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Hood Museum of Art
Dartmouth College
Hanover, NH 03755

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Objects and Power

Sarcophagus Fragment The Deceased as Ptah-Sokar-Osirus Maya, closed yoke commemorating ceremonial ballgames, 300–600 CE, stone. Gift of Barbara and James A. Block, Class of 1959; 987.29.26715. Photo by Jeff Nintzel. Vessel of a Mummy Bundle

Manifestations of Inequality

April 10 through August 25, 2013

The world today is an unequal place where individuals face stark differences in their access to resources, information, and power. The archaeological record suggests that such inequities have existed in various cultures throughout human history. This student-curated installation considers some of the challenges of interpreting and presenting material objects as they relate to inequality. Just as professional archaeologists have built their theories using both ancient artifacts and cultural materials from contemporary populations, the student curators have assembled a diverse collection to consider four domains in which archaeologists can see inequality created, reproduced, and challenged in ancient societies. The central themes—craft goods, daily life, public performance, and mortuary practice—offer interwoven views on the intersecting lives of people and the material objects that they use to communicate status among their families and to other members of society. The objects on display serve as metaphors for understanding the dynamics underlying how different cultures have invented and shaped inequality in its many forms.

While contemplating how these artworks and objects of material culture manifest inequality, the students considered arguments made by scholars. The Western philosophical tradition explains contemporary conditions as the result of progress from the earliest times. Some writers portray change in a positive light—as the rise of civilization, while others cast it in a negative one—as the fall from a natural state to one of modern decadence. Since the nineteenth century, archaeologists have begun to challenge the authority of well-established stories of the origins of inequality, using ancient artifacts to situate important social transformations at times much earlier than the origins of writing. Although archaeology employs scientific methods to reconstruct the deep history of humanity, the discipline struggles to speak objectively about the past, rather than imposing contemporary intellectual expectations onto an ambiguous material record. Archaeologists today debate the ways that artifacts can be used to understand the invention and perpetuation of inequality, and to approach the ways that individuals in the past experienced and challenged their social conditions.

The Harrington Gallery often holds exhibitions linked to courses in the Dartmouth curriculum. Students from Anthropology 57, Origins of Inequality, curated this exhibition with Professor Alan Covey. This exhibition has been made possible by the generous support of the Harrington Gallery Fund.

Press coverage:  Read a review in The Dartmouth here.


7 May, Tuesday, 12:30 p.m.
"Representing Inequality with Archaeological and Museum Collections"
R. Alan Covey, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Dartmouth College

22 June, Saturday, 2:00 p.m.
Objects and Power: Manifestations of Inequality

10 August, Saturday, 2:00 p.m.
Objects and Power: Manifestations of Inequality

Last Updated: 8/29/13