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 Conflict in Archaeological Preservation Minimize

As noted in the short case presented in the first chapter, archaeological practice and heritage preservation in these contexts are potential causes of social conflicts which may appear in a wide range of situations and in a variety of forms. Since the creation of the Oaxaca Regional Center in 1972, and even before, there were acts of resistance by some communities opposed to archaeologists carrying out their institutional work. Here "resistance" follows Scott's usage, as he includes whatever act by members of a subordinate class to mitigate or subvert demands (services, taxes, rents) made by a superior class, among which one can include government (Scott 1985: 20).

Probably the most concrete example of such resistance to archaeological practice in the state of Oaxaca is the dramatic, ongoing conflict in Zaachila, which sometimes has reached the point of fomenting disturbances which degenerate into jailing of the archaeologists, threats of lynching or other forms of death threats directed to the archaeologists, pushing, verbal abuse, and other threats. For example, during the exploration of burial sites in the 1960s it was necessary to request the continuing presence of the Mexican army (Gallegos y Romano, personal communication). On a personal note, I was involved in one of these disturbances in 1980, when a group of archaeologists sought to secure rubbings of designs on stelae abandoned in a park in Zaachila. A furious crowd gathered, disputing our right to carry out the project, threatened us physically, and in the end the mayor jailed us as the only way to save us from serious harm. As INAH has extended its presence in the state and sought to carry out more systematic documentation of archaeological sites, community resistance has become the dominant factor in Zaachila's relationship with the institution.

The conflict which emerges as INAH seeks to carry out specific protection of the archaeological heritage in such circumstances can assume a variety of forms, and these can be grouped in two broad categories for analysis:

1.  direct opposition or resistance, with an overtly negative stance; and
indirect or discrete opposition, dissembling, delay, lack of cooperation
2.  Open opposition or resistance to archaeological conservation is readily identified through the aggressively negative posture adopted by community actors. In turn this takes two forms. The first of these is the "tumulto", or disturbance, which in serious cases becomes a riot. Violent, spontaneous encounters, as between two communities in conflict over a tract of land, are characteristic of rural life in Oaxaca (Dennis 1990: 142). On repeated occasions archaeologists have found themselves on the verge of such disturbances in communities whose residents interpret surveys, materials samples, test pits, or other activities as abuse of institutional authority, or the preparations for same. This response is particularly likely in reaction to projects intended for public spaces, e.g., streets, churches, plazas, or community lands.

In a typical disturbance members of the community assemble rapidly in response to a frantic ringing of the church bell. These assemblies manifest a form of social equality in that there is no formal leadership, nor is any deference given to elected authority. Rumor and allegation, in the social context of the anonymity of the crowd, gives way to arguments, insults, shouting, and ungrounded claims based on variants of "everyone knows" or "we've heard". Rarely is there a disposition to listen to the archaeologist«s explanation, and the lack of group leadership means there is no-one with whom to negotiate. Even respecting the intervention of community leadership, as in the Zaachila example mentioned earlier, is op The goals of the disturbance are to intimidate the target into ceasing work and to leave the community, and to persuade INAH the organizational cost of persisting with a plan or project is too high to be worthwhile.

Disturbances are more likely where there exists a strong sense of community solidarity, a tradition of opposition to outside intervention, or prior negative experience (from the community's perspective) with INAH or other institutional actors. Mitla is a good example, and there were disturbances over archaeological conservation activities in Mitla in 1985, 1987, and 1993. Xoxocotlan has responded in a similar fashion in 1992 and 1994 to INAH's boundary-setting projects at Monte Alban.

In some cases local residents resort to blocking access to sites or threatening archaeologists seeking to enter private lands, ejidos, or other property. In Mitla, where specific locations of the site are surrounded by houses or difficult of access, residents may simply refuse to cooperate. In Xoxocotlan, in disputes over archaeological zone boundaries and destruction of archaeological remains, members of the ejido threatened to kill INAH personnel who attempted to enter ejido lands (resident of Xoxocotlan, personal communication). A different form of blockage has to do with verbal communication. This is a common strategy among indigenous groups in Oaxaca, where a significant segment of the rural population still speak indigenous languages. Local residents or authorities will suddenly forget how to speak Spanish, or shift to an indigenous language to hide discussions of strategy or to coordinate responses. In Mitla it is common for municipal officials to shift to Zapotec to complicate communications or to ridicule INAH personnel.

In some cases resistance may come not from the entire community but from a specific group of actors affected by an INAH decision or activity, e.g., ejido members or people living in a given location. Such groups may insist INAH negotiate with them directly, even appearing in large numbers without notice at the Oaxaca Regional Office as a means of pressuring administrative staff. Some groups may look for strategic allies, including sympathetic political figures or members of the press. This type of resistance is most common around Monte Alban, where there is little cross-group communication and not all members of a community may feel affected by INAH decisions. This kind of group resistance is less directed at personal confrontation and threat, but rather places emphasis on public embarrassment and making INAH appear inept at problem-solving.

The second category of resistance techniques focuses on wearing down INAH through delay, misdirection, and other techniques rather than challenging it through confrontation. The central objective is to discourage those who propose or seek to implement some form of change in community life (Scott 1985: 278). Rejection is rarely explicit but tempered through prior conditions which cannot be met or through decision-making mechanisms which never function as needed. These techniques generally seek to block agreements on boundary-setting, excavations, or other activities where INAH personnel are attempting to deal with a number of different projects simultaneously against externally-imposed deadlines and expectations, so delays and frustration may divert INAH to seek more pliable cases. Some of the more common techniques include:

1.  Resistance to formalizing agreements: On many occasions in Milta as well as in the communities around Monte Alban, after hours of discussion with community representatives—including in assemblies—all parties have arrived at an agreement regarding an INAH project, but at the moment when this should be signed, giving it legal status, local authorities refuse to do so. They argue these should be good faith agreements, and that they do not have the right to bind future officials. In Mitla in 1990, after more than three hours of discussions with local officials and the community assembly regarding concrete actions for environmental improvements, agreement was reached and it was time to sign documents. The mayor argued that he could not bind the community with his signature, that the entire council should sign, and that if one would not sign no-one would. Of course someone had a reservation and would not sign, so the final step was never taken, even though it appeared there was community consensus on the issue.

2.  The power of the "community": Another technique is to tell INAH representatives that the final decision on an issue should be made by the "community". This is a universally-accepted argument which made be made by almost anyone in any occasion. When there is no agreement with local officials INAH archaeologists may be told the authorities will do what the "community" wants. This is not necessarily a lesson in democracy, as this is an actor without a defined personality, and there is no defined process for reaching agreement. In referring to the "community" this means passing the decision to a large community meeting which generally begins hours after it is called, with an unclear agenda and no clear standards for participation. Frequently no-one acts as leader, and differing opinions are shouted out anonymously. No vote is taken, outcomes may be unclear, there is no way to assure a binding agreement, and those in disagreement are free to argue the "community" did not decide to follow a specific course of action. A novice in such settings will shift from expectations that a "community" decision will produce an outcome to frustration no-one is responsible. An experienced archaeologist, on hearing the community will decide, immediately abandons hope of success.

3.  Evasion: On many occasions in Mitla and Monte Alban there are agreements between local officials and INAH archaeologists to meet for the purpose of taking an agreement on a given matter. Such meetings may be in the field, at INAH offices, or even in the municipal offices. If it is a matter of some delicacy or likely to lead to awkward arrangements, local officials do not appear, even if they agreed to shortly before. On many occasions this response is seen as less confrontational than a direct refusal or rejection. A similar mechanism is to come to a verbal agreement, and then when the moment comes to honor it to refuse to do so on the grounds there is a misunderstanding or circumstances have changed. This technique is commonly used by both municipal officials in Mitla and those around Monte Alban.

4. Tell half-truths: It is common for local authorities residents alike to carefully manage information shared with INAH archaeologists to attain the outcomes they prefer. Dennis notes the tendency to "tell contradictory but equally true " stories (Dennis 1990: 23), leaving the listener to figure out some plausible version. He couches his comments in the context of inter-village land conflicts, where each side tailors the story to best support its position, but his observation holds in other contexts as well. Concealing or distorting information avoids confrontation but makes analysis that much more difficult, and reinforces a hope that the archaeologist and INAH will just go away.
It is important to note these techniques for resisting institutional action are not reserved for INAH but may be used in any case where communities feel the need to resist external authority. And these techniques are rarely used in isolation, but rather appear in conjuction. For example, local officials may insist it is not necessary to sign an agreement to carry out an activity, then refuse carry it out because there is no formal endorsement of it. Learning to recognize and respond to resistance techniques is a combination of experience and knowing the actors.

This study recognizes some of the primary factors generating resistance to archaeological heritage protection at the sites which interest us. There are essentially four different sources of conflict:

1. Issues related to official boundary-setting for archaeological zones, which in turn are seen by communities as intrusions into their land and power;
2.  The continuing community disposition to encourage conflicts over land tenure, which means to enter into tensions where the State appears as an enemy;
3.  The organization and behavior on idviduals and social groups as dynamic factors of conservation or distruction of archaeological resources; and
4.  The defense of land use rights, even those which alter the integrity of the archaeological sites.

The following chapters explore more specifically those components of social dynamics present in the general context of archaeolgical conservation.