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Human-Animal Relationships and the Fabrication of Hunter-Gatherer Identities, or, How Animals Help Build Human History by Matthew Betts, Canadian Museum of Civilization

Thursday, March 8, 2012
12:00 AM
Ruthven Museums Building Room 2009

In foraging societies, much of daily life revolves around recurring, seasonally cyclical interactions with fauna on a thoroughly understood landscape. These communally experienced practices, a shared rhythm of living (in effect, shared habitus), create group affinities. At the same time, hunting and gathering must be viewed as a magico-religious performance – a spiritual interaction with animal subjects often viewed as persons. The types of relationships builtup between human and non-human subjects expose how hunter-gatherers perceive the natural world and themselves. Because archaeofaunal assemblages embed histories of long-term recurring engagements between hunter-gatherers and animals, they may be rallied to explore issues of social and spiritual identity. In short, whether littered in domestic contexts or placed in ritual deposits, archaeofaunal remains signal, in a phenomenological way, who hunter-gatherer peoples were. This paper presents these concepts via two case studies: 1) what animal remains reveal about the development of Mackenzie Inuit (Siglit) socioterritories in the Western Canadian Arctic between ca. 1200 BP and 200 BP and 2) what shark teeth placed in ritual and mortuary contexts in the Atlantic Provinces reveal about ancient Wabanaki spirituality and identity between ca. 4000 B.P. and 500 BP.