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Reflections on WAC-7

The Seventh World Archaeological Congress took place at the King Hussein Conference Centre at the Dead Sea resort in Jordan from 13th-18th January 2013. Formal conference sessions were complemented by excursions to archaeological sites in the region, including Madaba, famous for its mosaics, and the World Heritage Site of Petra, which last year celebrated the bicentenary of its rediscovery by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burkhardt. Here a number of conference participants from around the world give their personal reflections of WAC-7.

Reflections on WAC-7: An African perspective

Shadreck Chirikure, Department of Archaeology, University of Cape Town

WAC 7 in Jordan was my first! I have always followed with great interest, the deliberations of this organisation which seeks to create space for people from different backgrounds in the study of the past. This was the first time that I arrived at a conference venue and could not find anybody that I knew! Well, that changed as I started mingling and making new friends not over a bottle of beer, but over issues of archaeological interest. It is a pity, however, that participation from African colleagues was so low.

The recent WAC conference was academically nourishing and had a session for everybody, from those interested in ethics and environments to dating, communities and landscapes. Critical resources such as salt and water were also discussed. Given the specialisations that have become a hallmark of archaeology, WAC brought together virtually all the strands making up modern archaeology. The downside is always that with so many good papers and sessions, it was not possible to attend all. Side by side with the very good sessions and papers were the many publishers who provided information on how to publish academically.

Turning to the attractions, I could not have had a better start in Jordan. I got to the airport, missed the WAC bus but met Michael from Colorado at the airport. We got into a taxi for the Dead Sea but found ourselves touring Amman, and experiencing its thick traffic jam, the ice and spectacular buildings and landforms. After waiting for an hour to cross one intersection, our taxi driver asked what hotel we wanted. We said in turns, "Holiday Inn Dead Sea" and "Dead Sea Spa" which turned out to be an hour away. We therefore missed the first plenary but judging from what everybody else was saying, it seems we got to see more of Amman than other conference delegates! Then there was the excursion to Petra — and true to its reputation, I was 'petrafied'. No amount of descriptors can describe my sense of wonder except seeing it with one's eyes. From now on, I will strive to attend each and every WAC!

Reflections on WAC-7: A European perspective

Timothy Insoll, Archaeology, School of Arts, Languages and Cultures, University of Manchester

WAC is so large (1000 participants and 70 countries we were repeatedly told) that it inevitably suffers from organisational problems and papers of variable quality. This was the case in Jordan, but it was also a conference with many highlights and surprises. The low temperatures and snow around Amman, and the very forthright plenary speech by the brother of late King Hussein, Prince Hassan bin Talal providing examples of both. Prince Hassan raised many pertinent points in, for instance, critiquing the Eurocentric concept of the 'Middle East' in relation to the new powerhouses of China and India where the Middle East becomes the Middle West. A point that was more impressive than being told by Claire Smith that "Arab hospitality is just so Arabian".

Archaeological highlights were various with a significant session on disasters and archaeology providing one such. In particular a paper on archaeology after the earthquake and tsunami that discussed both the archaeological recognition of past tsunamis and the implications of the March 2011 tsunami for archaeology and heritage in affected parts of Japan. The tragic consequences were discussed including the death of museum personnel and the destruction of entire museum collections and subsequent attempts at their retrieval by excavation, literally, from polluted deposits. A paper lightened by the presenter falling off the podium and someone shouting from the audience "it's a disaster"!

One of the strong points of WAC is that it is genuinely 'world' focused. Hence it was good to see a sizeable contingent from Nigeria. More so, as they brought with them copies of their publications for sale, including monographs, and the West African Journal of Archaeology. This is important for the conference stands were dominated by the big Euro-American publishers, Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press, Springer, Routledge, and the expanding Left Coast Press. More room needs to be made and effort invested in getting the less well-known presses elsewhere in the world to be represented at what is the forum for their products.

From this author's perspective, overall, WAC 07 was a success. It serves its purpose as the meeting point for archaeologists from across the world. The awarding of WAC 08 to Kyoto in Japan and the Presidency being assumed by Professor Koji Mizoguchi are both excellent signs that WAC is in good hands and the next Congress will be an event to look forward to.

Reflections on WAC-7: An Iranian perspective

Sepideh Saeedi-Arcangeli, SUNY Binghamton

Attending WAC 7 was an amazing event for me. WAC is a very diverse and dynamic community. Members of 70 countries in addition to the members of the first nations attended this conference. I was meeting a great majority of these people for the first time, although strangely I felt like I was among old friends since the first moment of my presence in the conference. Being with so many like-minded, caring, engaged and 'value-committed' archaeologists was truly a delightful experience.

During this conference I met a fellow Israeli archaeologist for the first time in my life. To come to the understanding that we both share a deep concern for peace and justice was extremely heart-warming. Away and safe from the harsh and brutal world of politicians propagating war and hatred everyday we visited the beautiful city of Ma'daba together. Here was an Iranian Muslim female archaeologist walking with a Jewish Israeli male archaeologist visiting historical churches in Jordan. But this is the soul of WAC. We freely talked about our research, exchanged ideas about the nature of archeology and shared mutual concern about how archaeology in Israel is being used to form and enact the 'colonial-national' imagination and substantiate its land claims. We both agreed that this must change and we both know that there is a long way to go and much to be done.

Martin Wobst's lecture had a profound influence on me. It once again reminded all of us of what archaeology needs more than ever: a spirit of humanity, to push materiality and material culture into immateriality, to ask ourselves who is archaeology for, and the most important of all to remind ourselves that what we do is not 'just' for the sake of learning about the material world but to use that as a means of collaborating with communities and of advocating for social change and social justice.

Reflections on WAC-7: A Japanese perspective

Akira Matsuda, School of Art History and World Art Studies, University of East Anglia

If 'diversity' is the word that we can use to describe the characteristics of WAC — distinguishing WAC from other big archaeological organisations such as SAA and EAA — 'more diversity' is the phrase that I would use to describe my impressions of WAC-7. It was the first World Archaeological Congress held in the Middle East, attended by around 1000 people from over 80 countries. WAC-7 was also 'more global', as we saw over 10 participants from not only each of the usually well represented WAC countries (Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom) but also from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, India, Japan, Nigeria, Poland, Romania, South Africa, Spain, Turkey, and of course, Jordan. During WAC-7 it was decided that the next World Archaeological Congress would be held in Kyoto, Japan. That will mark the first major archaeological congress in East Asia. So, even more diversity to come in summer 2016!

While the feeling of 'more diversity' excited me throughout WAC-7, I was also left wondering whether it was generating agendas for archaeology that were 'more relevant' to the 21st-century world. The keynote lectures, in particular those by Lynn Meskell, Martin Wobst, and Gustavo Politis, and some of the academic sessions, for example, 'The concept of "Indigenous"', 'Heritage in Conflict', 'Archaeologies of "Us" and "Them"', 'WAC Membership Pledge Discussion', 'The Politics of Recognition', and 'Discussion on Ethics in Modern Archaeology', critically and insightfully examined subjects that had been at the core of WAC debates over the last few decades. And yet I came away with the impression that WAC, now even more diversified as a result of the successful Congress at the Dead Sea, was tackling a new challenge, which is to establish the theoretical framework necessary to address archaeology from a truly world perspective.

ArchSoc in the Middle East: Flinders University volunteers at WAC-7

Jordan Ralph (ArchSoc President, 2012)
Andrew Wilkinson (ArchSoc President, 2013)

The Flinders University Archaeological Society (ArchSoc) played a major role in the running of WAC-7, as well as pre- and post-conference planning, organisation and logistics. Twenty-five Flinders Archaeology and Flinders ArchSoc volunteers worked side-by-side with the volunteers from the WAC Student Committee (WACSC) and Jordanian students to make sure the conference ran seamlessly. ArchSoc's contribution to WAC-7 began in the months prior to the conference when we conducted an invitation mail out, as well as producing that infamous video streaming to ensure WAC-7 was available online. In addition to those who travelled to the Dead Sea, another 600 had digital access to the conference presentations due to the ArchSoc/WAC initiative: WAC-7 Online. Two hundred people were granted sponsored access to WAC-7 Online from the funds raised through the Pozible crowdfunding project, which raised over AU$17,000. ArchSoc's involvement with WAC-7 did not end with the conference. We are still, in February and March, working on the WAC-7 Online project to ensure the supporters are rewarded and the videos are transcoded and uploaded.

Of course there are many stories to come out of WAC-7, so we won't relay them all here. Instead, to highlight the intensity and camaraderie of the work the ArchSoc team did, it must be said that we worked around the clock. We were meeting people at the airport with our fellow volunteers 24 hours a day for the three days before the conference, and organising buses to transport delegates from the airport to their accommodation. A few of the ArchSoc volunteers refused to leave the airport until those who had not slept since their 12-hour airport shift (30 hours prior) had gotten some rest, but they would not rest until the work was finished! ArchSoc helped run the registration/information desk with the WACSC, and because of our bright red ArchSoc/WAC-7 t-shirts (acting as a beacon), we quickly became the go-to people for anyone who wanted their questions answered or their problems solved. Collectively the 25 of us would have only seen a handful of conference papers and not much sleep from the 10th to 21st January, but no one was bitter; it did not matter, there was work to be done! The volunteer work during the conference, while stressful to say the least, allowed many of us to forge new friendships and become a greater, global family of archaeology students. On a personal note, we want to thank the volunteers from Flinders. Without them, the conference would not have been such a success.

That said, we could not have done it without our new colleagues and fellow volunteers from Jordan, WACSC and around the world. We look forward to being of assistance at WAC-8 in Kyoto.