Manifestations that Matter: A Case of Oaxacan Ruin Possession

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Leathem, Hilary Morgan 

In order to understand the tensions and ties between Mitleños and INAH, I consider the role that these ‘relics of another world,’ as Bandelier (1884) once described the ruins, have in reconfiguring the communities that live within and around them. A striking relationship exists between the production of history, the way it is mobilized and performed, and the vitality or ‘becoming’ of monumental heritage. Landscapes such as Mitla’s are constituted by sedimentations of contested pasts. Saturated, then, with multiple meanings, Mitla’s seemingly ‘inanimate matter’ is animated by conflicts over definition. Indeed, it is continuously resignified by these exact disagreements. As such, this paper is an archaeological ethnography , interrogating what it means to be possessed by and dispossessed of monumental heritage in Oaxaca, Mexico. There are two particular social formations I am seeking to elucidate. First, I am interested in why it is that the ruins decided to manifest, to ‘show themselves’, at this moment in Mitleño history and in this particular, intangible yet embodied way. Second, what does it mean to listen to the ruins and to dwell with them? In my response to these questions, I move between posthumanist scholarship in archaeology and anthropology and the cosmological and historical worlds of Mitla, suggesting ultimately that both possession and dispossession must be understood in relation to the ruins’ own distinctive qualities and, equally, the ongoing control of heritage sites by INAH.

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Archaeological Review from Cambridge
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Archaeological Review from Cambridge
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