The (Banana) Landscape and Archaeology in Central America, 1890-1940

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Abstract Summary
This paper explores how different interpretations of the landscape and environment around two archaeological sites of 20th-century Central America (Quiriguá in Guatemala and Copán in Honduras) made these sites contested spaces. It follows thematic trends across the records of several North American archaeological expeditions between the 1890s and 1940s, chiefly the Harvard Peabody Museum expedition to Copán in Honduras in 1892-3 and the expedition to Quiriguá in Guatemala, led by William Duncan Strong for the Bureau of American Ethnology in 1936. Field sites were not self-contained scientific spaces, but embedded in a rural landscape with all its social, agricultural and commercial relationships. Local, regional and transnational actors all had a stake in controlling the natural and built environment, and foreign and local scholars, farmers, and labourers interacted in different ways with these environments. In fact, by paying attention to the micro-geographies of the archaeological field site, we can uncover facets of daily life and labour relations in the rural landscapes which were fundamental to Guatemalan and Honduran history in this era. Archaeologists and local farmers argued about agricultural practices within the supposed boundaries of the archaeological sites. In the case of Quiriguá in particular, which was located in the midst of a United Fruit banana plantation, the terrain’s primary function as an agricultural landscape (the archetype of ‘tropical agriculture’ for North Americans) permeated all aspects of the archaeologists’ practice, from finding suitable labourers to fashioning themselves ‘tropical explorers’.
Abstract ID :
HSS246
Submission Type
Organized Session
Abstract Topic
Earth and Environmental Sciences
Chronological Classification :
20th century, early
Self-Designated Keywords :
environment, archaeology, field science, bananas, Guatemala, Honduras