Archaeology has assumed a central role in a range of academic and popular narratives about the human past and its possible futures.
Today, archaeologists collaborate with a range of scholars based in cultural anthropology, history, art history, ecology, genetics, and earth sciences to produce truly interdisciplinary findings relevant to wider debates over the social and environmental trajectories of humans.
Founded in 2014, the UC Santa Cruz Archaeological Research Center bring these narratives into inter-disciplinary dialogue with one another, advancing a 21st century archaeology that situates a scientific and historically grounded archaeology within a context of community engagement and public outreach.
The Archaeology Research Center (ARC) at UC Santa Cruz serves as a center for interdisciplinary archaeological research on the UC Santa Cruz Campus, and a crucial link between UCSC and the broader local community. The centers core themes recognize the intricate relationships between the practice of science, its utility for exploring the diversity of the human experience, and engaging with and respecting the communities and publics whom we serve. Faculty strengths in archaeological research overlap substantially across the divisions, and we identify four core themes that define ARC activities and objectives.
Culture and History
Archaeology uses the material evidence of human activities to understand past human lives. Many scholars across the disciplines have become interested in material culture as a window onto cultural production. Archaeologists differ in juxtaposing evidence from artifacts, biological remains, settlement patterns, and many other sources to construct narratives about how cultures and societies came into being. This engagement begins with fieldwork, and includes a host of analytic techniques to produce the data upon which narratives of human history rest. Archaeologists at UC Santa Cruz focus on past people's interactions with one another at the local, regional, and global levels, illuminating the complex ways in which culture histories unfolded around the world in relation to a wide range of historical, environmental, and cultural forces.
For two centuries, archaeology and the physical and biological sciences have shared many research goals and methods, producing significant collaborative contributions to our understanding of the human past. However, over the last thirty years, US disinvestment in archaeological sciences has placed the field on shaky footing. Some have published on the catastrophic consequences of this trend for the future of the discipline in the US, calling for more direct investment in archaeological science. Despite these dire predictions, over this same period, advances in stable isotope analysis, genomic sequencing, and many other fields, have fundamentally transformed our ability to ask fine-grained questions about how people lived in the past. UC Santa Cruz faculty members are at the forefront of scientific analysis in archaeology, and have modeled effective collaborative research and training across the disciplines.
The past decade has witnessed a surge in the availability and use of digital technologies across the disciplines. This is particularly true in Archaeology, where the increasing power and declining cost of computing technology has transformed the way we think about collecting, analyzing, and presenting archaeological data. Advances in Global Positioning Systems, Geographic Information Systems, and three-dimensional modeling are providing new answers to old questions, and in fact changing the nature of the questions themselves. Faculty and staff across campus are actively engaged in the utilization of digital technologies that are directly or indirectly applied to archaeological data. UC Santa Cruz is thus poised to take a lead in the growing field of Digital Archaeology, building bridges across campus divisions, and with institutions in the Silicon Valley.
Cultural Heritage Stewardship
The UCSC campus has emerged as a global leader in environmental conservation and stewardship, and a commitment to thinking critically about cultural heritage stewardship is similarly taking root. The ARC serves as a space for the productive and necessary dialogue between archaeologists, descendant communities, government agencies, and those in the broader public interested in and connected to the work of ARC members. UCSC faculty members place a high premium on public outreach and education to communicate the importance of archaeological heritage to the broader public. Similarly, the ARC is strongly committed to collaborating with stakeholder communities, not only as a matter of ethics and law, but also because we believe it results in a more comprehensive and community-relevant archaeological practice.