Decolonizing archaeology: lost cities and the construction of a mythical, normative past

WEDNESDAY 6 MARCH 18.00–19.30

Christopher Begley (Transylvania)

This talk examines the practices and epistemology by which archaeology perpetuates colonialist discourse and evokes a mythical past in which masculine fantasies of discovery remain unchallenged by experience, interlopers, or other realities. I will discuss archaeological research on ancient cities and how existing myths are incorporated into the discourse, perpetuating colonial narratives. In particular, I will discuss the so-called “White City” in Honduras and how local religious traditions were adapted by colonial and modern explorers to fit a narrative of their conquest. By ignoring local knowledge, emphasizing ‘discovery’ and fetishizing technology, archaeologists and others have stripped away unwanted contextual realities, distilling a complex, postcolonial reality into a something more consistent with a desired and imagined mythical, normative past. This constructed past applies to the archaeological remains of cities around the world, including Rome.


Dr Christopher Begley is an archaeologist with 25 years of experience working in North America, Latin America, and Europe. He earned his doctorate from the University of Chicago (1999), where he focused on the archaeology of the remote jungles of the Mosquito Coast of Honduras. He has conducted archaeological research in El Salvador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Bolivia, Spain, Italy, Albania, Montenegro, Croatia, and Greece Recently, he has focused on underwater archaeology as well as developing archaeological imaging technology, especially 3D imaging systems.

He was a Fulbright Scholar and a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellow, was named a National Geographic Explorer in 2012 and one of the World’s 50 Most Adventurous Men by Men’s Journal

Magazine in 2015. He has been featured in The New Yorker, National Geographic, American Archaeology magazine, and in documentaries on the BBC, Discovery Channel, and elsewhere. A recent book, ‘Jungleland’ by Christopher Stewart, chronicles his adventures in Honduras. He is the director of The Exploration Foundation a professor at Transylvania University.