Jade teapot with an opened lid

Photograph of Chinese Jade Tea pot from Great Zimbabwe

Rostovtzeff Lecture Series: The End in Sight? Archaeological Science, Globalisation and Unsustainability

Lecture IV: Homo faber and Homo dolor: Archaeological Science, Globalisation and (Un)sustainability

Shadreck Chirikure

University of Oxford

This lecture will take place in person at ISAW.

Registration is required at THIS LINK.

The Rostovtzeff Lectures are supported in part by a generous endowment fund given by Roger and Whitney Bagnall.

How humans in different places interacted with their environments and with each other connected them to lands, knowledge, skills and resources afar. People, plants, and animals moved around all the time along the network, making mobility a powerful driver of change in the past and present. Human material relations, technology, increasing populations, and changing cosmologies sometimes deepened or weakened the intensity of interconnections between localities and regions. Globalisation – the net consequence of multiscalar networks – is unsurprisingly a huge theme in humanities and social sciences as well as among politicians and policy makers. It has become so big that to a meaningful extent, it determines outcomes of elections in North America and Europe. This series of lectures brings archaeological science in conversation with the deep history of globalisation, using examples from Africa, a region previously assumed to have no history. Globalisation has been around for millennia: what is different now is that cosmologies of capitalism and hyper accumulation, have pushed the world towards unsustainable production and consumption. Does the world have answers to this unfolding crisis of unsustainability, and are the powerful beneficiaries of current day globalisation prepared to change the course of action? Is the past simply nostalgia or a useful source of solutions to this global challenge?

Humans thrive on materials to fulfil daily needs and wants. They develop relationships of interdependence with things and exchange them to create social relationships and to fulfil obligations. Peering into the deep past, starting millions of years ago, humans and their ancestors worked materials such as stone to make tools, and with time produced things for beautification, and to fulfil symbolic functions. The need for materials and opportunities associated with them promoted the development of networks linking different parts of the world. This was accompanied by demographic and technological revolutions which sustained production and consumption. Globalisation is celebrated as a natural connection between the world’s regions. However, the impacts are felt differently – regions that over produce and over consume and those that under consume and under produce, experience similar planetary impacts. How did we come to be on this precipice where our love for materials and things threatens the very planet that is home to all forms of live? What cosmologies have shaped human material relations through time? Why is it that the more we think we are being globalised, the more the impact on the planet we cause? This final lecture integrates theory with practical examples to argue for a mindset shift if we are to save ourselves and the planet.

Professor Chirikure is Edward Hall Professor of Archaeological Science and Director of the Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art in Oxford where he holds a British Academy Global Professorship. Chirikure applies scientific methods to study ancient materials and technologies bringing together natural and social sciences and humanities. He uses the results of discoveries in the field and the laboratory to develop new understanding, conserve heritage and to tackle global challenges such as responses to colonialism. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and the Academy of Science of Africa. A serial award winning researcher, Chirikure is the Editor in Chief of Archaeometry, and sits on editorial boards of more than 12 journals in archaeology and related disciplines. His book Great Zimbabwe: reclaiming a confiscated past (Routledge, 2021) was well received.

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