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Department of Archaeology

Thursday, 22 September, 2022 - 09:15 to Friday, 23 September, 2022 - 17:30
Event speaker: 

2022 marks 40 years since the publication of ‘Symbols in Action’ (SiA) by Ian Hodder. The book was highly influential in the emergence of post-processual archaeology and changing archaeological thought around the world. To mark the four decades since the publication of SiA, a two-day conference will focus on the influence and contributions of the book to theory more broadly, and to the archaeology and material culture in Africa in particular. Researchers from archaeology, history, and anthropology will:

  • discuss the work’s continued presence in archaeological thought and that of other disciplines in Europe, Africa and N. and S. America,
  • how Hodder’s findings in and around Baringo can be contextualised in light of more recent research, as well as
  • how we can further develop theoretical contributions to re-shape the global body of archaeological research, make the results relevant to living communities, promote participation, and constructively engage with contemporary cultural issues.



The conference will take place on the 22nd and 23rd September 2022 between 9.30am and 5.30pm at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge, and online. The two days will consist of 20-minute papers from invited speakers followed by discussions and conversations between Ian Hodder, Henrietta Moore, and Michael Parker Pearson. The first day will focus on developments and perspectives from Europe and the Americas, while the second day will focus on East Africa. The programme follows below. 


Registration details

The conference will be livestreamed on Zoom, and you can register for each day separately through Eventbrite.

Day 1 (22nd September):

Day 2 (23rd September):



Download a pdf of the programme: Symbols in Action at 40

Slight changes to the programme can still occur.


Thursday 22nd September

Time Speaker Title
9.15 – 10.00 Registration
Archaeological perspectives on the legacies and impact of Symbols in Action    
10.00 – 10.25 Nik Petek-Sargeant, Matt Davies & Paul Lane Welcome & Introduction
Symbols of Power, Identity & Personhood in the British and European Neolithic    
10.25 – 10.45 Julian Thomas Symbols in Action and British Prehistory
10.45 – 11.05 Niall Sharples The Orcadian Neolithic: A case study in contextual archaeology
11.05 – 11.25 COFFEE
11.25 – 11.45 Annelou van Gijn Of old and new and mine and ours: beads and pendants from Dutch Neolithic burial contexts
11.45 – 12.15 Chair: Christopher Evans Discussion
12.15 – 13.30 LUNCH  
Discard, Structured Deposition and Symbolic Practice in the US Southwest & Mesoamerica  
13.30 – 13.50 Kelly Goldberg Symbolizing identity: Material culture, transnationalism, and mobility of agents of the Transatlantic African Diaspora
13.50 – 14.10 Scott Hutson The meanings of discard in Mesoamerica
14.10 – 14.30 Samantha Fladd & E. Charles Adams Ash and “trash” in action: A US Southwest perspective
14.30 – 15.00 Chair: Katherine Grillo Discussion
15.00 - 15.20 TEA  
Revisiting Ethnoarchaeology and African Material Culture Studies  
15.20 – 15.40 Olivier Gosselain & Alexandre Livingstone-Smith While we were sleeping. What archaeologists did with African material culture and what it did to them
15.40 – 16.00 Worku Derara, Alfredo González-Ruibal & Bula Wayessa Symbols and things in action in western Ethiopia. Ethnoarchaeological approaches.
16.00 – 16.20 Chair: Freda Nkirote Discussion
16.20 -16.30 PAUSE
16.30 – 17.30 Mike Parker Pearson & Ian Hodder Reflections, commentary and open discussion


Friday 23rd September

Time Speaker Title
Historicising Material Practices around Lake Baringo, Kenya
9.30 – 9.50 Nik Petek-Sargeant Conformity through material culture and time: A diachronic perspective on Ilchamus (Njemps) identities
9.50 – 10.10 Katherine Grillo Pots in action: Extra thoughts on symbols and subsistence in Samburu
10.10 – 10.30 Matthew Davies Symbols in time and space: Marakwet material culture and landscape
10.30 – 11.00 Chair: Alexandre Livingstone-Smith Discussion
11.00 – 11.20 COFFEE  
Material Histories, Absence and Becoming: Revisiting Analogy
11.20 – 11.40 David Kay Analogies of Absence, or “I dug a hole, there wasn’t much in it, what now...?”
11.40 – 12.10 Emmanuel Ndiema Monumental architecture in Turkana Basin: Places of worship or habitation?
12.10 – 12.30 Sam Derbyshire Turkana, in the making
12.30 – 13.00 Chair: Kelly Goldberg Discussion
13.00 – 14.00 LUNCH  
Beyond Static Presents: Analogies and Deep History
14.00 – 14.20 Fleur Martin Scarcity and accumulation: Teleki’s caravan at Lake Baringo
14.20 – 14.40 David Anderson The rise and fall of ‘Njemps’: A history of cultural transition in Kenya's Rift Valley, c. 1830 to 1920
14.40 – 15.00 Paul Lane Deep history, archaeology, and the percolation of time in African material assemblages
15.00 – 15.30 Chair: Matt Davies Discussion
15.30 – 16.00 TEA  
16.00 – 17.00 Ian Hodder in conversation with Henrietta Moore Reflections & responses
17.00 – 17.20 Nik Petek-Sargeant & Matthew Davies Publication plans & close
17.20 – 17.30 Vote of Thanks
17.30 CLOSE
Contact name: 
Nik Petek-Sargeant
Contact email: 
Event location: 
Zoom and in-person at the McDonald Institute
Geographical areas: 
Material Culture
Research Expertise / Fields of study: 
Archaeological Theory
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