Skin and bone: the face in the archaeological imagination

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Beatty, Katherine E.
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University College Cork
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Thirteen unique archaeological countenances from Ireland were produced through the Manchester method of facial reconstruction. Their gaze prompts a space for a broad discourse regarding the face found within human and artefactual remains of Ireland. These faces are reminders of the human element which is at the core of the discipline of archaeology. These re-constructions create a voyeuristic relationship with the past. At once sating a curiosity about the past, facial reconstructions also provide a catharsis to our presently situated selves. As powerful visual documents, archaeological facial reconstructions illustrate re-presentations of the past as well as how the present can be connected to the past. Through engagment with Emmanuel Levinas’s (1906- 1995) main philosophical themes, the presence of the face is examined in a diachronic structure. The ‘starting point’ is the Neolithic period which has been associated with the notion of visuality with a reconstruction from the early Neolithic site of Annagh, Co. Limerick. The following layer of analysis appears with attention to intersubjectivity in the early medieval period with facial reconstructions from Dooey, Co. Donegal and Owenbristy, Co. Galway. Building upon the past concepts, the late medieval period is associated with the notion of alterity and paired with faces from Ballinderry, Co. Kildare and a sample of males from Gallen Priory, Co. Offaly. The final layer of examination culminates with the application of response and respons-ibility to the post-medieval Irish landscape with facial reconstructions from the prison on Spike Island, Co. Cork. These layers of investigation are similar to the stratigraphical composition of both the archaeological landscape and the skeletal/soft tissue landscape of the face. The separation of the neglected phenomenon of the face from the overwhelming embrace of the field of craniometrics is necessary. Through this detachment a new manner in which to discuss the face and its place within the (bio)archaeological record is possible. Encountering the faces seen in mortuary contexts, material culture, and archaeological facial reconstructions, inform and shape the archaeological imagination.
Emmanuel Levinas , Bioarchaeology , Face , Archaeological theory , Imagination , Facial reconstruction
Beatty, K. E. 2015. Skin and bone: the face in the archaeological imagination. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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