Future World: Anticipatory Archaeology, Materially Affective Capacities and the Late Human Legacy

Leila Alexandra Dawney, Oliver J. T. Harris, Tim Flohr Sørensen
2017 Journal of Contemporary Archaeology  
Future World: Anticipatory archaeology, materially-affective capacities and the late human legacy Danger! Keep out! Do not enter! We consider ourselves a very potent civilisation If we succeed ONKALO may well be the lasting remains of our civilisation If you find thiswhat will it tell you about us? Into Eternity, 2010 Archaeology, as traditionally defined, is the study of the human past through its material remains. Increasingly, it is moreover seen as a practice both in and of the present, in
more » ... of the present, in its literal (e.g. Buchli and Lucas 2001; González-Ruibal 2013; Graves-Brown et al. 2013; Harrison 2011) and metaphoric (e.g. Foucault 2002; Freud 1959; Sloterdijk 2011a) capacity to unravel that which is hidden, repressed or silenced. In this article, however, we want to think about archaeology from a different perspective: the potential for archaeology to address what is to come. We argue that a future, anticipatory, archaeology can open up spaces for us to think through questions around the shared materiality of the human and what may come after the human, doing so through creative reference to the film Into Eternity (2010). Through this anticipatory archaeology, we wish to claim the possibility for human beings to actually connect over time and space, be it backwards (as in traditional archaeology) or forwards (archaeological thinking applied to contemporary efforts to communicate with future human communities, in this case through the problem of radioactive waste storage). Into Eternity, by the filmmaker and conceptual artist Michael Madsen, concerns the ONKALO project, a vast nuclear waste repository in Finland currently under construction. The deep geological repository runs five kilometres underground and consists of a network of tunnels bored 2 into stable magnetic gneiss bedrock and employs materials ranging from cast iron and copper to precompressed bentonite clay to contain the high-level radioactive waste, such as spent fuel rods, and seal it away. When the waste has been deposited, the tunnels will be sealed with concrete and the repository will be left to itself -'abandoned', so to speak. ONKALO is not expected to be completed until well into the 2100s. Some of the various isotopes contained within the waste within ONKALO will stay dangerous to life for over 100,000 years, and deep geological storage is now accepted as being the only long term means of storing high-level waste. The long half-lives of many of the isotopes present, for example Uranium 238, mean that solutions involve contemplating the distant future, as well as the safety of our immediate descendants. The film is a meditation on time, duration, futurity and humanity, drawing our attention to the impossibility of knowing what and how future worlds may be inhabited, and also to the figure of the archaeologist/inhabitant of the future. The subject matter of Into Eternity has been described as 'nothing less than post-human architecture' (Bradshaw 2010, 8) . Madsen's voiceover addresses the inhabitants of the future, questioning what they feel, understand and know, and much of the film is concerned with the problem of how to communicate the perils of the repository across almost unimaginably vast timespaces. The problem of alerting distant future inhabitants of the world to the radioactivity contained within such waste repositories invites us to consider what it means to be human, or to be human-like. An identification of the ways in which contemporary 'experts' speculate on the inhabitants of the future provides an interesting lens for approaching the concerns of the present: for considering what is currently held to be precious or important. It requires us to ask what we share, how we differ, and what common ground can enable us to speak across millennia. These are the questions that archaeologists implicitly, and occasionally explicitly, engage with when looking in the opposite temporal direction. Into Eternity invites both the question of how to imagine and communicate with
doi:10.1558/jca.32497 fatcat:n3pqbztgvjhtnav4vwiehrecwi