professor of anthropology, archaeology, and Latin American studies at Boston University, where he is also associate provost for general education. He specializes in the archaeology of Latin America, especially central Mexico and with topical interests in households, urbanism, religion, collective action, and working with contemporary communities in understanding ancient ones. Current investigations focus on Teotihuacan’s Tlajinga district, a cluster of nonelite neighborhoods on the periphery of what was then the largest city in the Americas. Recent books include Cooperation and Collective Action: Archaeological Perspectives (ed., University Press of Colorado, 2013), Urbanization and Religion in Ancient Central Mexico (Oxford University Press, 2016), Teotihuacan: The World Beyond the City (ed., Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2020), and Collision of Worlds: A Deep History of the Fall of Aztec Mexico and the Forging of New Spain (Oxford University Press, 2020).

Most discussion of the nature and limits of historical reconstruction lean heavily on a textural metaphor: the “historical record.” The geological, fossil and archaeological records are thus considered as “gappy,” “incomplete”; information about the past has been removed “like bookworms eating through documents in an archive” (Turner 2019, 52). This metaphor has fairly deep roots, going at least to the epistemic connection the Early Modern Royal Society drew between biblical analysis and “reading the book of nature.” But the Early Moderns also provide a different metaphor for understanding the past: the present as a ruin. As Alexander Wragge-Morley (2020) has shown, the archaeology and architecture of ruins (attempts to reconstruct Stonehenge as an ancient temple for instance) were a crucial inspiration for how some Early Moderns thought about and represented nature. On the basis of supposed design principles and the material remains of Stonehenge, Inigo Jones attempted to infer how the ruin once was — its previous perfection. Robert Hooke represented snowflakes using regular geometric patterns, not at all representative of how they in fact looked through his microscope. Like Jones, he did this on the basis that the snowflakes were constructed based on (perfect, divine) design principles which were distorted when they (like Adam) fell from the sky. For Hooke, snowflakes were ruins. I’ll consider how shifting from the textual metaphor to the ruin metaphor might also shift how we think about historical reconstruction, along the way emphasizing the role of design principles — not only adaptationist design principles — and integration, in at least some paleontological practices.


Adrian Currie is a senior lecturer at the University of Exeter’s Department of Sociology, Philosophy, and Anthropology. He is primarily interested in how scientists successfully generate knowledge in tricky circumstances: where evidence is thin on the ground, targets are highly complex and obstinate, and our knowledge is limited. This has led him to examine the historical sciences — geology, paleontology, and archaeology — and to argue that the messy, opportunistic (“methodologically omnivorous”) and disunified nature of these sciences often underwrites their success. His interest in knowledge-production has also led him to think about the natures of, and relationships between, scientific tools such as experiments, models and observations, as well as in comparative methods in biology. He also has an interest in how we organize scientific communities, particularly regarding scientific creativity.

In its course from the boreal forest to the tundra along the Bering Sea, the Yukon River flows through multiple Indigenous homelands, from Yup’ik and Koyukon to Tlingit and Gwitch’in. Each has distinct ways of negotiating politics, from the selection of leaders to the distribution of wealth — and were incredulous with much about European ideas of value, hierarchy, and power when the British and Russians attempted colonization in the early 19th century. Just as shocking to communities along the Yukon was the imperial, and later nation-state, disinterest in including other-than-human life in political decisions, legal orders, and social values. If ecology is considered part of society, as Native communities along the Yukon see it, how might that orient our understanding of politics, possibility, and the determinants of a good life?


Bathsheba Demuth is the Dean’s Associate Professor of History and Environment and Society at Brown University, where she specializes in the lands and seas of the Russian and North American Arctic. Her multiple-prize winning first book, Floating Coast: An Environmental History of the Bering Strait (W.W. Norton, 2019) was named a Nature Top Ten Book of 2019 and Best Book of 2019 by NPR, Kirkus Reviews, and Library Journal among others. SHE holds a BA and MA from Brown University, and an MA and Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. As a Carnegie Foundation fellow, she is currently researching a history of the Yukon River watershed. Her writing has appeared in publications from The American Historical Review to The New Yorker.

Approaches to earthquake factors in archaeology are characterized by the application of historical earthquake texts to support and guide an expectation of disaster and material ruin. Using the case of Helike in Greece, I offer an alternative approach through the close reading of ancient historical sources for emic, or culturally specific, perspectives on earthquakes. Greco-Roman perceptions of earthquakes intersected with not only disaster events but also religion, science, politics, human behavior, and the human-built environment. In fact, perceptions of disaster versus nondisaster scenarios indicate that experiences of earthquake disasters were rare. Despite the perceived rarity of disaster, Greco-Romans viewed earthquakes as persistent hazards, especially to the human-built environment. An ethnographic approach to ancient textual sources on earthquakes brings new archaeological expectations on the identification and interpretation of earthquakes. Expectations should turn away from widespread ruin and towards variations within and between settlements, public versus private buildings, and particular structural elements.


Amanda Gaggioliis a postdoctoral research associate with the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World at Brown University. She recently received her Ph.D. from Stanford University with a dissertation titled “Earthquakes and the Structuring of Greco-Roman Society.” Her research includes interdisciplinary approaches that combine ancient textual, archaeological, and natural scientific approaches to expand our understanding of past human-geological environmental relationships, particularly with respect to earthquakes and associated seismic phenomena. Her research interests include resilience, political ecology, postcolonial theory, archaeological science, geoarchaeology, soil micromorphology, archaeoseismology, traditional environmental knowledge, and the eastern Mediterranean. Her work has included fieldwork in Cyprus, Israel, Turkey, and Greece at sites spanning the third millennium BCE to fifth century CE. Her work has been supported by the Environment, Energy, and Sustainability Stanford Interdisciplinary Graduate Fellowship, a National Geographic Early Career Grant, and a Multi-Country Fellowship with the Council of American Overseas Research Centers.

The heritage industry (with the complicity of archaeological and historical discourses) has created enduring and powerful images, most of them tied to the old idea of civilization, nowadays disguised as development. If I am to use the terms preferred by the temporality of modernity, I should say that those images mix past and present in very curious ways because they create things that are linked to the former but speak to the latter. How to handle this curiosity? One way is through the concept “dialectical image” proposed by Walter Benjamin as follows: “It’s not that what is past casts its light on what is present, or what is present casts its light on what is past; rather, image is that wherein what has been comes together in a flash with the now to form a constellation. In other words, image is dialectics at a standstill. For while the relation of the present to the past is a purely temporal, continuous one, the relation of what-has-been to the now is dialectical: is not progression but image, suddenly emergent. Only dialectical images are genuinely historical — that is, not archaic —  images.” Dialectical images in the heritage field create hardly credible (but useful) creatures because they mingle destruction with survival; with unusual ease, they often make ruins. The destruction of living sites and places and their later heritage salvation are obvious acts in the unfolding of modern history. This makes more surprising, not least, the imagines created by the work of the heritage industry because the relation with objects-signs turned into heritage bespeak a terrifying atemporality: it is a current experience in current objects-signs, but their emotional meaning (and their value in the tourist market) is tied to the past. That timelessness is an index of the present, no longer concerned with time as much as with space. I will season my arguments of the making of ruins as dialectical images with sketches drawn from my ethnographic research on the heritage meanings accorded to the Qhapaq Ñan (the Inca road system) and the Jesuit-Guarani missions.


Cristóbal Gnecco is professor in the Department of Anthropology at the Universidad del Cauca and chair of its Ph.D. Anthropology Program, where he works on the political economy of archaeology, geopolitics of knowledge, discourses on alterity, and ethnographies of heritage. He is currently working in two research projects, both related to the effects of heritage processes: “Qhapaq Ñan, a Postarchaeological Ethnography” and “Heritage Meanings and Semiotic Struggles Around the Jesuit-Guarani Missions.”

How should a universal history of ruins address the study of contemporary landscapes “ruined” by structural racism, displacement, dumping, and vandalism? Like many other historic African American cemeteries and burial grounds of enslaved people, Geer Cemetery was hidden in plain sight for decades in an overgrown wooded area in downtown Durham, North Carolina. Yet the cemetery was never forgotten by the descendant community, and since the mid-1980s has been the home of sporadic efforts to reclaim the space and rediscover its history — a history bound up with the founding and most important institutions in Durham. This paper explores the political and ethical implications of labeling these spaces as ruins, and the work of family members, volunteers, college students, anthropologists, and archaeologists who insist on marking, documenting, and unruining these places of the dead. The authors are members of the Durham Black Burial Grounds Collaboratory, a multi-university, multi-cemetery partnership.


Alicia Jiménez is assistant professor of classical studies at Duke University. Her research engages with archaeological theory and the material traces of Roman imperialism between 218 BCE and 100 CE. Her book, Imagines Hibridae: una aproximación postcolonialista al estudio de las necrópolis de la Bética [A Postcolonial Approach to the Study of the Baetican Necropolis] (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas, 2008), analyzes the impact of Roman colonization in the funerary rituals of southern Spain and how different discourses about collective ancestry were simultaneously mediated in the forum and the tomb.

She is the PI of Duke’s excavation project at the Roman army camps near Numantia (Renieblas, Spain, 2nd–1st c. BCE), one of the oldest Roman camps in the Mediterranean and a key site to understand the role of the army in the creation of the first Roman provinces. She has been visiting Durham’s cemeteries with her course “The Archaeology of Death” since 2015 and is a cofounder of the Durham Black Burial Grounds Collaboratory.

Adam Rosenblatt is associate professor of the practice in international comparative studies at Duke University. He is the author of Digging for the Disappeared: Forensic Science After Atrocity (Stanford University Press, 2015), and has written extensively about mass graves, forensic science, and movements to care for the marginalized dead. His second book, Cemetery Citizens: Reclaiming Buried Pasts to Revise the Present, will be out in 2023. He is the cofounder of the Durham Black Burial Grounds Collaboratory and a member of the Friends of Geer Cemetery.

The Amazon forest was occupied by around 10 million Indigenous peoples by the end of the 16th century AD. These people have lived there since the Terminal Pleistocene and around 90% of them have perished as of the early 1700s. It is known today that they have substantially transformed nature through different practices through the millennia. These transformations happened in such a scale that one is forced to accept that the Amazon is as much cultural as it is natural heritage. Together with these landscape marks, one finds evidence of earthen architecture in the form of ditches, roads, embankments, mounds. Such transformed spaces, which can be ancient orchards embedded in the forest, or patches of fertile soils, are directly connected to people’s lives today, even when there is no direct cultural connection between peoples of the past and the present.

In the Amazon, hence, any effective approach to understand the deep past must look for traces that go beyond the realm of the materiality of the archaeological record. I suspect this is the case in other tropical settings in the world still poorly known to archaeology such as Central Africa and Melanesia. Where forests are ruins, a comparative global history may have to be a comparative natural history as well.


Eduardo Góes Neves holds a BA in history from the University of São Paulo and a Ph.D. in anthropology from Indiana University. He has more than 30 years of research experience in the Amazon Basin and is currently professor of archaeology at the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology of the University of São Paulo, where he is also the director. He has published widely on topics related to the Amazon and has written the books Sob os Tempos do Equinócio: 8.000 anos de história na Amazônia Central (Ubu Editoria, 2022) and Arqueologia da Amazônia (Zahar, 2006) and co-edited Unknown Amazon: Culture in Nature in Ancient Brazil (British Museum Press, 2001), and he has recently organized the chapter on Amazonian archaeology for the UN-sponsored Science Panel of the Amazon. He has been visiting professor in universities in Latin America, the U.S., and Europe.

Most archaeologists today understand the term “architecture” broadly, applying equally well to pyramids, palaces, and temples as to large-scale terracing systems, earthen barrows and tells, and cultivated gardens of the Amazon. Even a capacious definition of the term, however, often restricts its usage to human constructions. But other animal species, too, undertake massive, multigenerational architectural projects. Beavers have shaped whole continents with extensive dams, some of which may be hundreds of feet long, built up over centuries and maintained by continuous repairs. Similarly, in Brazil, termites constructing vast underground tunnel networks have deposited their soil waste at the surface for millennia, creating a landscape of conical mounds that covers an area equivalent to the British Isles. This paper aims to expand the domain of what can be considered architecture and, by extension, what can become ruins and be investigated archaeologically, to these and other nonhuman animal species. If we accept human transformations of stones, soils, and trees to reveal unwritten human histories, then the ongoing, monumental construction work being carried out by beavers and termites offer a similar opportunity to investigate unwritten nonhuman histories.


Sarah Newman is assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Chicago. She is an anthropological archaeologist, with a geographical and temporal specialization in ancient Mesoamerica, particularly the ancient Maya. Her scholarship combines archaeological, zooarchaeological, epigraphic, and art historical methods and evidence to explore anthropological issues, focusing on multiple forms of human interactions with ancient environments. Her current research projects include investigations of the changing cultural and historical constructions of the concept of waste, cross-cultural explorations of natural historical knowledge and its taxonomies, multiscalar and multitemporal processes of anthropogenic landscape modifications, and the long-term relationships between humans and other animals. She is the author of Unmaking Waste: New Histories of Old Things (forthcoming with University of Chicago Press, April 2023).

This presentation asks how the earth sciences are entangled with the deep history of extractive capitalism. To do so, I focus on two closely connected developments that took place during the long 19th century. The first has to do with the temporal imagination of economic actors. Following Marx, historians and sociologists often describe the political economy of capitalism as especially future oriented. Money only becomes capital once it’s invested, the argument goes. Hence, the future came to be seen as a lucrative space wherein profits are found, risks calculated, and uncertainties mastered. What is less often remarked upon, however, is that precisely the same period also saw the invention of deep time. At the turn of the 19th century, earth scientists developed formal techniques to “burst through the limits of time,” as George Cuvier famously put it, and reconstruct a lost world. Moreover, in addition to expanding people’s imaginative capacity to travel through time, the earth sciences also contributed materially to the period’s booming economy in mineral extraction, helping to create a new energy regime whose geopolitical impact can hardly be overstated.

The temporalities of modern capitalism thus extend into the past as well as the future. But the story does not end there. In addition to creating techniques that allowed people to project themselves into the furthest recesses of prehistory and locate valuable resources for economic extraction, 19th-century scientists also composed a new narrative of Earth history. In this story, our planet is so old that Earth history takes place on a fundamentally different timescale than human history. This cast human beings out of the deep past, creating a temporal rift that marked a moral caesura as well. This presentation therefore concludes by asking how the narrative of Earth’s deep history composed by 19th-century scientists helped to lay down the ethical as well as the epistemic infrastructure that undergirds the political economy of extractive capitalism.


Lukas Rieppel is a historian of science and capitalism at Brown University. His research asks how the production of knowledge and the accumulation of capital are mutually bound up with each other, especially in the life, earth, and environmental sciences. He recently published Assembling the Dinosaur (Harvard University Press, 2019), a book that examines how the ideals, norms, and practices of modern capitalism shaped the way scientific knowledge was made, certified, and distributed during North America’s long Gilded Age. In addition, he also co-edited a recent issue of the annual journal Osiris on the theme of “Science & Capitalism: Entangled Histories,” and he has written several essays about the material culture of the earth sciences, the history of museums, the valuation of fossils, and the authentication of specimens. He is currently working on several new projects, which range from the role played by the earth sciences in the history of North American imperialism and Indigenous dispossession to a study of how the concept of organization traveled between biology and political economy.

Alain Schnapp is emeritus professor of classical archaeology at the University Paris I (Panthéon-Sorbonne). His main interests are Greek iconography and cultural history of antiquity. He has been a visiting scholar or visiting professor in various universities and research institutes: Princeton University, Stanford University, Getty Research Institute, Churchill College (Cambridge), Universität Heidelberg, Universität Basel, Wissenschaftskolleg Berlin, Morphomata Köln, Istituto Orientale Napoli, Università di Perugia, Collegium Budapest, University of Aarhus.

The devastating political and social disparities and racism that are for the most part the result of Eurocentric interpretations and erasure of Indigenous history and people are obvious on a global scale. For Indigenous people, reclaiming and rewriting history and links to homelands that have been erased through Western archaeology as a handmaiden to the nation-state takes many forms and paths. Archaeology was and in many areas remains pivotal in supporting genocidal colonial policies that erased and denied Indigenous links to the land and to ancestors across time. Reclaiming Indigenous histories builds paths to healing and works to inform and push back on racism and discrimination among the general population. Critical discourses centered on reclaiming an unerasing Indigenous history works to decolonize hearts and minds and create safe spaces for teaching and healing within academia and the general public.


Paulette Steeves (Cree-Métis) is an Indigenous archaeologist. She was born in Whitehorse, Yukon Territories, and grew up in Lillooet, British Columbia, Canada. She received her BA in anthropology, honors cum laude, from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville in 2000. In 2008 she was awarded the Clifford D. Clark fellowship to attend graduate studies at Binghamton University in New York state, where she successfully defended her dissertation in 2015. She has taught courses on Native American and First Nations histories, and  decolonization of academia. She is currently an associate professor in sociology-anthropology, and the chair of geography, geology and land stewardship at Algoma University and a Canada Research Chair in Indigenous History Healing and Reconciliation. Her research is focused on the Indigenous Paleolithic of the Western Hemisphere. She argues that Indigenous peoples were present in the Western Hemisphere as early as 130,000 years before the present, and possibly much earlier.

This short presentation builds on my previous work on oil and other petroleum entities as “weaponized fossil kin” in the Alberta, Canada, petro-economies in the homelands of my Cree and Métis ancestors in central Alberta. This talk also draws on ongoing work I am doing with my collaborator Dr. Amer Kanngieser on listening, attunement, and care in building responses to ecological violences in settler-colonial nation states like Canada. In this talk, I query the difference between a) what states and other governance bodies claim they are doing through the “politics of recognition” that both Povinelli and Coulthard critically engage in their scholarship, respectively, and b) what states and other colonial actors are actually doing to address legacies of genocidal harm and colonial white supremacist imperial land theft in my home province. I examine what it looks like to attune oneself to embodied reciprocal relationships that acknowledge collective responsibilities to fossil beings and to sovereign Indigenous nations in settler colonial contexts today. I propose doing so through an ethic of what I gloss as “refractive integrity.” Refractive integrity focuses not just on the appearance of, and claims individuals or groups may make about, enacting good relations, but also on the messy, ongoing, and sometimes paradoxical realities of lived relationships that center Indigenous sovereignty and collective reciprocal responsibilities to plural communities displaced and dispossessed by white supremacist colonial capitalist violence in so-called Canada today.


Zoe Todd (she/they) (Red River Métis) is a practice-led artist-researcher who studies the relationships between Indigenous sovereignty and freshwater fish futures in Canada. As a Métis anthropologist and researcher-artist, they combine dynamic social science and humanities research and research-creation approaches — including ethnography, archival research, oral testimony, and experimental artistic research practices — within a framework of Indigenous philosophy to elucidate new ways to study and support the complex relationships between Indigenous sovereignty and freshwater fish well-being in Canada today. They are a cofounder of the Institute for Freshwater Fish Futures, which is a collaborative Indigenous-led initiative that is “restor(y)ing fish futures, together” across three continents. They are also a cofounder of the Indigenous Environmental Knowledge Institute at Carleton University. They were a 2018 Yale Presidential Visiting Fellow, and in 2020 they were elected to the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars.

I explore examples of how Indigenous peoples in the U.S. Southwest have engaged with ruins — a widely critiqued term in Native communities — and other phenomena identified as traces of past eras. During the Chaco period (AD 850–1200), ancient peoples constructed monumental avenues that led to structures no longer inhabited when the roads were built. I consider the implications of these roads through time for diachronic narratives of ruins in the Southwest. Next, I present some valences of ancestral sites in contemporary Pueblo and Diné cultures as places of history, renewal, and philosophical inquiry — which, in some cases, are to be avoided as dangerous. I close by considering certain landforms and flora that are viewed by Diné as providing evidence for events in the deep human past. These case studies pose challenges for global histories of ruins by questioning conventional definitions of archaeological sites and larger Western ontological categorizations of agency and temporality.


Robert S. Weiner is a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He is currently a resident scholar at the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he holds the Paloheimo Fellowship. His research focuses on Chaco Canyon, with particular emphasis on monumental roads, religion and ritual, and Diné (Navajo) oral traditions. More broadly, he is interested in the deep history of religion, mind and cognition, monumentality, and comparative approaches to studying human history and culture. His research has been published in American Antiquity, Advances in Archaeological Practice, Time and Mind, Kiva, and various edited volumes. He has received grants and fellowships from the National Science Foundation, the American Philosophical Society, the School for Advanced Research, and the Society for American Archaeology.

David Wengrow is professor of comparative archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, and has been a visiting professor at New York University, the University of Auckland, and the University of Freiburg. He has conducted archaeological fieldwork in Africa and the Middle East. He is the author of three books including What Makes Civilization? (Oxford University Press, 2010) and co-author with David Graeber of the New York Times bestseller The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity (Macmillan, 2021).