International Archaeology Day

President Obama may talk about human missions to Mars, but the observance of International Archaeology Day on Saturday highlights a strong, longstanding interest at the University of California, Berkeley, in uncovering the past on Earth to shed light on the present.

Christine Hastorf, a professor of anthropology and interim director of the campus’s Archaeological Research Facility, said faculty help students daily in classrooms and labs learn how to apply history, math, science, art, literature and cultural studies to conduct, understand and appreciate UC Berkeley archaeological investigations from California to Bolivia and the Near East.

Hastorf, whose research focuses on food and agriculture, political complexity, gender, and paleoethnobotany in South America’s Andean region, points to a new fall course that gives students a glimpse of what is means to actually work as an archaeologist in a museum or the wonkier world of the U.S. State Department.

UC Berkeley archaeologist and professor emeritus Patrick Kirch’s team is seen at work in 1991 at the Tangatatau rock shelter on Mangaia Island in the Southern Cook Islands, which has yielded well-dated artifacts spanning hundreds of years of human occupation. Kirch was recently recognized by the Universite de Polynesie Francaise in Tahiti for his contributions to Polynesian archaeology.

Cultural heritage and diplomacy

Every Tuesday and Thursday, 40 UC Berkeley undergraduates gather in the class on cultural heritage and diplomacy, intensely discussing everything from the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Prevention of the Illicit Traffic in Antiquities, to the Association of Art Museum Directors’ 2013 guidelines on acquiring archaeological material and ancient art.

They debate contemporary controversies like those surrounding the auction of Hopi katsinam, or benevolent spirit beings, in Paris, and conflicting ideas about ways to safeguard cultural heritage amid the violence in Syria. They read and discuss professional publications about cosmopolitanism and cultural diplomacy.

Anthropologist and archaeologist Rosemary Joyce says that teaching the course also enables her to share the intellectual excitement of striving to understand how heritage policy and practice emerges from the often thorny intersections of global policies and local identities.

“It’s a way to provide students an introduction to how archaeological perspectives can be used in practice, and how practical engagement changes the way archaeologists look at the world,” said Joyce.

Her own engagement in the practical application of cultural heritage policy began as a museum curator at Harvard University. Joyce’s first grant proposals there were not to the National Science Foundation to continue her own research in Honduras, but to the National Endowment of the Humanities to fund planning a new exhibition of Latin American archaeological and ethnographic materials. She learned to find cultural heritage laws for countries like Colombia to inform decisions to manage the museum’s holdings and present those to the public.

She said that her immersion in international and national cultural heritage frameworks changed her approach to field research in Honduras, where she worked with colleagues to develop plans for archaeological galleries in a new museum in the city closest to her team’s excavation sites. She also has lectured on Honduras’ pre-Hispanic history for students at the local teachers’ university, and conducted history workshops.

Long view of human evolution lecture

International Archaeology Day will be observed on campus with a Science at Cal talk on the long view of human evolution by Tim White, UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology and director of UC Berkeley’s Human Evolution Research Center.  The lecture, free and open to the public, will begin at 11 a.m. in Mulford Hall, Room 159.

An announcement about the talk noted that fossil discoveries in Africa and Eurasia have demonstrated broad outlines of how humans diverged from their closest relatives, the chimpanzees, and have clarified the sequence through which human ancestors began walking on two legs and developed progressively unusual anatomies across the last 7 million years.

The Archaeological Research Facility, located at 2251 College Ave., is hosting a public lecture at 4 p.m. on Thursday about the population history of the Central Andes. Check out their full fall calendar.