MISC – Animal house: ritual faunas and the performance of identity in a Middle Formative Copan household

Date/Time: Wed 10 May / 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm

Location: Elizabeth Burchill Room, Menzies Building, E561

Presented by Dan Cummins

This seminar explores the sanctification of domestic space in a household at Copan dated to the Middle Formative period (c. 600 BC). Specifically, it presents the results of analysis of the location (placement) of faunal remains and modified bone in relation to ceramic artefacts in a basal (sub-floor) context. Drawing from ethnographic studies of shamanic practices that include animal sacrifice and zoomancy to animate a house; and archaeological studies that suggest the use of faunal elements and unusual species in the display of ritual power, this paper further points to the capacity of these objects in the demarcation of living space and the construction of social identity. In the Middle Formative Copan household, both entirely innovative, alien objects and huge volumes of almost-pristine materials were buried in the house’s floor with the remains of a human, tapir, toad and other animals. This paper endeavours to place these relationships; b etween animals, humans and objects in a phenomenological context, suggesting they were critical components in ritual performances that intimately bound the participants with the house. The relational social identity that emerged symbolically and politically potentiated the animal-house

Dan is an experienced consultant and research archaeologist who has coordinated and participated in projects across Australia, Canada, Honduras and Mexico. Dan undertook extensive archaeological research and excavation focused on the Preclassic occupation of Copan, Honduras for his doctoral thesis, and has taught courses on the ancient Maya at the University of Queensland and James Cook University. Across his career, he has encountered Aboriginal heritage in previously undocumented mountain areas of Australia, 3000 year-old burials in the jungles of Central America, and an ancient village beneath the streets of downtown Calgary. Dan applies the interpretative capacity of cognitive and social approaches to his archaeological and heritage practice. Currently employed by Aboriginal Victoria as a Senior Heritage Officer; Dan’s current focus is ensuring technical excellence and best practice in the management of Aboriginal heritage across Victoria’s major projects.

For further information, please contact
Monash Indigenous Studies Centre
990 52929

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