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Memory Work

Archaeologies of Material Practices

Edited by Barbara J. Mills and William H. Walker

Memory making is a social practice that links people and things together across time and space and ultimately has material consequences. The intersection of matter and social practice becomes archaeologically visible through the deposits created during social activities. Memories are made, not just experienced, and their material traces allow us to understand the materiality of these practices. Indeed, materiality is not just material culture repackaged. Instead, it is about the interaction of humans and materials within a set of cultural relationships. In this book the authors focus on a set of case studies that illustrate how social memories were made through repeated, patterned, and engaged social practices. “Memory work” also refers to the interpretive activities scholars perform when studying social memory. The contributors to this volume share a common goal to map out the different ways in which to study social memories in past societies programmatically and tangibly.

2008. 320 pp., 45 illustrations, 21 tables, notes, references, index, 6 x 9

Contributors: Susan D. Gillespie, Rosemary A. Joyce, Lisa J. Lucero, Lynn M. Meskell, Barbara J. Mills, Axel E. Nielsen, Timothy R. Pauketat, Joshua Pollard, Ann B. Stahl, William H. Walker

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“… this excellent collection … is … a fascinating application of the latest archaeological thought to a wide-range of case studies.

This collection of essays represents archaelogogy at close to its best, combining detailed knowledge of fascinating case studies with up-to-date theoretical influences.

By examining particular historical instantiations of different networks of people, places, animals and things, this volume ensures the manner in which materiality and deposition play a crucial role in remembering and forgetting has never been clearer.”
—Oliver Harris, Cambridge Archaeological Journal, Vol. 19, No. 2

“Mills, Walker, and company innovatively turn memory on its head, focusing not on memory as a tool, but rather on the ways memory is constitutive of social life as revealed through depositional practices. More than just a new twist on memory, the concepts deployed in this book have the potential to be transformative for the discipline. Anthropological readers grappling with issues of practice, continuity, and materiality will be engaged, inspired, and perhaps unsettled by some of the ideas presented here. All those with a stake in the future directions taken by archaeological theory should read this book.”
—Ruth M. Van Dyke, American Antiquity

Memory Work … joins the burgeoning literature in archaeology on memory and materiality. For the participants in this volume, memory work refers to both the interpretive work that archaeologists do and to how the people archaeologists study make memory…. This volume primarily focuses on the non-discursive ways that people forget. The editors have very successfully unified eleven chapters into a coherent volume….The audience for Memory Work is archaeologists or anthropologists engaged with social theory, and concerned with topics of memory, materiality, and active objects. The book will reward the theoretically sophisticated reader. The authors present it as the next step in a larger dialogue in archaeology, about the nature and meaning of the material, and about social change and continuity.”
—Randall H. McGuire, Journal of Anthropological Research, vol. 66, 2010

“What the volume as a whole shows is how memory works both on the immediate level through acts of concealment, also long-term, through processes of citation and enchainment…. It remains an exemplary and original volume and one which deserves to be widely read and cited and for that reason, is a recommended read for anyone interested in the complexities of understanding the archaeological record.”
—Gavin Lucas, Department of Archaeology, University of Iceland, Journal of Field Archaeology, vol. 34, 2009

“This book makes a substantial contribution to archaeological theory and practice…. Social memory is of wide interest in the social sciences and the humanities. The approach advocated here, to focus on practice and materiality, has the potential to introduce a different twist on the subject.”
—Julia A. Hendon, Gettysburg College

“This is an excellent book that makes a seminal contribution to the growing literature on archaeology and memory.”
—Robert Preucel, University of Pennsylvania


  1. Introduction: Memory, Materiality, and Depositional Practice
    Barbara J. Mills and William H. Walker
  2. Practice in and as Deposition
    Rosemary A. Joyce
  3. Deposition and Material Agency in the Early Neolithic of Southern Britain
    Joshua Pollard
  4. Founders’ Cults and the Archaeology of Wa-kan-da
    Timothy R. Pauketat
  5. Remembering while Forgetting: Depositional Practices and Social Memory at Chaco
    Barbara J. Mills
  6. History in Practice: Ritual Deposition at La Venta Complex A
    Susan D. Gillespie
  7. Practice and Nonhuman Social Actors: The Afterlife Histories of Witches and Dogs in the American Southwest
    William H. Walker
  8. Dogs, Pythons, Pots, and Beads: The Dynamics of Shrines and Sacrificial Practices in Banda, Ghana, 1400–1900 CE
    Ann B. Stahl
  9. Memorializing Place among Classic Maya Commoners
    Lisa J. Lucero
  10. The Materiality of Ancestors: Chullpas and Social Memory in the Late Prehispanic History of the South Andes
    Axel E. Nielsen
  11. Memory Work and Material Practices
    Lynn Meskell
There are no working papers for this book at the present time.