Futurity, Time, and Archaeology


  • Matthew C. Reilly City College of New York




futurity, futures past, potentialities of action, temporality


There continues to be much archaeological discussion concerning temporality and the complex relationship between the past and present, but less attention is paid to how the future figures into archaeological thought, method, and interpretation. This introductory essay provides the theoretical framework for an archaeological consideration of futurity, an approach that takes seriously the expectations and imaginations of people in the past while also recognizing the urgency of our present here-and-now. An archaeology of critical futurities opens the discipline to potentialities of action, to imagine worlds otherwise in the past and to strive for change in the future. By broadening archaeological approaches to time to include futures, authors in this collection demonstrate the global potential for an archaeology poised for action in addition to exploring how the future is a critical component of understanding the past and present.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biography

Matthew C. Reilly, City College of New York

Matthew C. Reilly is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Gender Studies, and International Studies at the City College of New York. He conducts archaeological research in the Caribbean and West Africa, the former being the subject of his forthcoming book, Archaeology Below the Cliff: Race, Class, and Redlegs in Barbadian Sugar Society (University of Alabama Press, 2019).


Appadurai, A. 2013. The Future as Cultural Fact: Essays on the Global Condition. New York: Verso Books.

Arendt, H. 2006 [1961]. Between Past and Future. New York: Penguin Books.

Atalay, S., L. R. Clauss, R. H. McGuire and J. R. Welch, eds. 2014. Transforming Archaeology: Activist Practices and Prospects. London: Routledge.

Augé, M. 1995. Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity. Translated by J. Howe. New York: Verso Books.

Bennett, J. 2010. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Birth, K. K. 2012. Objects of Time: How Things Shape Temporality. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Bonilla, Y. 2015. Non-Sovereign Futures: French Caribbean Politics in the Wake of Disenchantment. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. https://doi.org/10.1111/amet.12455

Cobb, C. R. 2014. “The Once and Future Archaeology.” American Antiquity 79 (4): 589–595.

Crehan, K. 2016. Gramsci’s Common Sense: Inequality and its Narratives. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. https://doi.org/10.25158/l6.2.16

Crossland, Z. 2014. “Anthropocene: Locating Agency, Imagining the Future.” Journal of Contemporary Archaeology 1 (1): 123–128. https://doi.org/10.1558/jca.v1i1.123

Dawdy, S. L. 2009. “Millennial Archaeology: Locating the Discipline in the Age of Insecurity.” Archaeological Dialogues 16(2): 131–142. https://doi.org/10.1017/s1380203809990055

____. 2010. “Clockpunk Anthropology and the Ruins of Modernity.” Current Anthropology 51 (6): 761–793. https://doi.org/10.1086/657626

____. 2016. Patina: A Profane Archaeology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

DeLanda, M. 1999. “Deleuze, Diagrams, and the Open-Ended Becoming of the World.” In Becomings: Explorations in Time, Memory, and Futures, edited by E. Grosz, 29–41. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Domanska, E. 2005. “Toward the Archaeontology of the Dead Body.” Rethinking History 9 (4): 389–413. https://doi.org/10.1080/13642520500307602

Geissler, P. W. and G. Lachenal. 2016. “Brief Instructions for Archaeologists of African Futures.” In Traces of the Future: An Archaeology of Medical Science in Africa, edited by P. W. Geissler, G. Lachenal, J. Manton and N. Tousignant, 15–30. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. https://doi.org/10.1111/aman.13118

Gnecco, C. and D. Lippert, eds. 2015. Ethics and Archaeological Praxis. New York: Springer.

González-Ruibal, A. 2006. “The Dream of Reason: An Archaeology of the Failures of Modernity in Ethiopia.” Journal of Social Archaeology 6 (2): 175–201. https://doi.org/10.1177/1469605306064239

____. 2008. “Time to Destroy: An Archaeology of Supermodernity.” Current Anthropology 49 (2): 247–279. https://doi.org/10.1086/526099

____. 2016. “Archaeology and the Time of Modernity.” Historical Archaeology 50 (3): 144–164. https://doi.org/10.1007/bf03377339

____. 2017. “Ruins of the Global South.” In Contemporary Archaeology and the City: Creativity, Ruination, and Political Action, edited by L. McAtackney and K. Ryzewski, 149–170. Oxford: Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0959774318000148

Graeber, D. 2007. Possibilities: Essays on Hierarchy, Rebellion, and Desire. Oakland, CA: AK Press.

Graves-Brown, P., R. Harrison and A. Piccini. 2013. “Introduction.” In The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of the Contemporary World, edited by P. Graves-Brown, R. Harrison and A. Piccini, 1–23. Oxford; Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199602001.013.024

Grosz, E. 1999. “Thinking the New: Of Futures Yet Unthought.” In Becomings: Explorations in Time, Memory, and Futures, edited by E. Grosz, 15–28. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. https://doi.org/10.1353/sym.2005.0074

Hamilakis, Y. 2011. “Archaeological Ethnography: A Multitemporal Meeting Ground for Archaeology and Anthropology.” Annual Review of Anthropology 40: 399–414. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-anthro-081309-145732

Hanson, T. A. 2016. The Archaeology of the Cold War. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.

Harrison, R. 2015. “Beyond ‘Nature’ and ‘Cultural’ Heritage: Toward an Ontological Politics of Heritage in the age of Anthropocene.” Heritage & Society 8 (1): 24–42. https://doi.org/10.1179/2159032x15z.00000000036

____. 2016. “Archaeologies of Emergent Presents and Futures.” Historical Archaeology 50 (3): 165–180. https://doi.org/10.1007/bf03377340

____., N. Bartolini, C. DeSilvey, C. Holtorf, A. Lyons, S. Macdonald, S. May, J. Morgan and S. Penrose. 2016. “Heritage Futures.” Archaeology International 19: 68-72. https://doi.org/10.5334/ai.1912

____. and J. Schofield. 2010. After Modernity: Archaeological Approaches to the Contemporary Past. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Haskell, D. L. and C. J. Stawski. 2017. “Re-Envisioning Tarascan Temporalities and Landscapes: Historical Being, Archaeological Representation, and Futurity in Past Societies.” Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 24 (2): 611–639. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10816-016-9279-x

Högberg, A. and C. Holtorf. 2013. “Heritage Futures and the Future of Heritage.” In Counterpoint: Essays in Archaeology and Heritage Studies in Honour of Professor Kristian Kristiansen, edited by S. Bergerbrant and S. Sabatini, 739–746. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Holtorf, C. and O. Ortman. 2008. “Endangerment and Conservation Ethos in Natural and Cultural Heritage: The Case of Zoos and Archaeological Sites.” International Journal of Heritage Studies 14 (1): 74–90. https://doi.org/10.1080/13527250701712380

____. and A. Högberg. 2015. “Contemporary Heritage and the Future.” In The Palgrave Handbook of Contemporary Heritage Research, edited by E. Waterton and S. Watson, 509–523. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137293565_32

Ingold, T. 2012a. “Introduction.” In Imagining Landscapes: Past, Present and Future, edited by M. Janowski and T. Ingold, 1–18. Burlington, VT: Ashgate. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315587899

____. 2012b. “Toward an Ecology of Materials.” Annual Review of Anthropology 41: 427–442.

Joyce, R. A. 2016. “Failure? An Archaeology of the Architecture of Nuclear Waste Containment.” In Elements of Architecture: Assembling Archaeology, Atmosphere and the Performance of Building Spaces, edited by M. Bille and T. F. Sørensen, 424–438. London: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315641171

Kazanjian, D. 2016. The Brink of Freedom: Improvising Life in the Nineteenth-Century Atlantic World. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. https://doi.org/10.1215/9780822374107

Kelly, R. L. 2016. The Fifth Beginning: What Six Million Years of Human History Can Tell Us About Our Future. Oakland: University of California Press. https://doi.org/10.1525/9780520966369

Kintigh, K. W., J. H. Altschul, M. C. Beaudry, R. D. Drennan, A. P. Kinzig, T. A. Kohler, W. F. Limp, H. D. G. Maschner, W. K. Michener, T. R. Pauketat, P. Peregrine, J. A. Sabloff, T. J. Wilkinson, H. T. Wright and M. A. Zeder. 2014. “Grand Challenges for Archaeology.” American Antiquity 79 (1): 5–24. https://doi.org/10.7183/0002-7316.79.1.5

Koselleck, R. 2004 [1985]. Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time. New York: Columbia University Press.

Liebmann, M. and U. Rizvi, eds. 2008. Archaeology and the Postcolonial Critique. Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press.

Lucas, G. 2005. The Archaeology of Time. London: Routledge.

____. 2015. “Archaeology and Contemporaneity.” Archaeological Dialogues 22(1): 1-15.

McAtackney, L. and K. Ryzewsky, eds. 2017. Contemporary Archaeology and the City: Creativity, Ruination, and Political Action. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

McGuire, R. H. 2008. Archaeology as Political Action. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Minkowski, E. 1970 [1933]. Lived Time: Phenomenological and Psychopathological Studies. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.

Novak, S. and A. Warner-Smith. 2019. “Assembling Heads and Circulating Tales: The Doings and Undoings of Specimen 2032.” Historical Archaeology. https://doi.org/10.1007/s41636-019-00157-z

Olivier, L. 2011. The Dark Abyss of Time: Archaeology and Memory. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

Orange, H. 2015. Reanimating Industrial Spaces: Conducting Memory Work in Post-Industrial Societies. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315421179

Panchasi, R. 2009. Future Tense: The Culture of Anticipation in France between the Wars. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. https://doi.org/10.1086/658024

Pétursdôttir, P. and B. Olsen, eds. 2014. Ruin Memories: Materialities, Aesthetics and the Archaeology of the Present. London: Routledge.

Pickering, M. 2004. “Experience as Horizon: Koselleck, Expectation and Historical Time.” Cultural Studies 18 (2–3): 271–289. https://doi.org/10.1080/0950238042000201518

Piot, C. 2010. Nostalgia for the Future: West Africa after the Cold War. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. https://doi.org/10.1111/aman.12038_14

Roitman, J. 2014. Anti-Crisis. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Saint-Amour, P. K. 2015. Tense Future: Modernism, Total War, Encyclopedic Form. New York: Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190200947.003.0001

Sassaman, K. E. 2012. “Futurologists Look Back.” Archaeologies: Journal of the World Archaeological Congress 8 (3): 250–268. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11759-012-9205-0

Saunders, N. J., ed. 2004. Matters of Conflict: Material Culture, Memory and the First World War. London: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203502549

Scott, D. 2014. Omens of Adversity: Tragedy, Time, Memory, Justice. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. https://doi.org/10.1111/1469-8676.12294

Shanks, M., D. Platt and W. J. Rathje. 2004. “The Perfume of Garbage: Modernity and the Archaeological.” Modernism/Modernity 11 (1): 61–83. https://doi.org/10.1353/mod.2004.0027

Small, R. 2010. Time and Becoming in Nietzsche’s Thought. London: Continuum.

Stoler, A. L., ed. 2013. Imperial Debris: On Ruins and Ruination. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

____. 2016. Duress: Imperial Durabilities in Our Times. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. https://doi.org/10.1111/amet.12567

Stottman, M. J., ed. 2010. Archaeologists as Activists: Can Archaeologists Change the World? Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press. https://doi.org/10.1086/661987

Thomas, D. A. 2016. “Time and the Otherwise: Plantations, Garrisons and Being Human in the Caribbean.” Anthropological Theory 16 (2–3): 177–200. https://doi.org/10.1177/1463499616636269

Thomas, J. 2004. Archaeology and Modernity. London: Routledge.

Wainwright, J. 2008. Decolonizing Development: Colonial Power and the Maya. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Winter, T. 2014. “Heritage Conservation Futures in an Age of Shifting Global Power.” Journal of Social Archaeology 14 (3): 319–339. https://doi.org/10.1177/1469605314532749

Witmore, C. 2014. “Archaeology, the Anthropocene, and the Hypanthropocene.” Journal of Contemporary Archaeology 1 (1): 128–132. https://doi.org/10.1558/jca.v1i1.128

Wurst, L. and S. A. Mrozowski. 2014. “Toward an Archaeology of the Future.” International Journal of Historical Archaeology 18 (2): 210–223. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10761-014-0253-6

Zetterstrom-Sharp, J. 2015. “Heritage as Future-Making: Aspiration and Common Destiny in Sierra Leone.” International Journal of Heritage Studies 21 (6): 609–627. https://doi.org/10.1080/13527258.2014.973060




How to Cite

Reilly, M. (2019). Futurity, Time, and Archaeology. Journal of Contemporary Archaeology, 6(1), 1–15. https://doi.org/10.1558/jca.36830