The Oklahoma Center for the Humanities is thrilled to host TU professor of anthropology, Danielle Macdonald, for a launch of her most recent book: More Than Shelter from the Storm. Co-edited with Brian Andrews of Rogers State Univ., this collection brings together anthropologists from all over the world to think about the concept of “home” and the “built environments” of hunter-gatherer communities. Conversation will be moderated by Anna Goldfield, host of “The Dirt Podcast.” Event to take place 7pm on Thursday, November 17 at the Zarrow Center downtown.
The OCH was able to speak with Danielle Macdonald about the collection this past week. See below for an abbreviated transcript of the interview.
OCH: What is More Than Shelter from the Storm about? What does this collection accomplish?
DM: More Than Shelter from the Storm explores how we think about the concept of ‘home’ through the lens of mobile hunter-gatherer communities. In this volume, we brought together authors who work in different regions of the world and across different time periods to discuss the archaeological evidence for houses in non-sedentary cultures. The authors challenge the notion that the concept of ‘home’ begins with sedentism and agriculture, showing that hunter-gatherers have a deep connection to ‘place’ and to the homes that they create, even if these houses are temporary.
OCH: Why is it important to consider the idea of “home” as it relates to hunter gather societies?
DM: We often think of our own homes as a place of refuge and comfort. As an industrialized, sedentary, society, we also link the concept of home to a specific place and a specific building. Thinking about how temporary structures can also hold a deep meaning for people helps us think differently about where and how people make their houses, and how this relates to our own concepts of home.
OCH: As you compiled the essays (and wrote your own), were there any ideas or findings that struck you as particularly interesting?
DM: One of the patterns that emerged for me is how so many cultures and communities had a deep symbolic connection to the built environment. Literature on mobile hunter-gatherers rarely discusses the houses of these communities, and when they do, it is often essentialized to the utilitarian view– that shelters are meant for protection from the elements. However, through the case studies in the book we see how symbolic artifacts are found in different home contexts across the world, whether it is through placement of special and rare artifacts within the home or burying peopling inside the house.
OCH: The OCH theme for the year is freedom. Could you say a few words about how the idea of “freedom” relates to hunter gatherers and their “built environment”?
DM: The thought of freedom of movement is an interesting concept. It is true that for many hunter-gatherer communities (but not all), movement is tied to their subsistence practices. However, for agricultural communities, sedentism is tied to their food collection, so it is not fair to equate a lack of freedom to food gathering or production (we all need to eat, after all). What I really want to interrogate though is the concept of ‘movement.’ There is a general conception that hunter-gatherers freely roamed the landscape, moving from one area to another, in search of prey or other food. However, we see both archaeologically and in modern hunter-gatherer communities that this is not the case. Hunter-gatherer communities have a deep connection to and knowledge of the landscape; they might move, but often return time and time again to the same location.
OCH: How has this idea appeared in your own research?
DM: At the site I excavate in Jordan, Kharaneh IV, we have evidence of repeated occupation at the same site for over 1,000 years. This place and this landscape held deep meaning for the inhabitants; it was somewhere they returned to build their homes over generations and bury their dead. There is a freedom in being able to call different places ‘home’, to be unconstrained by modern political boundaries and borders, to be able to move across the landscape without worry of removal. This is a freedom that has been taken from many modern hunter-gatherer communities as their traditional territories have been divided by modern political borders.
OCH: The content of this collection is impressively global in scope. What was your experience like putting this collection together?
DM: My co-editor, Brian Andrews, and I were lucky to work with an amazing group of authors! We strived to find people who worked in different countries and in different time periods to get a broad sense of the diversity of hunter-gatherer homes. The volume resulted from a conference session at the Society for American Archaeology Meeting, so we had a chance to meet many of the authors in person, talk about our ideas, and learn from each other before we started writing the book. Archaeology is an inherently collaborative discipline (it is impossible to excavate a site on your own!) so it was a lot of fun to collaborate with so many different authors on this project.
OCH: Any closing words you’d like to add about the collection?
DM: Anthropology challenges our own world view through learning about the perspectives of other cultures and communities. Understanding that there are a myriad of ways that both modern and ancient people can live in the world forces us to look at our own lives and beliefs through a new lens. I hope that More Than Shelter from the Storm will widen the reader’s perspective about the diverse ways people construct ‘home’ in the past and present and will help the reader think a little differently about their own relationship to the built environment.