Presentation of the creative, relativist and multicultural blog of the Neixón hillforts archaeological project (Galicia, Spain)

Xurxo Ayán Vila (Spanish Higher Council of Scientific Research)
David Blanco Míguez (University of A Coruña)
The Internet must be seen as a social phenomenon and its spatial properties should be critically interrogated… Our cultural archaeological production is today implicated in the discourses and contestations of identity, social roles and representations, in new ways, through new media and within new spatial configurations. If archaeologists are to play an active role in the process, and thereby come closer to disciplinary maturity, then we have to understand these processes and their position in the new cyber-order.
(Hamilakis, 2000: 257)
Since 2003 a team composed of a variety of professionals connected with the Landscape Archaeology Laboratory of the Padre Sarmiento Institute for Galician Studies (CSIC-Xuga) in Santiago de Compostela (Galicia, Spain) have been working on the archaeological site of Castros de Neixón – two hillforts located in a small peninsula in one of the Galician rias. In step with this project, an international work camp for young people aged 18 to 30 has been set up. The project has several broad aims: the recovery of the cultural heritage of this area; the design of and display of cultural materials in the Archaeology Center of Barbanza (open to the public since 2002); the promotion of the archaeological area of Neixón as a tourist attraction, and the communication of the scientific knowledge produced by our research to both local communities and society at large.

The project’s logo (“Neixón” in Galician is pronounced like “nation” in English)

Scientific interdisciplinarity, work by volunteers in the international work camp, and local involvement constitute the three main pillars of the Arqueoneixón project (Ayán et al. 2007). These mainstays provide the basis for a scientific project that, despite having been designed in an academic context, seeks to permeate the social, economic, cultural and symbolic fabrics of the archaeological area of Neixón.

The context: the exceptional nature of a multidimensional area
Neixón hillforts have tremendous potential. Their complexity allows us to study and display the historical evolution of a wide area in Galicia (Rías Baixas), from the prehistoric period to the present, using a microspatial scale, accessible and understandable to the general public. From a natural, virgin area transformed by people and changed into a cultural built space, the two hillforts show the formation of a landscape across three millennia of human interaction (Ayán 2005). Neixón is a multidimensional space, where different experiences, perceptions of the present and interpretations of the past meet. These crossovers occur on six levels.
Local historiographical myth: the works carried out by Galician archaeologists Bouza Brey and López Cuevillas in one of the hillforts (Castro Pequeno) in 1925 were, on the one hand, the first scientific excavations in our country. On the other hand, their work became a key reference for Galician archaeology laying the foundations for the Celtic interpretation of the late prehistoric past in the region (Ayán 2008a).
An archaeological site representative of the Galician later prehistory and early history: Neixón was occupied for 1,500 years. We can explore the evolution of the Iron Age and the impact of the Roman Empire, between the eighth century BC and the fourth century AD (Ayán 2007a). An extremely important metallurgical and commercial enclave, this area was a pivotal crossroads in the relations between the Atlantic societies and the Mediterranean world throughout this period.
A different economy: Neixón Hillforts, within the parish of Sispalone, became an area bereft of houses in the Middle Ages. An outlying space, not very fertile from an agricultural point of view, this area was, nonetheless, flush with important resources: wood, gorse, stone, fish, and seafood (Ayán 2007). Everyday practices transformed the small peninsula into a shared economic area: Neyxon woodland. Yet it was the maritime aspect of the place that was fundamental during the Middle Ages and the Ancien Régime. Neixón was primarily an important natural anchorage for the local fishing fleet and a privileged area for gathering seafood. Geological resources also played a role in conditioning the historic development of the area. Indeed, some tin and wolfram seams, exploited since ancient times, remained in use as late as the 1940s.
An area for illicit activities: Neixón was a smuggler’s haven. During the last decades of the 20th-century it was a region used for smuggling cigarettes and storing cocaine from Colombia. There are still many small underground shelters for hoarding such contraband. This is another component that must be studied and made public in order to have a full understanding of the historical evolution of this place.
A symbolic space: In Galicia, many abandoned Iron Age hillforts not only had an economic relevance for peasants, but a symbolic one as well. Hillforts were reinscribed by the Church and popular culture (Arizaga y Ayán 2007). A religious procession takes place every August in front of the Castro Grande and it is considered today a referent in the summer festival calendar throughout the entire region. Everybody from the local parish to neighboring parishes alike, as well as many tourists, come for the celebration.
A space for the recovery of the collective memory of the contemporary past: Neixón was a referent for an archaeology born in the bosom of Galician liberal nationalism before the fascist coup of 1936. Young people linked to the political movement worked in the hillforts. After 1936, many either suffered reprisals at the hands of the regime, were exiled to Argentina, or found refuge in American universities such as in Texas and Pennsylvania. The more unfortunate were assassinated. The region as a whole suffered under reign of terror established by Franco’s regime through the establishment of concentration camps. In the 1940s, the Nazis were present in this area, with Franco’s connivance, for the exploitation of wolfram, used in the military industry.
Working strategy: a critical, reflexive and multivocal Archaeology
Neixón is a complex landscape formed at the confluence of different natural and cultural processes. It is a place significantly constituted where multiple realities from the past come together (Criado 1995, 2005; Criado and Parcero 1997; Tilley 1994; Whitridge 2004). The context of our project is thus a multidimensional archaeological site, where different interpretations and interests, at times compatible, at others antithetical and even conflictual, meet (Hodder 1998). When talking about the sites, we are cautious not to fall into academic authoritarianism, which regards archaeology as the sole guarantor of positive truth. The multiple voices at Castros de Neixón must be respected and analyzed from a reflective, critical and relativist perspective (Hodder 2000; Chadwick 2003). The archeological excavation creates a register – not a document of a real, pristine past – within a particular context of knowledge production. The certainties of our research may be challenged by criticisms made by different stakeholders: the local community, volunteers, and experts with different educational backgrounds and training. Likewise, we consider that the results must be made available to the public as fast as possible (Bartu 2000): they are presented at the site itself, in the exhibition arranged in the Archaeology Center and in publication.
Neixón can be approached methodologically from the perspective of multi-sited ethnography (Marcus 1995: 105; Bartu 2000: 103-4) and postcolonial theory (Gosden 2001). In this way, the interaction with the local community and other stakeholders is understood as a key factor in the development of a critical archaeology (Barreiro 2006-2007) which allows the site to be understood in terms of its living relations and not just a mere fossil of the past.
Arqueoneixón: What we believe in
The blog, was created in June 2007. We envision it as a step forward in sharing our work. With its creation, we joined the rank of blogs related to archaeology at large and to Galicia more immediately. In our case, we want the blog to be a useful locale which satisfies many different requests from people interested, or potentially interested, in the Neixón project: people who want to cooperate in the future with our international working camp, students, researchers, amateurs, people living in the area, tourists, travelers, potential sponsors, whoever has interest.
Our intention is to create a blog where one can see in real time, the day by day progress in the work camp, the activities that have been carried out within the project including the most remarkable findings, recent releases and more. Also, we hope the blog to be a virtual stage from which to communicate our approach as to what archaeology is and what archaeology should be, a social (and exciting) practice in the present that must contribute not only to the generation of a critical spirit among citizens but to also change reality (quite a task in itself!). Here is our Decalogue:
1. Archaeology is a social practice in the present that must aknowledge and fulfill popular demands and needs.
2. Archaeology is a mode for building social reality. It is not an innocent practice. However, it can be a powerful mechanism in the creation of political statements about the past. It also provides a basis to re-build and re-imagine identities.
3. With this awareness, we must critically think about archaeology as a discipline, as a field of practices, in order to redirect its power in the service of society. This perspective will contribute to a better assessment of our practice, rising heritage awareness and helping local development.
4. A critical archaeology contributes to shape a critical spirit and helps to construct and deconstruct social memory through cultural heritage.
5. We agree with and apply the Code of Practice of the European Association of Archaeologists, approved in 1997.
6. In line with this code, we take on the obligation (and all the necessary steps) to keep the public informed about the objectives and methods of our archaeological practice. In this we use all the available media.
7. We also take on the obligation to prepare and make accessible to the archaeological community (and to the non-archaeological community, alike) the product of our research without delay, through publications and/or electronic media.
8. The archaeological materials that are discovered are placed in the Archaeology Center of Barbanza and are made available for research by experts, students and scholars, in accordance with the legislation currently in force in Spain.
9. Our project gains strength from the motivation of volunteers, interdisciplinary collaboration, and the active participation of the local community.
10. Our project avoids any esoteric academicism and tries to document and incorporate the different voices and interpretations that come together in the hillforts of Neixón. Our scientific discourse is as legitimate as the popular imaginary (and its mythical view of the mouros as the original inhabitants of Neixón). This includes also the experiences of the people who see Neixón as an area linked to their childhood activities, or of those who use the site today for a range of activities: soccer (players train here), shellfish gatherers, Civil Guards, hunters, worshippers, and tourists. Punta de Neixón is, in a sense, a multifaceted, postmodern place (heterotopia), but also a living space where different identities are played out and (re)created.
Although Arqueoneixón is open to all, some points need to be taken into consideration:
-This blog is not recommended for those who consider archaeology a science with definitive explanations of the past.
-This blog is contraindicated in those people who consider archaeology as exclusive for experts on the matter, the holders of truth, who, in their work, turn their back to society.
-This blog is contraindicated in those people who deceive themselves thinking that the archaeological theory is to no avail, pseudo-positivists who only believe in what they excavate, as if the material remains spoke for themselves.
-This blog is not recommended for practitioners who are hooked on old, elitist academicism, and look down on other, non-modern, interpretations of the past, which still survive today.
-This blog is intended for people disappointed with conventional archaeology, those who still think that it is necessary to reflect on our practice, and who think that professional ethics are necessary (Shanks and Tilley 1987; Pels 1999; Pluciennik 1999; Barreiro 2006-2007; Fernández 2006).
Community Archaeology: Objects, People, Landscape, Memory, Identity
Our blog offers a visual way of experiencing archaeology (Russell and Cochrane 2007) with an approach to the material past that tries to reconcile basic and applied research through the work of volunteers and the cooperation of the local community. During the summer, all activities for volunteers are aimed simultaneously at producing new scientific knowledge and basic archaeological training, including the study of shell samples, seminars on geomorphology, processing of small finds, archaeological drawing, palaeometallurgical analyses, topography, ethnoarchaeology and ethnographic survey and experimental archaeology. In this way, our research becomes an arena for learning and experimenting with archaeology for young people without previous knowledge of the discipline. Besides, on a practical level, excavation fosters tourist interest in the sites and changes them into an open space where archaeological practice can be experienced live; an open space where a physical contact with the past is possible.
The blog comprises 14 interrelated categories, which try to cover in real time all aspects related to our research and public work. These categories are included in a transversal network that avoids closed sections:
Work camp: The blog acts as an advertisement for young people who are looking on the Internet for information about places to work as volunteers. We hope to show how all the work that is done in Neixón is socially and scientifically useful.
Archaeology and Society: This category captures the project’s philosophy. Here, there is room for the different perceptions of Neixón and archaeology in general.
Galician Archaeology: Different aspects of our research about the history of archaeology in Galicia.
Architectures: We look at the changes that vernacular architecture around Neixón has undergone. These changes have given rise to a postmodern landscape full of personal reinterpretations influenced by different processes like immigration or the destructuration of the traditional landscape. This category and the category Landscape complement each other.
Landscape: We explore the different landscapes that existed in this area from Late Prehistory to our days, showing the interaction of landscape, material culture and people’s emotions, experiences, memories and lives (Tarlow 2000; Olsen 2003: 91).
Season 2007: The idea is to present the most significant finds and the progress made in every research season in real time, including fieldwork and lab work. This category and the category Archaeological Excavation complement each other.
Archaeological Excavation: Data from previous field seasons since 2003. This is complemented by the category Material Culture.
Material Culture: Includes, among other things, data from the lab (microscopic images, photos taken with a binocular magnifier, reconstruction of pots, etc…); the social perception of archaeological artifacts, and the intricate networks of people, things and animals that constitute Neixón, in a symmetrical way – see articles by C. Witmore, T. Webmoor, B. Olsen and M. Shanks in World Archaeology (2007).
Ethnoarchaeology: Musings from our ethnoarchaeological work in Galicia and Ethiopia. Visitors can draw analogies between them and interpret the archaeological record dug up in our excavations.
Historical memory: In 2008, we have started an archaeological research of the landscape created by General Franco’s dictatorship between 1936 and 1945 (Ayán 2008). Our work fits in a tendency that has been followed lately by several research groups, grassroots associations, and public institutions in Spain, which bring in an ethic involvement in the contemporary past.
Religiousness: We are carrying out a research on the religious expressions in the local parish from the point of view of microhistory and the history of mentalités (González y Ayán 2007). This category goes along with the category Procession, where the symbolic appropriation of Neixón hillforts by the local community is presented.
Archaeological theory and methodology: Finally, these two categories include our reflections on new methods and theory in archaeology, with the aim of publicizing them in a context where the most traditional culture-historical archaeology survives.
The blog also includes a Press report, with direct access to all the news related to our project. There is also a section with Useful links and a section called Scientific work, where all the articles, books and communications are uploaded in PDF format, even before these are published or presented in conferences.
The next step for our blog will be to combine audiovisual tools to project the documentary O’Neixón: the living history of a hillfort, directed by Xosé Moledo, which is in the final stages of production, and to attach sound files, for displaying the acoustic heritage of the Neixón hillforts (Carles 1995). Sharing the symmetrical approaches to the material world (C. Witmore et al. 2007), our aim is to provide alternatives to conventional modes of representing the archaeological record, and show the complex nature and textures of landscape. In so doing we hope to do justice to the sensory qualities and the manifold times that are embedded in landscape.
Some figures for a critical evaluation of Arqueoneixón
Nine months after its inception, the blog is starting to have a remarkable impact, reflected in the increasing number of visits. When looking at this data we must take into account, the blog’s short existence, the Galician context itself (this region has a population of about 3 million people), the fact that it is in Galician language, and that it covers a specialized subject matter. In February 2008, and according to reliable figures from blogomillo, Arqueoneixon is ranked 717 out of 5471 existing blogs in Galician language. We hope that in the future the number of visitors will grow. This year a technological platform has been installed in the Archaeology Center in Neixón, which will provide Internet access for the volunteers during the archaeological excavation. It will also allow us to update the blog in real time as we are working in the site.
To sum up, our proposal, besides getting a favorable reception, seems to be coming along well. Overall, our aim is to create a platform for conversation open to the local community and to contribute to the socialization of the cultural heritage (Roca 2008: 16-7). So far, it seems that we have succeeded at it. And this is the direction in which we will continue working.
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Ayán Vila, X. M. (Coord.) 2005. Os Castros de Neixón (Boiro, A Coruña). A recuperación dende a Arqueoloxía dun espazo social e patrimonial. Serie Keltia, 30. Noia.
Ayán Vila, X. M. 2007. Landscape, Material Culture and Social process during the Galician Iron Age: the architecture of Castros de Neixón. Paper presented at session: R. Pope and B. Edwards (org.): Architecture as material culture and social process: beyond the phenomenological. 13th Annual Meeting of European Association of Archaeologists (Zadar, Croatia,18-23 september 2007).
Ayán Vila, X.M. 2008. A Round Iron Age: The Circular House in the Hillforts of the Northwestern Iberian Peninsula. e-Keltoi. Journal of Interdisciplinary Celtic Studies 6: the Celts in Iberian Peninsula: 903-1003.
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Russell, I. and Cochrane, A. 2007. Visualizing archaeologies: A manifesto. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 17(1): 3-19.
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Tilley, C. 1994. A Phenomenology of Landscape: Places, Paths, and Monuments. Oxford: Berg.
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Whitridge, P. 2004. Landscapes, Houses, Bodies, Things: “Place” and the Archaeology of Inuit Imaginaries. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, 11(2): 213-49.
Witmore, C., Webmoor, T., Olsen, B. and Shanks, M. 2007. Symmetrical Archaeology. World Archaeology 39(4): 546-596.
Some other blogs on Archaeology made in Galicia: