School of History, Classics & Archaeology

Munro Lecture - 'What archaeology can learn from art'

The Munro Lectures are part of a series of public lectures organised by the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.

Public lectures and events in the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences

Lecture abstract

HCA Ben Alberti Munro Lecture
Professor Ben Alberti

In this lecture Professor Alberti sketches a new direction for archaeological interpretation through an exploration of the relationship between archaeology and art. Archaeology often fails to grapple with what is most different about the past. Archaeological artworks are a clear example. Take the fantastical anthropomorphic and zoomorphic ceramic vessels from first millennium northwest Argentina: artworks like this are usually explained away as illustrating some form or other of belief in spirits or shamanic practices. But this underestimates the potential for past artworks to influence how we interpret them. How can we better feel the impact of archaeological things on our thinking?

Visual artists work with materials in such a way that they allow us to experience something quite new. They are concerned with events that are about to occur. In contrast, we assume archaeological materials are what is left of events that have already happened. Can we instead think of the relationship between archaeological things and what we know of the past in a parallel way to that between artworks and our contemporary world, such that we treat the materials of the past as anticipating something new? Archaeologists can learn from art what it means to draw from materials new experiences and affects. But archaeological things can also be understood to carry something else forward from the past – traces of the elusive ideas and experiences that made up the worlds of past peoples. Professor Alberti will take ceramics from first millennium AD northwest Argentina as artworks to illustrate the potential for archaeology to bring into being something new.

This event is free and open to all.


Benjamin Alberti is Professor of Anthropology at Framingham State University and lectures at the Universidad Nacional de Córdoba, Argentina. He received his Ph.D. in archaeology from Southampton University in 1998, and was a visiting professor at the Universidad Nacional del Centro de la Provincia de Buenos Aires, Argentina, before moving to his current position.

Alberti’s primary research area is Northwest Argentina, where he explores concepts of bodies and alternative ontologies among the cultures of first millennium AD. He has published on sex/gender, masculinity and anthropomorphism in South American archaeology and Bronze Age Crete in a number of international journals and edited books. Alberti is the co-editor of Archaeology After Interpretation (Routledge 2013, with A. Jones and J. Pollard). He is also the editor of a Special Section of the Cambridge Archaeological Journal on ‘Animating Archaeology: of Subjects, Objects and Alternative Ontologies’ (2009, with T. Bray), Género y Etnicidad en la Arqueología Suramericána (2006, with V. Williams), and Latin American Archaeology (Routledge 2000, with G. Politis). Currently, he is researching anthropomorphism and notions of materiality in northwest Argentina and the archaic rock art of northern New Mexico.

Nov 29 2018 -

Munro Lecture - 'What archaeology can learn from art'

This 2018 Munro Lecture 'What Archaeology Can Learn from Art: Feeling the Impact of the Past' will be delivered by Benjamin Alberti, Professor of Anthropology at Framingham State University, on 29 November 2018.

Appleton Tower, Lecture 2, 11 Crichton Street, Edinburgh EH8 9LE