Archeologist-Ethnographer-Informant Relations: The Dynamics of Ethnoarcheology in the Field



An ethnoarcheological investigation in the Canadian subarctic is used to evaluate the role of native informant-field assistants (Chipewyan, Cree, Metis) in the research process. While many informants provide insightful reflections on the recent historical past, “on-site” informant-assistants offer the most meaningful contributions. The latter help locate archeological residues, accompany researchers to sites during survey and/of excavation, identify artifacts and, most significantly, present their own distinctive conceptions of what the material world represents. These differing conceptions are simultaneously vexing and revealing, giving rise to new dilemmas and questions. Is archeology (or ethnoarcheology) a positivist or interpretive social science? If it is a positivist enterprise, how do we identify this as separate from our personal interpretations of the past? Whose truth or perception of the truth do we embrace? These issues are explored as ethnoarcheologists and their informants struggle for a common understanding of artifacts, features, sites and expressions of ethnicity.